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Don Cheadle: Having a White Co-Star in ‘Miles Ahead’ Was a “Financial Imperative”

Don Cheadle: Having a White Co-Star in 'Miles Ahead' Was a "Financial Imperative"

Absolutely nothing here that we haven’t already talked about ad naseam, but I thought you’d all like to know about it anyway.

In brief, while addressing the press after the screening of his “Miles Ahead” at the Berlin Film Festival earlier today, Don Cheadle shared that he wanted to make a film about Miles Davis that was as “explosive” as the jazz legend’s music, but he wasn’t even able to get it off the ground (in terms of financing) without a white co-star.

Thus, enter the character played by Ewan McGregor in the film.

Cheadle called the decade-long effort to get the film produced, a “Herculean” task, thanks to the lack of interest from studios and other industry financiers. So he had to take to crowdfunding, launching an Indiegogo campaign, which successfully raised about $360,000 total. He also used some of his own money to help fund the film.

In essence, he wasn’t able to make the film he really wanted to make, because he could not raise the necessary funds to make *that* film, and apparently almost wasn’t even able to make a film at all (“explosive” or not), unless he added a white co-star.

Calling it “one of the realities of the business that we are in” – essentially, the self-fulfilling prophecy that films with all-black casts won’t sell as well as those with white actors in them – Cheadle added, “There is a lot of apocryphal, not proven evidence that black films don’t sell overseas… Having a white actor in this film turned out to actually be a financial imperative.”

A “financial imperative” he said!!

And thus, he was forced him to rework the script, adding the character McGregor plays -a shady Rolling Stone reporter – turning the film into something more akin to an interracial buddy-action-comedy flick, than something that would be truly worthy of Miles Davis.

“I wanted it to be a movie that Miles Davis would want to star in. He would have laughed at it, he would’ve dug it and been like ‘That’s slick, I didn’t do that — that’s bullshit — but I like that’,” Cheadle said. “That’s what I wanted – a movie that felt like the experience I have when I listen to his music… I wanted to do something explosive, exciting, that felt like a ride and felt impressionistic and free form because that’s what his music does to me.”

This is all actually a somewhat sweet & sour realization for me, because, as I said in my review of “Miles Ahead” after I saw it at the New York Film Festival last fall, if I did have one expectation going into the screening, it was that I was more than prepped for something entirely unconventional, given what Cheadle previously shared about the film – essentially, a film that Miles Davis himself would make, employing the organic, experimental approach he used in creating some of his best music; notably an album like “Bitches Brew,” which was recorded in just three days. Like Davis, a rejection of the traditional (jazz / filmmaking) in favor of an approach that’s more aggressive, free-form and, I even also used the word “explosive” in my review as well. And you can see Cheadle going for that in “Miles Ahead,” but, as I argued, not quite enough. I then added that he may have been constrained by the fact that he needed to create something that could sell a few tickets, and not be painted with the sometimes dreaded “intellectual cinema” (read: inaccessible) brush. So we are presented with what you’d call a more conventional, commercial narrative, a fictional crime caper that sees Davis teaming up with an ambitious white journalist to track down a much-coveted stolen tape of a recording session.

So, in summary, it’s good enough; but given the legend that is the subject matter, and the paucity of films in which his story is central, I argued that it needed to be better than “good enough” – if not great!

Knowing some of the backstory today on the making of the film that I wasn’t fully aware of previously, months after seeing the film, it makes sense I suppose. Not that I’m pleased by this; quite the opposite. But this new awareness of what Cheadle’s original intent was, and knowing that this wasn’t just the case of him simply not meeting expectations, but that he was constrained in what he could and couldn’t do, helps.

“I think it works great, and particularly the fact that Ewan McGregor is the actor who is in it, I think he is fantastic in the movie. But that was a component of… allowing us to even have a budget to get the film made,” he said in closing on that subject.

An unfortunate reality. One that we’ve discussed endlessly on this blog. But something that I believe will change eventually.

Sony Pictures Classics will release “Miles Ahead” in April.

Trailer below:

This Article is related to: News



This breaks my heart. I would rather that he not have made the film if he had to compromise his vision to that extent. That he shared this was interesting–when you acknowledge diluting your art for "mainstream" financing, why would I want to see it? I wonder how McGregor and the other actors involved feel about his sharing this? I also wonder why Showtime (his network) or Netflix or some other moneyed, non-theatrical alternative didn’t step up.

Joy Shannon

Glad he made it, no matter what.


