I shot most of my film in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. It has one of the worst reputations of all neighborhoods in New York, and most folks still call it Bed-Stuy "Do or Die." My crew was really surprised at how friendly and welcoming all the residents were to a bunch of strangers running around with camera equipment just taking up space. So many wanted to be extras in the film, or just wanted to shake our hands and find out what we were up to. In my humble opinion, I think Bed-Stuy is one of the friendliest, most down home places to live and to chill in NYC. I don't know if I just have a really friendly face or something, but folks are always saying good morning or whassup to me there, kind of like it used to be growing up in the hood in Albany. It feels like a community, which is something I don't ever get in any Manhattan neighborhood.
Cut to me, in between takes, rearranging the place settings on a cafe table set up on the sidewalk in front of Petit Bassam, a new international cuisine joint on Lewis Avenue. I looked up and saw Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played Chris Partlow on "The Wire," walking up to the restaurant's front door!
He was wearing a wrinkled jacket over a button down shirt and some jeans, his afro cornrowed in five thick braids down his head. If he wasn't one of my top seven black men (Idris Elba, Djimon Hounsou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gbenga Akinnagbe [met him!], Mos Def [saw him!], Dave Chappelle [met him!], and Don Cheadle), I could have easily overlooked him because he's such a regular guy. I flashed him a very excited grin and ran up to him at the front door.
Rather than backing away slowly, Gbenga smiled widely and shook my hand as he said hello. I was clearly gushing all over him, but he was really cool about it and allowed me to walk him inside and talk his ear off about how much I loved his work on "The Wire," and how The AFRican had been trying to get an interview with him about his current off-Broadway play, "A View From 151st Street," at The Public Theatre. He said that one of our contributors, Sope Ogunyemi, had already set one up for the following day. After that he relaxed a bit, realizing that I was legit.
He's honestly one of the nicest and most open actors I've ever encountered, indulging my every question. He asked if I was Ibo, I said that I was Ibibio. He told me that he had just moved to Bed-Stuy and was looking for someplace to eat, but the restaurant, open only for the film shoot, was closed. I thought about asking the owner to do me a favor and whip "my good friend Gbenga" up something nice, but by then he was pretty hungry and ready to grab some fast food. As he turned to leave, I passed him a business card and said we should keep in touch.
I really hope he does! but I won't get my hopes up. ;)
It is so encouraging to see accomplished actors like Gbenga Akinnagbe chilling in Bed-Stuy. I fully believe that we are witnessing a Brooklyn renaissance and this is just the beginning.
Peace, The AFRican Blogger