Tag: Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett Surprises Kayden Kinckle, a 6-Year-Old Double Amputee, With Accessible Van

by Latifah Muhammad via vibe.com

Kayden Kinckle is quite the inspiration.

The 6-year-old bilateral amputee, who has been motivating people to “do great things” with his daily Instagram videos and children’s books, got a huge surprise on Monday (Oct. 15) thanks to Jussie Smollett.

Smollett bought Kayden a brand new van complete with a wheelchair lift so that he can get to school without delay. The Empire star stepped in to help Kayden after the Englewood Public School District (where he attends school) failed to provide a proper bus to pick him up on the first day of school.

“He’s the only double amputee in Bergen County [New Jersey] where we live,” Kayden’s mom, Nicole Sessoms, told VIBE on Tuesday (Oct. 16). “They had a bus the prior two years and this year they forgot about him, [after] he switched to a new school.”

Before the van, Sessoms had been putting Kayden’s wheelchair in her small Nissan sedan to drive her son to another school where he was forced to wait for a standard school bus to pick him, once all the other students were dropped off. An aide was on hand to carry him on and off the bus, according to CBS New York. The school district blamed the mishap on a paperwork mix-up and promised to provide Kayden with a proper lift bus.

Smollett, who learned about Kayden’s story through social media, has become a family friend. He tries to spend time with Kayden whenever his schedule permits, Sessoms said.

When Smollett found out about the transportation issue, he reached out to Sessoms with a solution. “He saw what was happening with the bus and he called me and said ‘Kayden needs his own van!’”

The 35-year-old actor arranged to have the van delivered while Kayden and his family were hanging out with him in New York City.

To read more, go to: https://www.vibe.com/2018/10/jussie-smollett-kayden-kinckle-wheelchair-accessible-van/

“Underground” Renewed for Second Season on WGN America

Underground WGN TV Review
“Underground” starring Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell  (COURTESY OF WGN)

article by Rick Kissell via Variety.com

“Underground,” the critically acclaimed first-year drama about the Underground Railroad and the most-watched original scripted series ever for WGN America, has been renewed for a second season.

The network announced Monday that “Underground” will return for a 10-episode second season in 2017. Production will get under way this summer for the series, which hails from Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios.

Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, “Underground” averages 3 million total viewers on Wednesday nights this season, according to Nielsen’s “live plus-7” estimates. It grows on average from its same-day numbers by roughly 130%, and is the No. 6-rated scripted series premiere for any cable drama this season. Last week, it was Wednesday’s No. 1 original scripted cable series across all key demos in “live plus-3” ratings.

Compared with the WGN American primetime average this season, “Underground” is delivering roughly six times as many total viewers and about 11 times as many adults 18-49, according to L+7 Nielsen estimates.

“Underground” follows a courageous group of American heroes who attempt a daring flight to freedom in one of the greatest escapes in history. It is executive-produced by Misha Green, Joe Pokaski, John Legens, Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and Anthony Hemingway.

The cast includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Christopher Meloni, Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Marc Blucas, Adina Porter, Mykelti Williamson, Amirah Vann, Johnny Ray Gill, Chris Chalk, Reed Diamond, Theodus Crane, James Lafferty, Renwick Scott and Jussie Smollett.

Continue reading ““Underground” Renewed for Second Season on WGN America”

FEATURE: The Smollett Family Business – Acting and Activism

Jussie Smollett, left, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell. (Credit: Taylor Glascock for The New York Times)

article by Melena Ryzik via nytimes.com

CHICAGO — When Jussie Smollett and Jurnee Smollett-Bell were growing up, bouncing with their parents and four siblings between New York and Los Angeles, as the kids pursued careers in modeling, acting and music, their downtime was just another chance for performance and togetherness.

“Creating was something that we just were expected to do,” Mr. Smollett said, in a joint interview with his sister here, where he tapes the Fox series “Empire.” Seated next to him in a downtown restaurant, she was nodding in agreement. “And I don’t remember a time not wanting to do that.”

Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in v>“Underground.” (Credit: Sony Pictures Television)

The members of the Smollett clan have made good on their childhood promise. Mr. Smollett, 32, is a singer and a breakout star of the hit drama “Empire,” in which he plays Jamal, the most talented member of the Lyon hip-hop dynasty.

Ms. Smollett-Bell, 29, who made her mark as an actress by the age of 10, with the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou,” is one of the leads in “Underground,” a new WGN America show about a group of slaves who try to escape from their Georgia plantation; her brother guest-stars.

Though it’s their first project together in 20 years, it’s clear that the more creative freedom they have, the more their tastes will converge.