Now if this film doesn’t do well (at least make back its money) at the box office, who is Cheadle going to blame for this? He should have made the film he wanted in the first place because at least he could live with that if it didn’t do well. He waited 10 years to do this film only to make a film that wasn’t something he wanted to make? Doesn’t make any sense at all!


The most important color is always green!


"The press release also came with an announcement that local musicians and actors will be sought, so there might be a job here for some of you reading this" @ JDUB and Amazing, as you can see, S&A has been reporting on this film for nearly 2 years. 2 posts in particular focus on the film’s funding and their search "talent". I believe post, in some way, will support both of your opinions. Check’em out by putting the posts titles in the search engine (above right corner of this blog) First one–>"Finally! Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis Film Will Shoot In Greater Cincinnati This Summer. Zoe Saldana, Ewan McGregor Co-Star". Of note in that post–> Musicians, extras, crew wanted. Second post–> "On-Set Photos From Don Cheadle’s ‘Miles Ahead’ (Now Filming in Cincinnati After Successful Crowdfunding Campaign)." Also JDub and Amazing, much of the debate you’re having at this post, is also discussed by S&A’s readers at those other 2. Enjoy!


@JDub…you ain’t telling me nothing I don’t know…White filmmakers with passion projects always find people who work at scale to get something interesting made…Cheadle raised money for an art film about Miles and then made something else…he would have been better off making a student film with the real script

Charlie Parker

I think making a dramatic movie about Miles’ switch from acoustic to electric jazz in the late 1960s would have been a wonderfully dramatic story. His look and style changed dramatically, and it all happened with James Brown and Hendrix and more in the backdrop. Better yet, why not tell the story of how I (Charles Parker) pulled him out of Juilliard, onto heroin, and into the seething vortex of modern jazz. Now there’s some real-life drama.

charlie parker

Don Cheadle is always excellent, but how pathetic is it that he had to create a white character to get this thing funded. Too bad he couldn’t have had the white character be someone from Miles Davis’s real life like the beautiful actress Juliette Greco he had a major romance with in the 1950s, or perhaps the pianist Bill Evans who played on Miles’s best-selling album ever, or major Gil Evans, the white Canadian who did arrangements for five of Miles’ most popular records in the late 1950s, or maybe Teo Macero, the white producer who helped Miles piece together great albums like In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.


I’m surprised that it didn’t occur to the reviewer six months ago. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the need to view a movie with an open mind in order to do a proper job as a reviewer, any other knowledgeable — and jaded — person would assume the story was going to be altered for such reasons.

Marcus B Like

Horrible. It is important to fight for creative blackness at every turn in a patriarchal white supremacist system. I wish a white producer would be enough for financiers and distributors. White faces on screen are even more important to them.


@ Amazing It ain’t that simple. Professionals want to get paid for their time and work. This isn’t some student film where you can just round up a few peeps with some experience and make a film together. Plus there are unions to consider. Every professional belongs to a union and there are rules. There are contracts. Nobody’s is volunteering for anything. You need to learn a little bit more about how the business works before tossing out suggestions like that.


You mean to tell me there aren’t 100 Black actors and technicians in NY and LA who would volunteer to help Cheadle make this film for peanuts? I find that hard to believe…even passionate student filmmakers put together teams of 20 people.


Tolly, your comment is not totally true for several reasons. But lets say everything you said is true, what are you proposing/implying? See, I understand Cheadle’s position/dilemma (deferring my reasoning to Miles’s comment… but exchange the word "nobody" for "few"). More importantly, I admire Cheadle’s courage to openly admit that which some would define as an injudicious decision and/or an avoidable one.


We haven’t built our own studio system to finance and distribute our own films. There is no one to blame but ourselves.


I saw this film last month, and, yes, I was surprised by the comic buddy genre framing of it, but I was roundly entertained by this film. It was well edited, well placed jump cuts to early Miles Davis during his creative ascent. Cheadle & McGregor worked well together, both of them being more shady than shine personality-wise. In short, I loved the film.

Mark and Darla


tolly devlin

In the movie Bird Clint Eastwood chose to focus mainly on Charlie Parker’s relations with Red Rodney, Chan Parker and some obligatory white police detective to the exclusion of his relationship with Dizzy, Miles, Max Roach & other Black musicians.


Not surprising, but still very unsettling.

Miles Ellison

Because nobody wants to see a movie about a legendary black musical innovator unless a made-up white character is in it. That’s pathetic on a variety of levels.

rijpe vrouwen

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