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Demetrius Shipp Jr. was introduced as a newcomer on the Hollywood scene for his role as Tupac Shakur in All Eyez On Me back in 2017. Now, he’s back in action as Miracle in the highly anticipated action-packed film Cut Throat City. The scripted movie, directed by Wu-Tang’s own RZA, is based on true stories from the lives of those who experienced Hurricane Katrina nearly fifteen years ago.
REVOLT caught up with Shipp Jr. about his new role, the importance of telling Black stories in film and television, and the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Check out our conversation below!
Tell me about your role in Cut Throat City.
Miracle’s character is somebody who just has a lot of aspirations and is going with what he sees — or the examples that he sees — before him. Street guy who has aspirations of becoming more and doing more with himself in life, but going the route in which he sees everybody else go, which is selling drugs and using that money to fund his music career. [He’s] also becoming a victim of his circumstances with his friends where there in a very bad predicament in terms of way of living post-Katrina. They find themselves in a whirlwind of decisions that they didn’t see coming or didn’t actually intend on happening, but when there’s not a lot of options on the table, you find yourself all over the place sometimes. I feel like with him, [Miracle] was the person who was willing to go into that world of doing whatever it takes to get ahead.
How did you prepare when it came to digging deep into the historical impact of Hurricane Katrina?
They had people from the lower ninth ward and from New Orleans who were on set at all times with us, so it was a lot of one-on-ones with those individuals, getting their insight. We actually filmed in the lower ninth ward and there were people who were still there that were on set with us and just giving us the day-to-day of how things were and the insight into what took place, how bad it was, what happened after. You see a lot of people were able to rebuild, some people had to call it a loss. There were a lot of empty plots in the neighborhood where people weren’t able to rebuild because the houses were completely destroyed. You could feel that hurt, that level of hopelessness in those people because some people were able to bounce back and the majority of them weren’t. It was really emotional when you got to understand exactly what was going on.
I think somebody was telling a story about how, at some point in time, they were sleeping on top of their roof and the only light in their area was the moon. That’s crazy to think about and very nuts to me. So, it made me very emotional on set hearing those stories.
How would you say that this film differs from anything else that you’ve ever been a part of?
‘Cause this is actually based on real events, and I was there where it was and amongst the people who experienced it, and lived through it. For example, I had no idea how the weather could be in Louisiana. For me, I had seen the clouds get so dark that you could jump up and damn near touch them. Just that alone had me in a complete awe. I’m imagining how it looked to them as it’s happening and being there because it seems like the clouds just hang over the city and when it rains, it’s raining hard and fast with thunder and lightning. It was an experience I’ll never forget. It’s something that felt like a real glimpse into it because I was so close to it.
How important it is to dive into as much research as possible before projects?
I think it’s very important because it just adds layers to what you can do on screen. It gives it texture, and a realness that if you didn’t do the research and the work to know certain things, you wouldn’t really have. For example, those stories that I told you about how I was feeling and hearing certain stories about the people being there at night. There was a speech that a guy wrote while he was on the roof one night. I copied it down and I used that as an emotional guide when I was going into tougher scenes, but it was something that I could not even if I looked at it right now. I know it would trigger something emotionally.
What statement do you believe directors in Black Hollywood are making about the non-monolithic experience of the Black community when they put these projects together?
Our stories and what we’re doing highlighting our troops, our pains, and our glories is very captivating right now. Even outside of everything that’s going on socially and politically, our stories are the most calculating and interesting right now, and everybody wants to hear about what it is about us. It’s very insightful yet entertaining to the masses and you get to get an insight of what we really experience, what it’s really like and you’re getting it raw. I don’t feel like a lot of shows are really hitting on exactly what’s going on in those areas. If it’s a time period thing, like with “Snowfall” for example, I feel like they’re hitting it right on the nail and giving you the realness, the rawness and the grittiness of how crazy things were. The crack epidemic and how crazy that was — and I think that’s beautiful to be highlighted. We’re centerstage right now as far as what’s entertaining and this is the opportunity right now to step into that and to have dope people doing it is amazing.
How important is it to you to be a part of these projects that are going to live down in cinematic history for Black culture?
You know, until you said that, I didn’t think about it like that, but I’m blessed. I thought about it in different ways like how I was shooting “All-American” and that was on Netflix as the number one show and I was part of that. When you sequenced it in terms of these things actually being historical and Black cinema and me being part of those, I’m blessed (laughs). I’m very thankful for that and that’s amazing for those three things for people to know me from at the moment to be such big things and things that are ingrained in not only Black cinema, but Black history in itself.
How is hip hop and cinema making an impact on film and television?
It’s just a dope thing to be able to witness and be part of because it’s happening at a very high level as far as film and television. Now, it’s starting to be taken very seriously. The film and television department, especially television, our stories are fire right now.
What are the most important things that people should understand when it comes to diversifying Black stories?
First off, we need to tell our stories. That’s important… As a viewer or a person who’s searching for insight, if you look at the stories that we’re telling and you look at our lives, and you see how some of these things happened for us, it should actually give you some sort of understanding. That’s the best thing you could do is seek understanding. They judge us for certain things, ways that we act or talk, but if you don’t know exactly why, then it’s like you’re ignorant to the situation. You’re making an opinion without having all of the facts.
What do you think is your personal responsibility as a Black person with influence in regard to social justice matters?
This is going to sound crazy coming from me because I played ‘Pac, but I’d rather be a real model than a role model and that’s what he said. When he said it, I didn’t necessarily [understand] and it sounded good, and now that I’m a man coming into my own, matured and mentally grew, now I truly feel like I understand it and I connect with that.
That’s something I want to be. That’s just being somebody who can connect with people and be real with you, and not trying to put on any act outside of what I do for a living. What I do for a living is act and entertain on TV. How I can connect with my people is by being authentic to who I am, never letting what I do for a living depict who I am, you get what I’m saying? Never letting that overshadow the man and let that move me in a way where I act and go about my life as if that’s what my life is. My integrity is what I want to be known for and I want to connect with people. I want to be somebody that’s like, “I went through problems in my life, I had my ups and downs, but I’m continuing.”
One of the things I want to touch on is mental health and the importance in it for me and myself, and how it plays such a vital role in me going to therapy over the past two years. Giving somebody the insight to be confident as a young Black man and nobody would ever believe me when I tell them this, but I didn’t have confidence. I was broken of all confidence as a man, as a young kid growing up dealing with an identity crisis and not knowing how I wanted to be, who I wanted to be and just not being sure of who I was… No matter the circumstances, always keep on pushing and believing yourself, and never quit. Always push through no matter what.
What is something that Chadwick Boseman taught you during his time here?
The fact that he did all of those films and that work during that time while he was dealing with that is amazing. He walked around with no sign of it at all, but yet and still he was doing everything at the highest level. There’s an interview where he was saying certain roles that he wouldn’t do, certain things that he felt were right for him, walking in his purpose and making sure he’s fulfilling his purpose. That’s what I was left with as of now.
To wrap my mind around it, I want to watch more of his movies because I haven’t watched all of them. In me completely having something to take away from it all, I want to watch all of his films, but as of now, that interview resonates very deeply with me because it makes me want to step up what I’m doing and make sure that I’m leaving it all on the table, and that I’m doing things that are true to myself, and giving everything that I have. Nobody could say that Chadwick didn’t leave it all in terms of his work. He left it all on the table, he put his foot in every role that he played, and he did it all while being terminally ill. Not complaining, not showing any signs of weakness — that’s a superhero if we’ve ever seen one. I just feel like I’m inspired to do all that I can while I’m here.