Jamie Foxx Riveting as Homeless Savant
The Soloist: Film Review by
Despite being raised in the ‘hood by a single-mom, child
prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) exhibited such
promise on the cello that by the time he graduated from
high school in 1970 he had earned a scholarship to
Juilliard. But unlike other classmates such as Yo-Yo
Ma, Nathaniel would never get a chance to realize his
full potential, because during his sophomore year he
began exhibiting symptoms of the schizophrenia which
would derail his dream of a career in classical music.
Soon, he had to drop out
of school and return home to Cleveland where he was
cared for by his mother until she passed away in 2000.
At that juncture, he headed west, prompted by a delusion
that his long-lost father resided in Los Angeles.
Instead, Nathaniel only ended up on the infamous Skid
Row, leading a hand-to-mouth existence in obscurity
alongside thousands of the equally destitute and
There, the only hint of
his musical past was revealed when he periodically
played the violin in the park while standing beneath a
statue of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Nonetheless, Nathaniel
generally went unnoticed by passersby until the fateful
day, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a writer for the
L.A. Times, was struck by the virtuosity being
exhibited by this homeless man on a battered, old
instrument with only two strings.
The intrigued reporter
introduced himself, and was shocked to hear semi-lucid
Nathaniel, during rare moments of clarity, assert that
he had once studied at Juilliard. After confirming that
rarified pedigree with the school’s administration
office in New York, Lopez decided to write a series of
feature stories about how someone so talented could end
up a street musician begging for tips. However, he
gradually found himself crossing the line from
dispassionate journalist to friend and benefactor as he
became increasingly involved with rehabilitating his
subject, not only finding him an apartment, but
arranging for violin lessons and mental health treatment
Thus, “Can this lost soul
be saved?” is the burning question posed by The Soloist,
a bittersweet bio-pic based on Mr. Lopez’s best-seller
of the same name. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement),
the film features Jamie Foxx who does a magnificent job
in his most challenging outing since Ray. Here, he
convincingly conveys the tragic plight of a man still
capable of flashes of brilliance who is more often than
not betrayed by his own brain. Narrator Robert Downey,
Jr. is just as effective playing the would-be Good
Samaritan forced by his estranged wife (Catherine
Keener) to question his own motivations when his every
overture is ostensibly thwarted by the very person he’s
hoping to help.
Was Lopez truly
altruistic, or just motivated by the potential book and
movie deals that Nathaniel’s sensational tale might
enable him to land? And was it fair of him to presume to
know what was best for a schizophrenic without walking a
mile in the man’s moccasins or medulla oblongata? Judge
for yourself. There are no easy answers here, so don’t
expect a Hollywood ending, even though the picture was
shot on location right on Skid Row (and employed
hundreds of homeless as extras), virtually in the shadow
A compelling cross of a
couple of Academy Award-winning Best Pictures,
Beautiful Mind and
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,
capable of holding its own up against those
similarly-themed, screen classics.
Excellent (4 stars) / Rated PG-13 for
mature themes, drug use and profanity / Running time:
109 minutes / Studio: Dreamworks Pictures
To see a trailer for The Soloist, visit:
* * * *
Kam Williams Interviews Jamie Foxx, “The
Texas native Jamie Foxx
was born Eric Marlon Bishop on December 13, 1967 and
raised by his grandparents from the age of seven months
following the failure of his parents’ marriage. Although
he was a star athlete at Terrell High on both the
school’s football and basketball teams, he majored in
classical music and composition at the U.S.
International University in California.
got his start in showbiz in 1989 when he went on stage
on a dare on open mic night and tried his hand at
standup. After spending time on the comedy circuit, he
joined Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and
Tommy Davidson in the landmark Fox sketch comedy series
Living Color," creating some of the show's funniest
and most memorable moments.
In 1996, he launched his
own series, "The Jamie Foxx Show," which was one of the
top-rated programs on the WB Network during its
five-year run. Jamie not only starred on the series but
also was the co-creator and executive producer, and
directed several episodes. He made his big screen in
Toys in 1992, followed by appearances in
The Players Club. He received
critical acclaim for his riveting work in
Sunday and as Bundini Brown in Ali, breakout
roles which inexorably led to 2004, the Year of the
Foxx, when he delivered a trio of powerful performances
He won an Academy Award
for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles as well
as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA
and NAACP Image Awards. Jamie simultaneously garnered
Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and Image
Award nominations in the category of Best Supporting
Actor for his work in Collateral. And he landed Golden
Globe and SAG Award nominations and won an Image Award
for his portrayal of condemned gang member-turned-Nobel
Peace Prize nominee Stan "Tookie" Williams in
Redemption. That amazing feat marked the first time
that a single actor has received three Golden Globe
nominations and four SAG Award nominations in the same
Foxx has since appeared
The Kingdom, and will next star in the drama
Law Abiding Citizen directed by F. Gary Gray.
