Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Maurice Jamal

October 17, 2007 Print version       Other articles by this author

This month's Brave Soul Artist is an extremely talented young man by the name of Maurice Jamal. He is a DIRECTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER, who's groundbreaking work can be seen in both film and television. He is the creative mind behind the landmark film THE SKI TRIP (MTV's LOGO Network). His second film, DIRTY LAUNDRY is an award winning family dramedy that has created an amazing buzz across the country and throughout the industry. Starring LORETTA DEVINE, ROCKMOND DUNBAR, JENIFER LEWIS, SOMMORE, TERRI J. VAUGHN and JAMAL himself. His first break was on the feature-film Spider-Man. Hard work and tenacity led to a steady line of gigs, where he proved his production skills and talent, on major network TV shows and academy-award winning films. In a short period he developed a lenghty and impressive list of credits, most notably the smash hit CHAPPELLE'S SHOW (both in front and behind the camera). He is also the director of the soon to be released film adaptation of James Earl Hardy's classic novel, B-Boy Blues. We sat down with Maurice in order to gain some insight into his life as a multi-faceted artist, as well as his feelings/thoughts about HIV/AIDS, and a few other interesting things. We are proud to present to you a brother to be on the lookout for, Mr. Maurice Jamal.

In August 2007 you participated in Oakland's Black LGBT Film Festival, one of the better festivals of its sort in the world? Can you talk about what it was like to return "home"-- the source of work connecting you to artists like Marlon Riggs (film) (you were actually in "Tongues Untied" right?), as well as Marvin K. White (poetry), and Deep Dickollective (Hip Hop)? What is it about the Bay Area that fueled the work you've done since leaving?

The Oakland festival is wonderful! It's always great to come home. And there's something wonderfully grounding about showing your work to people who've known you since you were five and used to pee in the bed (laughs). But beyond that, the Bay Area is a culturally and intellectually progressive and curious place. There's a real desire to deconstruct art and discuss its themes and implications. I've always loved that level of discourse. Especially because I spend so much of my time in LA and there's not a lot of that here (laughs). And as you mentioned there's a wonderful brother and sisterhood of artist here whose work has pushed me personally. Certainly I think my being raised in Berkeley had a strong impact on my political sensibility and artistic expectations. That progressive slant is certainly evident in my work. Frankly, it's part of the reason I do what I do: I'm a rebel. So I believe in pushing boundaries: others as well as my own.

What can we expect from the film adaptation of B-Boy Blues? What fueled your desire to direct the film adaptation of this novel?

Well, people's expectations are really high (laughs) so I don't even know if I dare tell people what they can expect (laughs). James Earl Hardy and I have really taken a thoughtful, smart approach towards the adaptations. It's actually the first time I've written with someone else, so that process has really been interesting. It's produced an amazing script: a rich, layered and textured story. For people who loved the book it will be everything they want and more. From casting to story development it's really an amazing project. BBB was the first black, gay book I ever read and I always envisioned it as a film, so this opportunity is a blessing. It will be something that the community will absolutely love. It's a lot of pressure but I love that!

Our topic on the Brave Soul website last month was unprotected sex. What impact do you think this 'phenomenon' has had on the lives of black gay men as it relates to HIV/AIDS?

I don't think it can be overstated: it's been devastating. There is a crisis in our community as it relates to self-esteem, pride and self worth. I think every red-blooded gay man in American knows what condoms are and how to use them. But there are some serious underlying issues about our not protecting ourselves and we have to find way to speak about them. We consistently look at the HIV crisis as an issue with sex, but it's really more of an emotional, and spiritual issue in regards to how we operate with sex. I think there are very interesting parallels between black on black crime, drug trafficking and unprotected sex. In essence, each is a form of self-destruction and each is connected to feelings of lack in regards to power and pride.

You are a trained actor, poet, director-clearly a man of many talents. Is there one particular area of the arts that you enjoy focusing on the most? If so, which one is it and why?

Right now film is wonderful. It allows me to truly create a world, from the language, look, feel music--everything. As a storyteller I love that. And I see myself working in film for a very long time. With that being said, I also know that there are other passions that feed me and I'm looking to find a balance to do those things in the right way, at the right time. Acting being one of them.
In some of your biography materials, it states . "In 2001, with no job, no money and no apartment, he sold his furniture, broke his lease and brought a one-way ticket to New York City to pursue his dreams. A classically trained Shakespearean actor and accomplished slam poet, he made enough money to eat, by winning poetry competitions across NYC." Would you talk a bit about what that experience was like and what propelled you to make such a bold move?
It was scary as hell. I had reached a point where I needed a change. I was tired of the 9 to 5 jobs I had been working, wasn't in a relationship of any value and professionally, I felt as if the audiences in the Bay weren't ready to make my leap with me. And by that, I'm speaking about the place every artist gets to, or should, where you're really ready to make a change and the audience you have likes what you're doing just like it is. So I really felt like I had to get out of my comfort zone and do something bold. Again, being the rebel I just announced one day that I was moving to New York. I don't think most people knew I was moving without a plan or resources (laughs). My first year in New York was one of the hardest periods in my life. But amazing too. I really got in touch with who I am and why I'm here. New York is exhilarating and alive, but it's also harsh and unforgiving. It is what it is. I was definitely at a place where I needed my butt kicked and NYC did that.