The Smolletts have also been outspoken politically and, since their school years, devoted to causes like H.I.V./AIDS prevention and ending apartheid. They were raised in the orbit of the Black Panthers and, lately, have lent their voices to the Black Lives Matter movement. Their trajectory, from child stars to successful adults, is born of their family and its history of activism.

“Their sense of justice is very strong, and it permeates everything that they do,” said Alfre Woodard, who has known Jussie and Jurnee since they were children; they worked with her at the nonprofit Artists for a New South Africa. “They’re like a model sibling unit. They look out for each other, all the time. And they all reach across and say, ‘O.K., I got my foot in this door; here, grab my hand, we’re going in together.’”

Raised on a diet of classic films (they’ll gladly quote the 1945 version of “Mildred Pierce”), Jussie and Jurnee still count their mother, Janet Smollett, as their only acting coach. An African-American from New Orleans, Ms. Smollett met their father, Joel Smollett Sr., a Russian-Polish Jew, in the Bay Area, where they campaigned for civil rights. “My mom was in the movement with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and one of her first mentors was Julian Bond,” Mr. Smollett said of the Black Panther founders and the civil rights leader. “To this day, Angela Davis is one of her dearest friends. We’ve spent Mother’s Day with Angela.”

Continue reading “FEATURE: The Smollett Family Business – Acting and Activism”

The National Black Programming Consortium is Offering $150,000 to Independent Filmmakers

Leslie Fields-Cruz (photo via blackenterprise.com)

article by Carolyn M. Brown via blackenterprise.com

Leslie Fields-Cruz heads up the nation’s only nonprofit organization dedicated solely to media content about the black experience. As the executive director of the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), the Harlem-based media arts organization, she has made some major moves.

Under Fields-Cruz, NBPC has expanded its mission to serve not only documentary filmmakers but media-makers of all types in a new media environment, from broadcast to Web to mobile. Launched in October 2014, NBPC 360, the organization’s incubator and fund, identified and selected both broadcast and Web documentary series and a short narrative Web series. Producers were awarded between $50,000 and $100,000 to develop their pilots. The group is launching year two of its 360 Incubator and Fund as they are looking for the next innovative stories about black people. The deadline is March 28 and the 360 guidelines and applications are available at www.bit.ly/NBPC360-2016. NBPC also produces the television documentary series AfroPop, hosted this year by FOX’s Empire breakout star Jussie Smollett.

Fields-Cruz is working to expand the organization’s mission to serve artists in all types of media from traditional broadcast to Web to mobile platforms. For the first time last year, NBC hosted a hackathon focusing on gamification in partnership with Silicon Harlem. Teams of student coders were paired up with eight producers from NBPC 360, bringing together storytellers from the program with technologists over 48 hours to create games around content from their TV and Web series. NBPC also conducted Webinar Wednesdays where they train new producers on key aspects of pulling together a film or Web series and developing an outreach campaign beyond just having screenings around the country.

Also in the works is a succession of new funding priorities. Over the next two years, NBPC will primarily fund documentary and Web content exploring issues of race and around social justice, with an emphasis on black male achievement, the international black woman, blacks and the environment and economic inequity. The group will award productions with seed money as well as finishing funds.

With current headlines turning the spotlight on the perception of and plight of blacks in this country, the role our media-makers play in providing the American public with stories of the varied black experience is as important as ever.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up Fields-Cruz to discuss her role in stewarding black content to public television and beyond.

BlackEnterprise.com: How did the NBPC 360 incubator and fund come about, what was the catalyst?

Fields-Cruz: In 2013, the board and staff embarked on a strategic planning session. We needed to re-evaluate our mission and look at the programs we are offering black filmmakers. We needed think innovatively about what we can offer. We thought that an incubator would be a great opportunity. We have always done professional development but let’s figure out a way we can combine that with substantial rewards so that producers can walk away with money and a much stronger support system. We wanted to help them get the funding or financing to be closer to completion of their projects.

What type of artists or filmmakers do you seek to participate in the incubator?

We had about 160 applications last year and that was whittled down to 25 after the first round and out of that group we selected eight projects for the incubator. Usually we have 10 but last year we chose eight. We are not looking for those filmmakers who have just finished school and who don’t have too many credits to their name. [Rather], we are looking for the emerging producer or mid-career producer who has completed a film and it has had a broadcast or has had a very successful festival run. And they are looking to expand and build upon their career; they need additional support and to expand their network in the industry. We always had independent producers contacting NBPC and seeking funding. But we had not had an open call for about five years. So a lot of this year was me meeting and speaking to independent producers and letting them know what was coming down the pike. We are actively trying to bring new talent to work in the PBS system. We know that public television is very interested in [hiring] the next generation of talent and producing content that reflects the changing demographics.

