If you’ve ever wanted to be an extra in a film or on television, you need to meet Christopher Gray. Gray specializes in casting extras for Hollywood’s big-budget blockbuster movies or network TV shows such as “Collateral,” “Amistad,” “Hustle and Flow,” “Men of Honor” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Extras, or background actors, are the people who are walking or sitting or chatting or standing in any movie or TV show with no speaking lines. Gray has made his mark in Hollywood casting extras for more than 100 Hollywood big-budget movies and TV shows.
Working in Hollywood wasn’t part of his career goal. Gray, born in Memphis, Tenn., is a graduate of Howard University and then studied law in California.
In California, a friend asked him to help out with casting and he caught the proverbial acting bug. He is among a handful of Black casting directors with 25 years of experience casting ordinary people to play roles in movies or TV shows.
Even though he has established himself as one of the casting experts in the movie and TV industry, Gray faces the same challenges that most African-American actors feel in Hollywood — there aren’t enough roles or opportunities for Blacks. According to Gray, in the casting department, there isonly a handful of Black casting directors in Hollywood.
“There are very few scripts for Black actors is the number one problem ... then you have the same actors vying for the same position (role). Sometimes when I go into production meetings, I am the only Black person sitting in,” said Gray, who operates his Christopher Gray Casting Agency in West Hollywood.
As one of the pioneers in Black Hollywood and among a handful of Black casting directors, Gray is not known in Hollywood production circles as a Black casting agent. He is the only African-American casting director to have cast extras with all of the major studios — 20th Century Fox, MGM Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney/Touchstone, Dreamworks, New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures — and worked with blockbuster producers and directors, including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann and David Lynch.
And although he has cast millions of extras and his movie credits include A-list superstars such as Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington and Will Smith, procuring the next movie or TV project remains an “everyday struggle.”
“Hollywood is who you know. It’s all about who you know. If you don’t know anybody, it’s really hard to break in,” explained Gray, who gave rare, behind-the-scenes insight on how casting directors are hired in Hollywood.
His advice for people who want to be the next Christopher Gray is to learn the behind-the-scenes areas of the movie-making or TV show production business, including wardrobe, costume design, hair or makeup, through apprenticeships. There are more opportunities behind the scenes.
Being an extra is also a way to get exposed to the world of movies and TV shows. It’s a way to see the mechanics involved — lighting, cameras, sound, set design and scene production. Gray says “90 percent” of the production work in Hollywood is from on-the-job training, not taught in schools.
You can see Christopher Gray Casting’s magic touch in “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” starring Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock in theaters now and the remake of “Steel Magnolias” starring Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Phylicia Rashad and Alfre Woodard on Lifetime TV in September.
Okay. Chris Rock and a white French woman — wait for it — Yes, it is funny, and for reasons that you would not imagine. Rock and Julie Delpy star in "2 Days in New York," a romantic farce open in theaters today.
Directed by Delpy ("2 Days in Paris"), "2 Days in New York" is the whimsical story of an inter-racial couple. Mingus (Chris Rock), an ambitious reporter for the Village Voice, forms a friendship with Marion (Julie Delpy), a photographer at the paper, giving her a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on as she whines about her life in general and her ex-husband in particular. Soon their relationship turns physical and they move into a New York apartment, each bringing a child from a previous relationship. Along with their spoiled cat, they form a cozy and quiet family unit. However, their peaceful sanctuary is about to be invaded.
Marion gets word that her family is coming from France for a visit, including her father Jeannot (Delpy's real-life father, Albert Delpy) and sister Rose (Alexia Landeau). While it is a minor inconvenience, given the language barrier and cultural differences, Mingus is actually looking forward to their arrival. However, his outlook begins to sour when Jeannot and Rose are accompanied by Rose's boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon), who also had a hot and heavy relationship with Marion.