Many artists talk about doing art for arts sake, seeming unconcerned about political affect or responsibility. How do you respond the question of art and politics? Is the prospect of affecting change a part of your visioning when you write and direct?

Certainly. It has to be. That's just part of the wiring of who I am. And artists do some things in different ways, whether it be through comedy, pathos, singing, dance, theater. There's a place for all type of art and artist, but the work that inspires me and I think that moves audiences is the work that touches your soul and makes you feel the possibilities of tomorrow. Sometimes that work angers you to move, sometimes it makes you laugh and desire to connect with people. Whatever it does, it should have some impact.

What's the scoop on "Dirty Laundry"? We thoroughly enjoyed "Ski Trip" and many saw previews of "Dirty Laundry". When can we expect to see it on the big screen?

Well I just announced that Dirty Laundry will be released this December. First in select cities on December 7 and then nationwide on December 28. It's incredible, because we've never had a film dealing with sexuality that has gotten a national theatrical release before. It's such an opportunity to move the conversation forward and begin a dialogue that is so needed in the Black community. Besides that, it's just a dammed good film that I think audiences will love! So I have been traveling around the country asking people to get out there and support it, because when 'Laundry'does well it will open the door for so many other black, gay stories.

As a same gender loving black man and artist, do you feel an obligation to write, direct, and/or produce works about being "in the life"? What are forthcoming projects?

The rebel in me makes me wanna say that I feel an obligation to tell honest stories. Sometimes those stories will have gay themes, sometimes they won't. I don't have a formula that I subscribe to but try to remain open to the characters as they come to me. It will probably be surprising the hear, but I don't feel that my work so far has been about 'being'gay. I feel that they've been stories about living life and making the mistakes we all make. Since I try to tell stories honestly and some of the characters have been gay, then the world around them will be reflected in that same spirit. So the films have been affirming to us, not because the characters are gay, because there are tons of stereotypes out there, but because we recognize them as real. And that's something we've never had before. I am humbled by the fact that I am walking down a new path in film. And I know that ultimately it's not about me. It's something much larger, spiritual and meaningful.

This month's topic is bisexuality. Many believe that it's just a phase in route to a more full-acceptance of "gay" identity, while others are rather adamant about their choice not to choose and to remain open to love in thier lives, whatever the gender of thier partner(s). How have you dealt with it in your work? For example, I loved the idea, in Ski Trip, of a drag queen and a lesbian choosing to have a child together,without alienating thier "queer" identities. It seemed to expess inalienable freedom to think, not just outside of the box, but well beyond it.

"To "B" or not to "B"? That is the question which occupies the mind" Sorry, way to much Shakespeare as a kid! You know, I had a significant intimate relationship in my life with a man who didn't identify as either gay or bisexual. And he really challenged me to look at my perceptions about identity and why it's important. And it wasn't easy. At its core we have strong opinions and reactions about how people identify themselves because those ideas relate directly to how we see ourselves. I think the bisexuality question is so emotional because it connects to so many men and women. I identify myself as "gay." I love the word. It's fun and bubbly (laughs). I even use the word queer because I came out in San Francisco, so it's part of my "personal culture." There was a period in my life where I said bisexual because I felt like it was easier for people to take and at the very least gave my mom some false sense of hope (laughs). As I came more into my own, the label ceased being important and I simply was what I am: a gay man. But that doesn't meant that my road and process is the same for other men. There are people who are attracted to both sexes. And while I believe sexual orientation is something we are born with, how we choose to identify ourselves is a personal choice that should be respected. The most important thing is how we identify and think about ourselves, and connected to that how we live our lives. For me, my concern is around men who may self-identify as gay, bisexual, same gender loving, whatever, in private but who aren't truly out. While being out is a personal choice, we can't deny it's implications and power. I have a saying that you can't be heard in silence and you can't be seen in the dark. And it's vitally important that Black folks live their lives out in the open to be a source of light and inspiration to so many how haven't had the opportunity, support and ability to do so. As we demonstrate the courage to do that, there will be a rumbling and power that will emanate from within our community that is powerful enough to stand up against HIV/AIDS, discrimination and powerlessness.

Any parting thoughts for Brave Souls affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS?

For my brothers and sisters that are affected and infected with HIV/AIDS my words would be: to sing, dance, paint, write, speak and yell your stories; To live bold and to walk proud. What each of us does here on Earth creates an energy that lives beyond who we are. It may teach others about ourselves, but more importantly it can be a mirror for each of us to learn more about ourselves.

For more on Maurice Jamal, please visit his myspace page by clicking here: Maurice Jamal on Myspace, and
you can find out more about the upcoming film, B-Boy Blues by clicking here: B-Boy Blues Official Site