Over the last decade, Americans have been captivated by the portrayal of Black families on both the big and silver screen. Thanks to shows like Empire, Greenleaf, and Power, viewers are craving more of these entertaining and impactful shows that feature cutting-edge drama, spicy relationships and many conversations about what power and wealth will do to friends, family, and enemies.
To get some insight on the trend, the Black Information Network sat down with Laurenz Tate, Larron Tate, and Lahmard J. Tate — brothers with acting and producing credits across various films and television shows — during the American Black Film Festival (ABFF).
Laurenz stars in STARZ's hit show Power and Power Book II: Ghost, playing Councilman Tate. His filmography, in part, includes starring roles in Menace II Society (1993), Love Jones (1997), and Girls Trip (2017). Lahmard is also an actor, known for his roles in Barbershop (2002) and Rocky Balboa (2006), to name a few, and his voice-acting credits in video games. Both brothers additionally have recurring roles in the Bronzeville podcast, which shines a light on Black residents living in the Chicago neighborhood.
Larron, who is the oldest sibling, has 25 years of producing and acting experience in film, television, and podcasting, including an executive producing credit on dozens of episodes of Bronzeville.
In an interview with BIN, during an American Black Film Festival (ABFF) session titled Icons, Idols & Influencers - Conversation with the Tate Brothers, the Tate brothers spoke about their decades of experience in Hollywood, touching on the explosive popularity of wealthy Black families in media, the role of struggle in Black stories, and shared advice they'd give to aspiring filmmakers.
Check out the full interview below.
In the last few years, there’s been a surge of Black shows and films that showcase rich and powerful Black families with Power and Empire leading the charge. What does it mean to each of you to be at the forefront of that movement? And would you say telling stories about Black wealth and power was something you all set out to do?
The fact that we can now see representation where people who look like us -- we can talk about our experiences, we can show that we are not monolithic, and we're very diverse within our Black culture and our communities. To see how it's sort of received and how well received the stories that we're telling the kinds of business that we're doing and the fact that, you know, oftentimes in our industry, it seems like it's kind of separate. Main Hollywood, mainstream Hollywood versus sort of Black Hollywood.
What we've been able to do is show that we can tell incredibly compelling stories. We can do incredible business and our stories and our business transcends our communities, and it is mainstream. So being a part of the projects things that you've mentioned -- anytime we can align ourselves with that kind of excellence is part of our contribution. You know the fact that we're always trying to pay it forward trying to you know knock down those barriers you know overcome those hurdles and do what we believe our assignment is.
I'd say that we are the change for culture at all times, and it's nice to see the resurge. It's not like it wasn't there -- it was just in a shadow of not getting the respect, and so to see it now is a beautiful thing. It shows Black excellence at its high.
When it comes to the contribution that we continue to make in the entertainment industry is equivalent to what we've always been there. We've always there, and we've always been doing things. It's nice to finally get the roses that we deserve, and it's just a matter of time that they see that -- and I say ‘they,’ meaning the greater portion of America -- get a chance to see the different stories that we have to tell, and how they're all interconnected to their own stories.
There's always way more room for all these diverse stories and characters and their struggles -- which we've seen play a big role in these stories. With that said, there's also been criticism over the last few years about some Black media portraying the struggles too much. Then, there are some that say it's just part of the Black experience. Can you all comment on this based on the media that you've worked in before?
I try not to pay too much attention to anything that would divide us. I don't want us to be divided if there's anything that's divisive. I don't really take pay too much attention to that. The fact that the matter is, you know, the Black stories need to be told -- a lot of it coming from struggles. But you have to look beyond some of the projects that we may be a part of. You see themes that are important, that are universal: family, brotherhood, sisterhood. The fact that we have to find ways to overcome dealing with our circumstances – redemption. And so, it shows when we are able to tell our stories, we can continue to push forward the narrative of humanity and restore dignity to our storytelling. It’s really important. I don't get too caught up on what you know particular studio network or doing this, or I'm not doing that. For us, we just try to do our part and make our contributions.
I think that there is you know this is a lot of diversity that's out there in terms of different stories. It's easy to focus on the things that are kind of mainstream interesting. I say that based on what we see on the news or project stereotypes. The reality is that we’re still dealing with struggle, and this struggle has been going on forever. So, it's a story that we're most familiar with and we have a lot of [commonalities] involved with that.
That's why, for us, in terms of my brothers and I, we’re looking to do things that are beyond that. We're looking to tell stories of the past where we weren't always had a foot on our neck, and we were thriving in communities that were just coming out of the Jim Crow era, if you will. Where there were people who were living the American dream, but sometimes they don't want to show that. It's important that we continue to fight for those stories that reflect Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bronzeville, Chicago, Renaissance Harlem. Those stories are there, and there's so many more. There are current stories, too, that need to be told that is just about everyday living.
Yeah, you know, when we've done some of those movies. I was fortunate to be a part of a movie called Love Jones that wasn't about the struggle if you will. Right? So, it all depends on who's telling the story, and where we have the access to tell things that are more than what you would assume coming from Black creatives.
What are some words of advice you have for aspiring Black filmmakers? And what would you say is the greatest piece of advice you’ve each received as filmmakers, producers, actors, and so on?
Keep working I would encourage them: keep working. Keep telling our stories. If you believe in it, and you continue to work at it long enough, you will prevail. ‘Run the marathon’ is what we were always told, and that was the advice, and 'not the sprint.' Stay in this, because there's going to be you know peaks and valleys, right? And how do you sustain you know your truth in all of it. Don't lose yourself in the business. This is something that we feel like we may be called to do. Understand and know why you want to be in the industry, why do you want to tell the stories. Find like-minded people that will help move your vision, in your story, in your journey alone you know find those people that you can network who believe in what you're doing. Above all, believe in yourself.
I would try to give the advice of anyone who's in a creative space, rather a filmmaker, a writer, to actually try to get on a set prior to doing your own project -- to get an experience, to visually see it, and look at it as an education piece to apply to yourself. Therefore, if you have a little bit of the experience and seeing it, you could then go from there and build upon.
To piggyback on that -- for those who don't get the opportunity, just remain your authentic self, much like what Laurenz was saying. Don’t be afraid to tell that story as is. One of the things that we encourage people to do is to seek, like guys are saying, seek other folks that will help you put your vision forward, whether it’s writing or directing, and don’t quit.
To really give some context here, you don't have to go on a big Hollywood set.
Not at all… student films, independent movies.
All of it counts. Continue to learn and just always be willing to learn and absorb as much as you possibly can. I always say: you never know where you start, you never know what you're gonna end up. So, even though you're a filmmaker, you’re producer, or you’re writer -- you may find yourself in production doing something totally different, that has nothing to do with your passion, but you still learning. You’re still finding ways to get to that place.
Don't listen to other people's negative energy. That's the key. Stay positive and actually execute what it is that you want to do by any means necessary… so long as it's legal!