The problems begin almost immediately when Rose, a child psychiatrist, immediately decides that Marion's son, Lulu, is autistic. Rose is also an over-sexed exhibitionist who likes to walk around the apartment naked. The well-meaning, but highly annoying Jeannot curses and talks openly about sex in front of the children, but it is the outrageous Manu that makes the situation unbearable. As if his warped sense of humor weren't bad enough, he appears to have no morals whatsoever, and deliberately pushes Mingus' buttons at every opportunity. As their arguments escalate, will Mingus and Marion's relationship survive this test?
With a screenplay written by Julie Delpy and Alexia Landeau, the pursuit of the answer to that question is hilarious, and subtitles, which can sometimes be annoying, are an integral and effective component of their comedy.
A small ensemble piece, "2 Days in New York" is a superb vehicle for Chris Rock, who simply does not have the "chops" or the temperament to carry a multi-million dollar blockbuster on his back. However, he is clearly in his element in this intimate atmosphere — able to flex his formidable comedic muscles while fully developing a character. While it initially appeared that he would not have any chemistry with the strangely amusing Delpy, by the end of the film everyone was pulling for a happy ending to their twisted romance.
The rest of the outrageous ensemble was clearly having a blast as they upset Mingus and Marion's orderly existence. Albert Delpy had a visible twinkle in his eye as he made a fool of himself, while Landeau had a high old time playing a hoochie. Nahon's obnoxious Manu came very close to getting choked out.
While this 91-minute romp was a lot of fun, it did have its faults. One faux pas that I noticed is that Marion initially stated that she was 38 years old, but about three minutes later said that she was 37. Apparently someone in the continuity department was asleep at the switch.
With a bold, unfiltered and unfettered ensemble and a zany screenplay, "2 Days in New York," an adventurous undertaking by Chris Rock will show him in an intriguing new light. (Rated "R").
A cell phone video of a Philadelphia policeman viciously punching a Puerto Rican woman to the ground during an event celebrating Hispanic heritage goes viral, heaping more shame on this city perceived internationally as a notorious hub of police misconduct.
Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner — a Black man — fires that assaultive police officer — another Black man.
Yet, that punching policeman receives quick defense from a white man, the president of Philly’s police union, an organization widely condemned by many non-whites for its reflexive backing of bigotry and brutality.
The mayor of Philadelphia, a Black man, provides the Puerto Rican woman with an apology while Philadelphia’s district attorney — another Black man — decides whether the abuse the woman received warrants charges against that Black policeman.
Are the interracial dynamics evident in this incident of police abuse an example of post-racial America where historic fault-lines of race have blurred to the point of necessitating elimination of programs like affirmative action?
In this era when a Black man sits in America’s Oval Office and a Black female is a television network-owning billionaire many argue that programs to address America’s legacy of race-based inequities like affirmative action are unnecessary, illegal and divisive.
Never mind that less than two years ago Philadelphia’s Black mayor and police commissioner were the subjects of a civil rights lawsuit due to their controversial stop-and-frisk program where police stopped more Black and Hispanic persons that whites.
Never mind that Black-owned businesses received a paltry 3.5 percent of federal contracts funded through President Obama’s vaulted ARRA stimulus according to continuous stimulus monitoring conducted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.
And, never mind that those who push the line that race prejudice is no longer a barrier to persons of color would not trade places with a Black person — even a rich Black person like comedian Chris Rock, who’s joked about the disconnect between those proclaiming the death of systemic prejudice and their refusal to surrender any benefits from systemic privilege.
If American society truly stood upon the “solid rock of brotherhood” that Dr. King referenced in his seminal 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech some Black Republicans would not need to criticize GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for lacking racial inclusiveness within top ranks of his campaign staff.
If that “sunlit path of racial justice” King noted in 1963 truly existed the Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census released last month by the National Association of Black Journalists would not detail how non-whites comprise 12 percent of TV news decision makers when non-whites comprise 35 percent of America’s population.
This week, yet another challenge to affirmative action programs lands in the august chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing. Most of the conservative members of that judicial body, including that court’s only Black member, consider affirmative action an ugly evil.
The Supreme Court’s current head, Chief Justice John Roberts, was a foot soldier in the Justice Department of 1980s President Ronald Reagan where legal schemes were implemented to dismantle civil rights gains of the 1960s like changing legal proof required for proving unlawful racism from impact to intent.
