Denzel Whitaker: On Aspirations, Originality, and Creative Empowerment

With curiosity as his driving force, the “Black Panther” actor describes his approach to work

At age ten, Denzel Whitaker accidentally landed his first role as a tertiary character. Fast-forward 19 years, and the award-winning actor has collected roles under his belt like The Great Debaters, Black Panther, The Boondocks, and more. But Whitaker doesn’t seem himself solely as an actor. The label limits his other artistic endeavors, which include producing, writing, and designing. Whitaker spoke to the Sunset Scoop about existing as a multi-disciplinary artist in a world trying to fit him in one box.

Q: You’ve made a name for yourself as an actor. As you’ve ventured further out into the entertainment industry, what other hats have you worn?

A: I do a lot of different things. So I’m an actor, I’m a director, I’m a writer, I’m an editor, photographer. You tell [people] what you’re doing as a writer and director, they’re like, ‘Okay, that’s cool.’ Until it’s proven, because nobody really cares about what you’re doing until it’s proven. It doesn’t matter to them until somebody puts a value on it. Sometimes you gotta devise a plan to then tell people how to see it. And that in of itself is where the true genius comes out.

Q: I can imagine that some people don’t take your other non-acting jobs as seriously. How do you maintain your integrity as a multidisciplinary artist?

Courtesy of Denzel Whitaker

A: We’re all guilty of it. Look, it’s not like I haven’t sat back and judged other people as well. We do this because a piece of us wants to aspire to be that great. Again, how many are willing to aspire to be that great? That’s the true question. And a lot of times, you can’t listen to the noise because if you listen to the noise, it will get to you. And you will go through internal conflicts. Like me, I’m a cerebral person, I live in my head twenty-four seven. And over the last couple years, meditation has helped me flow through that. And then you’ve got to understand what you want to achieve. And then you gotta attract that to yourself and the rest will follow.

Q: What sort of conflicts arise when being yourself while balancing your public image?

A: Everybody wants you to hop on the next bandwagon. What are you willing to do? You kind of gotta have set integrity when you get into this business from the jump. Because otherwise, as my mom would call it, “Hollywood will ho you out.’ Hollywood is weird. It’s very weird. I work in a very interesting business. But just like any business, it’s all politics behind the scene. Personally, I’m all about the art. But also sometimes, too, you have to turn down jobs because you can’t let people once again hoe you. And sometimes, walking away from the paycheck that might be great or might be terrible.

Q: What does it mean to put out your own work into the world?

A: It’s great because the doors are open, and it gives me a voice. I kind of know what my target market and demographic is. Especially, like who I am and who my voice is within the industry. And with that being said, there’s now open avenues. Let’s just use [multi-hyphenate entertainer] Childish Gambino for example, right? Before, the industry didn’t know what to do with the ‘Gambinos.’ They had no clue until he started releasing his own content and putting it on the internet. And then next thing you know, he’s doing shows and all of a sudden, he’s this wonderful genius, but he’s always had it inside of them. Now, everybody’s awakening to the fact. But the internet did that for him. He was able to pursue [his ideas] on his own, based on the other avenues. So on one hand, it’s brilliant. Creators are now more than ever empowered. All those groups that were marginalized before, now have a clear voice and an opportunity to say and do whatever they need to. But just like anything else, somebody is always going to try to take your job. So now you have to work. If you are working twice as hard before, now you have to work even harder.

Q: If money and resources were no object, what would be a dream project of yours to produce?

A: I have a project like that right now. And it’s Back to the Future meets Date Night meets Jumanji. And I’ve been working on it since 2013. It’s one of those that I hold close to my chest because I know it’s just– it’s a great idea. And it will be and I believe in it, and it’s going to happen. I’ve been talking about it for several years and manifesting it. My whole initiative behind my company and what I do is I’m a professional make-believer. I play pretend every single day and I dress up in a costume and we’re all on fake sets and it’s like we never grow [up]. So, there’s a certain innocence that’s lost as we grow up. And society tells you have to conform and you have to talk a certain way and walk a certain way and wear the certain thing and align yourself with how society should see you. And of course, again, we’ve all played the game. But through my work through my art, I kind of get to be a child forever. I think Spielberg is one of the few creators who never really grew up. He is like a real life Peter Pan and it shows through his work. And I would love to make something as imaginative and as timeless as he’s made.

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