Today, moviegoers will have the chance to bear witness to the story of Jesse Leroy Brown, the first Black aviator in the United States Navy history. Devotion, starring Jonathan Majors in the lead role, centers Brown’s love of flying, matched only by his love for his family and his will to defy the ignorance of the time in pursuit of his passion. The opportunity to be a part of sharing that narrative is one Majors considers special.
“[Jesse Brown] was the first Black naval aviator in a time where the first of anything was difficult but to be the first him was that much more difficult, so to step into his shoes meant a great deal,” the actor told ESSENCE on the red carpet for the second annual Academy Museum Gala in Los Angeles this past October.
Glen Thomas Powell Jr. also stars in the biographical war film, which is an adaptation of Adam Makos’ book, Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, along with Christina Jackson who portrays Brown’s wife, Daisy. The chance to portray the spouse of the first Black naval aviator was a unique one for her as well. “When you first get to the page in the script where we’re meeting Daisy in the house, she’s described as Jesse’s anthem and as his heartbeat,” Jackson told ESSENCE. “That made me sit up a little bit. I had never read an introduction to a character like that.”
On Veteran’s Day earlier this month, Brown’s granddaughter, Jessica Knight Henry, shared an essay with ESSENCE about love and loss and how her family has worked to keep her grandfather’s legacy alive over the years. It’s a responsibility Majors now feels he shares.
“Pushing his legacy forward is probably the most responsible I’ve felt for someone’s legacy outside of my own,” he says.