That small impact-to-intent change produced a big burden for racism victims requiring their providing both statistical evidence of race discrimination (documenting unqualified whites constantly promoted over qualified Blacks) plus producing evidence of “intent” to discriminate – evidence harder to obtain because most discriminators became savvy enough not to openly use the N-word.
This latest attack on affirmative action is another college admissions ruckus, this time from Texas.
Texas colleges give automatic admission to students graduating in the top ten percent of their high school classes. Those colleges utilize other factors, including race, for admissions of non-top-ten-percent students.
Abigail Fisher and another white student are challenging that admissions policy arguing that while they were ineligible for automatic admission their grades were better than others admitted who like them were not eligible for automatic admission.
The legal logic at the core of this challenge is not much different from the consistent history of attacks on efforts to reverse the legacies of American apartheid: white entitlement that twists color-blindness to continue excluding persons of color.
Race as a consideration in college admissions is a tactic employed to alter decades of discriminatory admissions similar to set-asides seeking to alter decades of discrimination in the construction industry.
The firms that always controlled construction successfully attacked set-asides to continue excluding non-whites and now many of those firms are spinning off companies [allegedly] headed by daughters and wives to take advantage of contracting advantages extended to female-owned companies established to correct gender discrimination.
Pennsylvania contractors, for example, bitterly fought the federal governments first construction set-aside program contending that program would deprive them of “profits,” force them to deal with minority contractors whom “they would ordinarily not do business with” and would place them at a “competitive disadvantage.”
Federal courts in the late 1970s reject those fallacious assertions but efforts to stack federal courts with conservative judges — funded in part by contractors receiving tax dollars — eventually lead to elimination of that set-aside program established because minority contractors received only one percent of the $2 billion Congress provided for public works projects in 1976 to stimulate the economy.
Affirmative action falls into that verbal equation of: Figures never lie, but liars figure.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
When 750 children turned out Saturday morning for AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation and the Keystone Mercy Health Plan’s ninth annual Healthy Hoops program, they received hands-on asthma education.
The program, which was held at St. Joseph’s University Hagan Arena, was geared toward improving asthma management and reducing childhood obesity.
“The children were very excited and we had an opportunity to grab the parents in the audience and just educate them,” says Tonya Moody, vice president of development and programming, AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation.
“It is a great effort in improving the quality of life in our community,” she said.
During the program, asthmatic children underwent spirometry screenings to determine their lung capacity and were educated about the importance of using their asthma devices. Participating physicians developed asthma action plans that will be forwarded to the children’s respective primary care providers.
The event enabled children to tap into basketball clinics led by legends Sonny Hill and Speedy Morris.
The program was held in collaboration with Charlie Mack’s Party4Peace Celebrity Weekend 2012, which aimed to reduce violence in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. During the program, children had an opportunity to meet various celebrities including actors Terry Crews, Will Smith, Hill Harper, Tisha Campbell and comedian Chris Rock.
“The celebrities were very heartfelt. We had a lot of positive discussions on achievement and good health and making good choices and improving the quality of life,” says Moody.
“The celebrities were very instrumental in promoting and motivating our young people to do the right thing as they travel through life.”
About 100 volunteers from the AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation and KMHP were on hand for Saturday’s event.
KMHP officials credit the Healthy Hoops program with helping to reduce inpatient visits and health care costs. The KMHP members who participated in the 2009 event saw their patient utilization costs decrease by nearly 46 percent and their number of inpatient visits decrease by 62 percent.
“By teaching members better health management strategies, they reduce the likelihood of costly emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations,” said Maria Pajil Battle, president of the AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation.
Since its inception in 2003, Healthy Hoops has been expanded to other parts of the country including Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina. The program has impacted more than 10,000 children, enabling them to receive full physicals and pre-and post-program health screenings.
The focus on asthma management comes at a time when approximately 22 percent of Philadelphia children under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with asthma according to Philadelphia Allies Against Asthma and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.