Actor Jason Mitchell is chartering new territory in his role as the only Black friend on a guys’ trip that goes horribly wrong in his latest film, TYREL.
ESSENCE caught up with Mitchell just ahead of the film’s December 5 release date and he gave us the run down on why he felt it was important to be a part of the project and how he hopes the story opens up a lane where people can feel a little more comfortable having difficult—but honest and necessary—conversations about race relations.
In contrast to his most recent film projects, TYREL —titled after the name he’s given in the film by a white stranger who assumes he has a “Black” name eventhough his character’s actual name is Tyler—sees Mitchell portraying an everyday Black man who finds himself constantly at the center of awkward interactions and conversations while in the company of his white friends on a road trip. While definitely a change from the norm, Mitchell says it’s a role he was ready to take on without question.
“I feel like playing Eazy E [in Straight Outta Compton] was a pleasure and being in Superfly was a pleasure and all these things are like, for the culture,” he told ESSENCE. “But, everybody’s not a gangster; everybody’s not rich; everybody’s not a mogul. Tyrel is the everyday person who’s just trying to live their life the best way that they can and just really trying to stay out of the way of the extra foolishness. So, I thought it was really important to do something that I felt like everybody could see. It has such a horror film type of feel to it that really puts you in the shoes of being like, an everyday, alienated Black person.”
Although the film carries somewhat of a satirical undertone similar to that of Jordan Peele’s 2017 blockbuster, Get Out, Mitchell points out that the movie is much more horror than comedy, with much of the “horror” aligning with what it feels like to be a Black person who goes through similar experiences in real life.
“While watching it, I felt like I was waiting on somebody to jump out and murder somebody,” he said. “I felt like Tyler was going to die the entire movie, which was almost incredible. But, I think that impact alone will really teach a lot to people. I think it’s important that we have these dialogues.”
The 31-year-old New Orleans native also says he’s looking forward to what’s ahead for the country as a whole and hopes that the honest depiction of race relations in the film will serve as a catalyst for progress.
“I’m really optimistic about where we want to go as a country,” Mitchell said. “Even with things like Trump happening and stuff like that, at least people are being honest with each other; that’s where it starts. If we can start being honest with each other, then we can start tackling some of these problems and at least be able to call it how we see it. I think for every white person who has race issues, there’s two who don’t.”
As the star of Lena Waithe’s critically-acclaimed Showtime drama series, The Chi, Mitchell says he’d also like to see Black people have more of the difficult conversations about problematic behaviors within Black communities, in addition to continuing to confront issues with other races.
“I feel like Black people have to do this as well: we have to be able to point the finger at each other, just as we point it at a different race,” he adds. “It’s kind of disgusting to be doing a show in Southside Chicago, about Chicago, and then 61 people get shot in a weekend. That’s almost incredible to me. You’re not going to catch a Black person going to do a mass shooting of white people; we’re not gonna do that. But, we’ll go kill our brother.”
Overall, Mitchell says he hopes audiences come away from the film with a forward-thinking mindset that sees more people address situations for exactly what they are in the present.
“I want them to take away just what it is,” he says. “I feel like, as a Americans, a lot of people have the habit of sweeping things under the rug so we don’t have to talk about the situation at hand. We shouldn’t have to [reference] slavery every time just to make a situation what it is. We shouldn’t have to bring up MLK every single time. Let’s address this for what it is today because we have to move forward, as a people, and that’s what it’s about. So, this is our version of a non-violent protest and hopefully this film makes people comfortable enough to start the hard conversations.”
See TYREL hits select theaters nationwide on December 5.