The organization is seeking programs that explore issues of race and around social justice. Does that include such movements as Black Lives Matter and black transgender women’s rights? 

That is one of the beauties of the work that we do at NBPC. We have a broad category in terms of race and social justice. There are independent producers out there who are making all types of programming, whether it is for broadcast or the Web, documentaries or narrative shorts. We are seeking all of those stories under the banner of race and social justice. It could be a piece focusing on events in Ferguson [Missouri] or what is happening in Alabama around voter rights and DMVs being closed in black neighborhoods. Those broad categories allow us to navigate through a wealth of stories to identify the ones that we think work best for us.

To read more, go to: http://www.blackenterprise.com/lifestyle/the-national-black-programming-consortium-is-offering-150000-to-independent-filmmakers/

Chris Rock Recites James Baldwin During Powerful MLK Day Event In Harlem

Chris Rock speaks at #MLKNow event (photo via lifestream.com)
Chris Rock speaks at #MLKNow event (photo via lifestream.com)

Chris Rock brought the powerful words of James Baldwin to life Monday during a tribute at the “MLK Now” event in Harlem honoring the late Martin Luther King, Jr.

The program, put together by the Campaign For Black Achievement and Blackout for Human Rights — organizations committed to social justice — took place at Harlem’s Riverside Church, where King delivered his riveting 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.”

The event attracted a bevy of black Hollywood stars, who celebrated the legacy of King and other black historical icons. Some stars paid tribute through musical performances, like India.Arie, who praised Shirley Chisholm. Others, including Rock, gave powerful recitals.

Rock, who will host the Oscars next month, read the words to Baldwin’s widely praised 1963 letter, “My Dungeon Shook.” Watch Rock’s full performance (he takes the stage around the 1:44 mark) by clicking here.

“Creed” director Ryan Coogler, also the director and a founding member of Blackout for Human Rights, served as moderator for the event and introduced stars on the stage, including Harry Belafonte, Octavia Spencer, Jussie Smollett, Michael B. Jordan and India.Arie.

article by Lilly Workneh via huffingtonpost.com

Jussie Smollett to Host 8th Season of “AfroPop” Television Series Premiering on MLK Day

 Jussie Smollett will host the eighth season of the public television show AfroPoP: The Ultimate Exchange. The star of the hit FOX TV show Empire will emcee the popular show about contemporary art, life and culture across the African Diaspora as it premieres on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 18, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on WORLD Channel.

New episodes premiere weekly through February 15. AfroPoP is produced by National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) and co-presented by American Public Television (APT), which distributes the series to the full public television system in February 2016.

Smollett will also be seen in the new WGN thriller Underground in 2016. The acclaimed entertainer is also involved in numerous humanitarian pursuits, sitting on the boards of the Black AIDS Institute, Artists for a New South Africa and the RuJohn Foundation. 

Previous hosts of AfroPoP include Idris Elba, Anika Noni Rose, Wyatt Cenac, Gabourey Sidibe, Anthony Mackie and Yaya DaCosta.

AfroPoP’s engaging, real-life tales add to the collection of rich Black stories that audiences are clamoring for and I wanted to be a part of bringing them to national attention,” said Smollett.

Continue reading “Jussie Smollett to Host 8th Season of “AfroPop” Television Series Premiering on MLK Day”

John Legend’s Scripted Drama “Underground” Releases First-Look Trailer (VIDEO)

WGN America just released a chilling first-look teaser for Underground, the upcoming original scripted series scheduled to debut early next year.  The drama takes center stage as plantation slaves band together in the fight of their lives for their families, their future … and most importantly, their freedom.

Hailing from Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios, Underground  was filmed in Baton Rouge, LA. John Legend and his production company are in charge of the score and soundtrack for Underground.

Legend most recently won an Oscar alongside rapper Common for Best Original Song “Glory” from Selma.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jussie Smollett, Christopher Meloni, Aldis Hodge, Adina Porter, Alano Miller, and Mykelti Williamson round out the cast for the series.

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article via thegrio.com

“Empire” Star Jussie Smollett Honored by The Black AIDS Institute

Black AIDS Institute 2015 Heroes In The Struggle Reception Gala Reception And Awards Ceremony
Source: Paul Archuleta / Getty

2015 has been a breakout year for Empire star Jussie Smollett.

Before performing at the 2015 BET Awards, Jussie was honored by the Black AIDS Institute during the annual Heroes In The Struggle (H.I.T.S) gala. H.I.T.S pays tribute to Black Americans and the Allies who have contributed in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Previous inductees of the gala include Maxine WatersMagic Johnson and President Bill Clinton.

According to Euroweb, Smollett was overjoyed when he heard the news about the honor.