Besides his outstanding work in front of the camera,
Jamie has also achieved a thriving career in music. His
eagerly-anticipated J Records debut, "Unpredictable,"
was nominated for eight Billboard Music Awards, three
Grammy Awards, one Soul Train Music Award and two
American Music Awards, for which he won Favorite Male
Artist. And his second album, "Intuition," was just
released last December to rave reviews.
Here, he talks about his
new movie, The Soloist, a true story in which he
plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child
prodigy, who ended up homeless after developing
schizophrenia. In the film, Ayers is befriended by Steve
Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), an L.A. Times
reporter who hears him playing the violin in the park.
* * * *
Jamie, I loved The Soloist and I’m so honored to
get this time with you.
Thank you, bro.
My first question is, did you get to meet Nathaniel
Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
Yes I did. As a matter of fact, I snuck downtown with a
little bit of a disguise and a security cat, and I just
hung out right next to Nathaniel. He had no idea that I
was watching him. I got a chance to see him speak to the
world, and get excited, and be happy, and sad, and play
his music. And I saw him preach. Watching that I was
able to gather a lot of great information about who this
guy was that I was about to play, without hearing
anybody’s opinion of him, but just from my firsthand
look at him. Later, I was formally introduced to him,
and he was on his best behavior. He smiled because he
gets it that they were going to do a movie about his
life. And then you see him not get it, and wondering,
“What’s going n here?” And then he’d swing back around
and get it again. So, it was very interesting. And while
all that was happening, I had a video camera on my phone
that I used to record him the whole time. So, I came
home, watched that footage, the footage I filmed when he
wasn’t watching, and the footage I filmed when he was
How did you prepare for the role after that?
It was a matter of putting him together. Losing the
weight… getting the hair right… getting the makeup
right… and going to that place that I have feared going
to for a long time, that is, losing your mind.
What made you afraid of that?
As a child I always feared losing my mind. There was a
guy in my neighborhood who always walked up and down the
street talking to himself. I won’t say his name, but I
would always go, “Ooh, that’s scary.” And then, when I
was 18, I had a horrible experience when somebody
slipped something into my drink. It was a college prank
that really went bad, and I hallucinated for 11 months.
The doctors said that sometimes people go and they never
come back. I was lucky enough to get back, but the way I
recovered was by playing music all the time, because I
was in a music school. Isn’t it interesting that
Nathaniel Anthony Ayers had a similar situation?
So, at one point while preparing for this movie I woke
my manager at like three in the morning, saying, “I got
it, I’m him, I know exactly what’s going on. Nathaniel
says this, that and the other, because he feels this way
and that way. I used to do the same thing when I was in
college. I played music, and the reason we play music is
so we can soothe ourselves. I’m him!”
How did your manger respond?
He goes, “Foxx, I’m on way over to your house, because
this is a little strange.” And when he gets there, I’m
telling him all these different things which to him
sounded like I was losing my mind. But to me, it made
perfect sense, and that’s who Nathaniel Anthony Ayers
is. Everything that he’s doing makes perfect sense to
him. That’s why when Steve Lopez says, “You need help,”
Nathaniel responds, “No, you don’t get it. This is what
it is. This is what makes me feel comfortable. This is
not your mind. This is my mind.” So, there were a lot of
different parallels going on.
After seeing The Soloist, I spoke to the film’s
director, Joe Wright, because I was upset that it hadn’t
been released last fall during Oscar season like
originally planned. It struck me as a cross of A
Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But
I think you did a better job at conveying the feeling of
insanity than either of those other pictures, which were
both excellent, too.
Joe told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and
hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that
It was interesting. I learned to have a different
outlook on Skid Row. I arrived with my bravado, being an
urban kid from the country, and thinking that there were
people there out to get you. There’s gangbanging going
on on Skid Row… people selling drugs… people on the come
up… So, I went down there with an attitude like, “Yo,
I’m going down here, but I’m watching my back.” But I
quickly learned that that wasn’t what it was all about.
They were mostly people who were really just trying to
survive and to hold onto the little bit of human dignity
they had left. I met actors down there, lawyers, and
people who had been released too early from mental
institutions that had turned their backs on them. People
who had been living a couple of paychecks from being
homeless, and then something bad happened, they lost
everything, and now they don’t know how to get back. I
learned a lot of lessons, so when I look at them now, I
don’t think of them in the same way that I used to. I
have to thank Joe Wright for that.
It reminds me of how when I was watching the State of
the Black Union recently, I saw former TV talk show host
Iyanla Vanzant talking about recently becoming homeless.
And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
Yeah, it blows your mind, man, because you never know
where you might be. That was another thing I said to my
manager that night, “And this is what’s going to happen:
I’m going to lose all my money. I’m going to lose this
house, and I’m going to end up homeless.” And to me, it
really felt like that could happen. And sometimes, in
those situations, it really can.
When you mentioned videotaping Nathaniel, it reminded me
of a video I saw of you on the internet at the
presidential inauguration where you were using your
phone to tape a student from the Naval Academy,
Chidiebere Kalu, singing acappella in his dress uniform.
