How much does the sequel pull from material you’ve considered over the years?
We came up with a lot of new material. In some ways, we go over the same ground, but in other ways not really. I do think this one does some things that are subtler than the first one. We definitely still have some scares and really big, over-the-top moments. But there are a few quieter stories as well. It was interesting to go back and deal with it again. I’m sure if we’d done it 10 or 20 years ago, it would’ve been a different movie because of our growth as filmmakers.
Did you ever try to talk Clarence Williams III out of retirement?
Absolutely! I begged Clarence. I think he felt like he just wasn’t up to it. He gave us his blessing to move forward. It’s something I know he wanted to do years ago. He’d have different ideas about what the devil should be doing. Every now and then, I’d run into him and he’d say, “I think the devil should be in the Bahamas!” Okay. So I tried to get Clarence back. We owe him the hugest debt, because he really created a character. When people talk about “Tales From the Hood,” the two things that most often come up are the dolls and Clarence Williams III. We didn’t even realize how great he was going to be when we cast him.
The gap between the first movie and the sequel leaves me wondering about the eras you didn’t have the opportunity to comment on. You missed out on the Bush and Obama presidencies. “Get Out” tapped into this unconscious liberal white racism. What was your feeling about the nature of conversations about African American identity — and race in America as a whole — while Obama was president?
Someone tweeted to me a week and a half ago that I was on a podcast with Neil Brennan, who’d worked with Chappelle, prior to Obama being elected. They were saying, “Rusty predicted Donald Trump.” I was like, “I did?” I went back and listened to the audio. Basically, what I was saying was that if Obama got elected, there would be a significant pendulum shift hard to the right and it’s going to be ugly. That’s exactly what has happened. I forgot I’d said that, but it makes sense. I’m always telling people about my pendulum theory of life, which is that anytime something happens on one side, it’s going to swing to the other side. It always happens. You hope that one day the pendulum will swing to the center so people will get over some things.
I wasn’t terribly surprised when the reaction to Obama’s presidency became what it was. I think a lot of people — especially some of my wife’s friends — were like, “Well, there we go. We’ve done it! We’ve slayed that dragon!” No. That dragon’s coming back, and he’s just going to be angrier. That’s all.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping we can start “Black Jesus” Season 4 soon. Last year, I was the showrunner for “Black Jesus” Season 3 and it’s been caught up in the pipeline because of the TimeWarner/AT&T merger. Now that it appears to be settled, I’m hoping we can start on Season 4. We’re also talking to Spike about doing some other stuff. I’m hoping to get “Fear of a Black Hat” a new lease on life in some format.
Generally speaking, how do you feel about the climate for African-American filmmaking today?
The climate now for black filmmakers and storytellers is really exciting. What you’ve seen is that the corporate community has discovered they can make money doing these stories, so it’s obviously opened up a lot of different avenues for people to share experiences. I’m hoping that it continues. Look back at the ’90s. You had the period of the Hughes brothers and Matty Rich, Spike, Robert Townsend. Then it kind of petered off, and now we’re back into another phase.
Previous to all that, of course, there was blaxploitation, and then that died off. I don’t know how long it’ll go this time, but at the moment, it’s a very exciting time to see so many voices that you haven’t normally heard in the African-American community — and, hopefully, in other underserved communities as well: women, Asian, Hispanic and Latino voices. I think all those communities have stories that can be engaging to audiences beyond their insular communities. I think that’s happening with black projects. I look forward to seeing what else is coming and how long it lasts.
When “Fear of a Black Hat” came out, the New York Times profiled you and also ran an actual glossary of hip-hop terms used in the film. Today, it reads tone deaf — the internet would’ve gone wild. How do you feel about dealing with perceptions of your work beyond the African-American community and the way that has changed?
Wow. I don’t remember that article. That’s really funny. It would be laughed at today. But during the period when that came out, I guess for that audience — by which I mean, people paying for the New York Times — it was probably appropriate. A lot of those readers probably didn’t know that lingo at the time. I would guess now they probably would. It’s interesting to see how quickly phrases and terminology, particularly from the African-American community, meanders its way into general discourse.
People are saying things you wouldn’t expect them to say. How quickly those things become dated. You can’t even keep up with them anymore. It’s a real fast turnover. Trying to keep something to yourself now is almost impossible because of social media and all the different outlets you can watch something on now — on YouTube, Instagram, etc. Everyone involved in the culture of social media sees it, then it’s quickly co-opted by advertisers and Madison Avenue. Then the people who first started saying it are going, “Well, I’m not saying, ‘That shit’s so on fleek’ anymore because it’s so over now. The words just traverse through all strata of cultures and ages so quickly that they become punchlines for a white person on a sitcom.