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Laurence Fishburne on playing a Black cop in ‘Free Rayshawn’ : TheGrio

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This year’s list of Black Emmy nominees is long and a testament to the strength of so many stories centered on our community. Laurence Fishburne star’s in Quibi’s Emmy-nominated series #FreeRayshawn, alongside Jasmine Cephas Jones and Stephan James, who are both nominated for their performances.

In it, Fishburne plays a police officer Steven Poinsy, who finds himself at the center of a very public standoff with a suspect who believes he’s the only person who can keep him from being gunned down by police without any chance of pleading his case. 

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Officer Poinsy walks the line between standing by the force and recognizing that some members of the team are trigger-happy when it comes to Black men. The depiction is one that likely highlights what so many actual Black police officers struggle with on a daily basis; and capturing the dueling allegiances is something that Fishburne pulled off perfectly. 

“Well, it was a beautiful rendering of a character on the page that this man, African-American, middle-aged, you know, not that high up in rank. And yet, Rayshawn, when he encounters him, recognizes that this man may be the person who can help him to secure his life and the safety of his family,” he tells theGrio

“This man who has a history, where he took the life of a young child by accident. But, you know, tell that to the boy’s mother, right? All of these complexities made it very, very interesting for me to be involved.”

When it comes to the problems plaguing society now, and the consistent violence inflicted on Black folks by police fostering the very deep mistrust between communities of color and the force, the actor says anger isn’t necessarily the most useful reaction.  

“I don’t think it’s going to be constructive for us to just be angry at the police,” he explains. “It would be constructive for us to do what we need to do to get out there and vote and affect change in policy. The police are a symptom of something much larger, which is systemic racism in our country. So it’s not just in law enforcement or in show business or in politics or in big business—it is pervasive. It is throughout from the top to the bottom, and policy is where it’s going to be.”

“And, you know, having the allies, you know, it’s not just a black folks problem. It’s an American problem and all of us have to participate in changing it.”

Excelsior! A Celebration Of The Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible And Uncanny Life Of Stan Lee
Laurence Fishburne attends Excelsior! A Celebration of The Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life Of Stan Lee at TCL Chinese Theatre on January 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)

The persistent problem of living in this country while Black is a subject matter #FreeRayshawn tackles head on, and one that Fishburne has built a career out of magnifying.  

“It was part of the reason to take on a job like this,” he says. “This is not the first time I’ve told a story like this. Cornbread Earl and Me is this story. Cornbread is a model. Cornbread is Breonna Taylor; Cornbread is George Floyd. Doughboy and Ricky are all of those people. They represent all of those people from Boyz In Da Hood.”

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He continues, “It has been probably the main theme, or one of the main themes, of my life and work as an artist since I was 10 years old. So this is part of my work, the reality and my work are sort of intersecting here with #FreeRayshawn and that is ultimately a good thing. As difficult as the situation is, as tragic as all of these deaths are, we need to talk about them. We need to say their names. We need to march. But we also need to affect change in policy, which means we’ve got to vote.”

Check out the full interview above.  

#FreeRayshawn is streaming now on Quibi.

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