He actually happens to be
a friend of my son, who’s producing some tracks with
him. Were you really impressed with Kalu?
Yes, he just text-messaged me. I let him know to have
some patience. I’m trying to get it all together, so
when I come to him it’s real legit. [Jamie starts
singing the same song Kalu sings on youtube]. Whatever
that song was, I called him on his answering machine,
and said, “Young man, I’ve got some great ideas for you,
I’m just trying to put it all together.” I think we
could really do something special with him. When I
listened to his music, I just didn’t think that was the
way he should go. I think that he could stay clean. He
could be a real beacon coming from the military, doing
some great inspirational music that would also sell. I
don’t want him to feel like he’s corny, because I know
he’s got his thing going. But with some of the music I
heard, I was like, “That’s cool,” but we need to find
the right music for him and then capitalize on where
he’s coming from. This video footage I have of him is
Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that
you wish someone would?
Yes, there’s a question. How come they don’t ask me
about how great I play ping-pong?
Okay, how great do you play ping-pong?
JF: I’m bad! I
will challenge anybody. Don’t even think about it.
Unless you’re left-handed and from China, you don’t have
The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
All the time.
The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you
had a good belly laugh?
Every day, man. [Chuckles] If you hang out with me,
you’d see. I hang out with all comedians.
The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where
in L.A. do you live?
I live on a farm outside of L.A., about an hour away. On
a 40-acre avocado farm.
Jimmy also wants to know, when did you think that an
Oscar was attainable? When you left Texas? When you were
JF: When we
The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last
book you read?
JF: To be honest,
Green Eggs and Ham.
The music maven Heather Covington question: What music
are you listening to?
KW: What has
been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
JF: Ooh… The
biggest obstacle? The mental obstacle of thinking that
just because I was African-American that I couldn’t have
The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero
The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can
do to help you?
By always telling me if it’s good, bad, or all right.
Reverend Florine Thompson asks, if someone produces is a
movie about the life of President Obama would you
consider playing him?
[Answers doing an impressive Obama impersonation that
sounds just like the President] If there’s any
indication, that America is not the most incredible
country in the world… [Chuckles] Yes I would.
And the good Reverend had a follow-up, who would you
like to see cast in the role of Michelle Obama?
JF: Hmm, who
would it be? Halle Berry.
Reverend Thompson also says grandmothers have played an
exceptional role in the black experience, and that in
your song, "I Wish You Were Here," you pay tribute to
and share about your grandmother. She asks what role did
your grandmother play in your life and how did she
influence your spirituality?
JF: She gave me
everything. She gave me the tools to be who I am, from
music to athletics to knowing how to be a gentleman. She
did it all.
Attorney Bernadette Beekman wants to know whether you
still get royalties from Booty Call?
[LOL] Yes, but they’re very small checks.
Marianne Ilaw was wondering whether you would consider
recording an old school R&B album updating hits from the
[Pauses to think about it] Umm…. No.
Keith Kremer asks if your Ugly Girl character from
Living Color going to make a cameo appearance in one
of your future movies?
Finally, aspiring scriptwriter Chris Carden says he’s
got a great screenplay he wants you to read.
thanks again for a great interview, Jamie and good luck
with the film.
JF: Thanks, bro.
To see a
trailer for The Soloist, visit:
To see the
video of Navy Midshipman Chidiebere Kalu singing for
Jamie Foxx at the Presidential inauguration, visit:
* * *
Struggle and Rescue, a Duet in Sharps and Minors—Polished
to a high gleam by Mr. Wright and written by
Susannah Grant (whose credits include
“In Her Shoes”), the film is imperfect, periodically
if unsurprisingly sentimental, overly tidy and often
very moving. It works hard to make you feel good, as is
to be expected, even as it maintains a strong sense of
moral indignation that comes close to an assertion of
real politics. Outrage would be too much for a
mainstream entertainment like this one to manage. Like
its muckraking journalist guide, it exploits its
subjects for its own purposes. But its commitment to the
material feels honest, nowhere more so than in Mr.
Downey’s darkly shaded, nuanced performance, one that
deepens this film with its insistence on the fundamental
mysteries of human character. . . . Mr. Foxx often seems
uncomfortable in his role, wavering between pathos and
something harder and truer, but his scatlike delivery of
some of Ayers’s twisting ropes of words can be
* * *
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a
sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi
for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin
was falsely accused of stealing a white
man's turkeys and was almost beaten to
death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling,
a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem
after learning of the grove owners'
plans to give him a "necktie party" (a
lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for
the United States Army and couldn't
operate in his own home town." Anchored
to these three stories is Pulitzer
Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's
magnificent, extensively researched
study of the "great migration," the
exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into
the novelistic narratives of Gladney,
Starling, and Pershing settling in new
lands, building anew, and often finding
that they have not left racism behind.
The drama, poignancy, and romance of a
classic immigrant saga pervade this
book, hold the reader in its grasp, and
resonate long after the reading is done.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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posted 23 April 2009