“I got the call from Phil Wilson (President and CEO, Black AIDS Institute) who’s been one of my mentors since I was sixteen. He asked if I would be honored by the organization and I said of course. I love what the Black AIDS Institute has done and all of the lives that they’ve changed. I love Phil and to be honored by him is everything.”

Jussie was presented the honor by his sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell and actor/activist Wilson Cruz. Other recipients of the 2015 award include the executive director of Empower U community health center, Vanessa MillsGregorio Millett, the Vice-President and Director of public policy for AMFAR and Janssen Therapeutics.

Jussie even spilled the tea about when we can expect his album to drop and what we can expect to hear from season two of Empire.

“It’s going to be fun. For ‘Empire’ season two, I’ve been recording with everybody from obviously Timbaland to Jim Beanz and also Swizz Beatz and Ne-Yo so it’s going to be dope. It’s going to be excellent!”

article by Veronica Hilbring via hellobeautiful.com

Jussie Smollett Joins Sister Jurnee in WGN’s Drama “Underground”

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jussie Smollett
Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jussie Smollett (photo via eurweb.com)

“Empire” star Jussie Smollett will moonlight in a guest starring role on WGN’s “Underground,” joining his famous sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell, the network announced Wednesday.

As previously reported, “Underground” follows a group of enslaved people in Georgia planning a 600-mile escape to freedom. Along the way, they are aided by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad as they attempt to evade the people charged with bringing them back, dead or alive.

Smollett will play Josey, a runaway who doesn’t trust anyone, not even those stationed along the way who would try to help him.

This marks the first on-screen reunion for Smollett and his sister in since both starred alongside their other siblings in the 1994 ABC sitcom “On Our Own.”

Smollett joins a cast that includes Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU), Reed Diamond (Agents of SHIELD), Aldis Hodge (Rectify), Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) and Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Creators Misha Green (Sons of Anarchy) and Joe Pokaski (Heroes) will executive produce the Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios entry with Weed Road Pictures’ Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell and Joby Harold of Safehouse Pictures.

Production began in the spring for a 2016 premiere.

article via eurweb.com

Lee Daniels Wants “Empire” to Expose and Help Transform Homophobia in Black America

Director Lee Daniels, actress Taraji P. Henson and actor Jussie Smollett of Fox TV's Empire pose at the Fox Winter TCA All-Star Party at the Langham Huntington Hotel on January 17, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Director Lee Daniels, actress Taraji P. Henson and actor Jussie Smollett of Fox TV’s Empire pose at the Fox Winter TCA All-Star Party at the Langham Huntington Hotel on January 17, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

PASADENA, California (AP) — The creator of Fox’s prime-time soap “Empire” said he wants to “blow the lid off homophobia” in the African-American community with a depiction of the show’s lead character’s hostile relationship with his gay son.

Lee Daniels, who was also behind the movies “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Precious,” said that his own father’s hostility toward gays frightened him and he knows the same attitudes are being passed on from one generation to another in households around the world.

“What we’re trying to do is to give people the opportunity to see that what they’re doing is painful,” Daniels said at a television conference on Saturday.

“Empire,” the story of a strong-willed music family whose patriarch, Lucious Lyon, is portrayed by actor Terrence Howard, has gotten off to a strong start this month at the ratings-challenged Fox network. The series had the unusual feat of growing in viewership from its premiere week to its second, compelling Fox to quickly give the go-ahead to a second season.

During the show’s first episode, Lyon learns he has a fatal disease and is battling with his just-released-from-jail wife over which of their three sons will take over their music empire. Lyon is openly hostile to his gay son Jamal. During a flashback, Lyon is shown stuffing Jamal into a garbage can when he sees the boy trying on his mother’s high heels.

“I’m glad that I can show the African-American community that this is what you’re doing to your son, this is what you’re doing to your nephew, this is what you’re doing to the kid down the street,” Howard said.

Daniels said that he believes if his father were alive today, he would have evolved in his thinking.

Jussie Smollett, the actor who portrays Jamal, said he’s been overwhelmed by the response to the story line that he has seen in social media.

If there are viewers who can see themselves in Jamal, “that’s incredibly dope and I embrace that,” Smollett said.

At a time the movie industry is under fire for its commitment to diversity — only white actors received nominations when last week’s Oscar contenders were announced — “Empire” is seen as making strides in that area.

Taraji P. Henson, the actress who plays Lucious’ wife Cookie, said entertainment executives take notice when shows dominated by minority cast members make money.

Viewers want to see people who look like them on television, Smollett said. They’re also interested in people that don’t look like them, he said.

“Right now we’re seeing people enjoy the culture of America, the culture of the world,” Daniels said. “We’re showing real life now.”

article by David Bauder, AP via thegrio.com