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Fifty Shades of Marlon

Marlon Wayans talks about his famous family, his latest film, ‘Fifty Shades of Black,’ the Oscars and how comedy has no color

Kam Williams
Fifty Shades of Marlon
Marlon Wayans (Photo: Photo courtesy Open Road Film)

Marlon Wayans is a true multi-hyphenate: an actor/producer, comedian, writer and film director. His films have grossed more than $750 million in domestic box office, an average of nearly $50 million per outing. As a stand-up comedian, Wayans sells out theaters and clubs alike, nationwide.

On the feature film front, he recently starred in and produced “A Haunted House,” which grossed over $18 million on a $2 million budget. On the television front, he’ll soon be shooting a pilot for NBC slated to debut next fall.

Wayans’ additional big screen credits include “White Chicks,” “Scary Movie,” “Scary Movie 2,” “Mo’ Money,” “Above the Rim,” “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood,” “The Sixth Man,” “Senseless,” “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Ladykillers,” “Behind the Smile,” “Little Man,” “Norbit,” “Dance Flick,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Marmaduke” and “The Heat.”

On TV, Wayans has appeared on “In Living Color,” “Children’s Hospital,” “Second Generation Wayans” and “The Wayans Bros,” which was the highest-rated comedy on The WB network. Here, he talks about his latest offering, “Fifty Shades of Black.”

Where did the inspiration come from to do a parody of “Fifty Shades of Grey”?

Marlon Wayans: Initially, I just wanted to learn something from the novel, because women loved it so much. I was thinking of writing my first parody book, until I saw the movie. Then it kinda just hit me. I decided to scrap the book and do a spoof because the film gave me such great archetypes to work with in characters that I knew would be enjoyable to take to extremes. Playing a really bad lover was a lot of fun.

So, your approach to Christian was to flip the script.

MW: Yeah, he goes to extremes. He’s a stalker, and it gets uncomfortable. And he’s also an extremely bad lover. I thought, what if he’s a great package with all these tools that excite women until they get him into bed where he’s just awful.

How was it working opposite Kali Hawk, who plays your primary love interest, Hannah?

MW: Kali was great and a lotta fun! She was perfect for Hannah because, in the movie Hannah’s a virgin and, in real life, Kali’s a prude. So, that kinda worked hand-in-hand.

What message do you think people will take away?

MW: I think women were a little upset with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ because the female lead was so submissive. ‘Fifty Shades of Black’ is different in terms of that.

Movies are always fun when there’s an objective and you meet a lot of obstacles along the way. And in this film, the hardest person to dominate is a black woman. She refuses to play that stuff white girls will play. You get a couple of spanks in and she’s like, ‘Oh, hell no!’ Hannah flips that from the original.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your ancestry when your brother Keenan had your lineage traced by Skip Gates on the PBS-TV series “Finding Your Roots”?

MW: It was interesting to learn I was Asian. I had no idea. I was wondering why I liked sushi so much. [Laughs]

I found it fascinating how strong your ancestors’ bonds were even during slavery, with an escaped slave being willing to risk his freedom to rescue relatives.

MW: Yeah, they went back to go get somebody. He thought, ‘Hey, what’s freedom without my family?’ For him to go back was awesome.

I see that sort of loyalty as a trademark of the Wayans family to this day. I can’t tell you how many actors and actresses have told me over the years that somebody with the last name Wayans gave them their big break. Just think of all the people who got their start on “In Living Color” — Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey, to name a few. And so many others since.

MW: It’s funny you should say that. Generosity kinda runs in our family. My dad is a very generous guy, and my mom’s always giving advice. So, Keenen was ultimately a wonderful teacher. He taught me and Shawn and Damon to be the same way. Those jewels are of no value ‘til you pass them down. Sound advice is one of the best things you can share with someone. We want to see other people succeed, and I guess that’s something we all inherited. It’s just part of our matrix.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars?

MW: Look, if I get the memo and everybody’s doing it, sure. I’m happy that they’ve immediately started making some changes. I was really touched by the swift reaction. But the bottom line is that everybody has a little bit to do with it. It’s not entirely the Oscars’ fault. The Oscars represent Hollywood, and Hollywood needs greater diversity. We need more African American filmmakers, and we need the larger budgets to make big box-office spectacles like ‘The Revenant.’ And we need the audience to support a smaller-budgeted art film that’s about us, if we put one out. So, it’s kinda everybody collectively, from the studios to the distributors, especially the overseas distributors who tend to look at blacks a little differently.

I do comedy. Comedy has no color, and that’s what I’m constantly trying to convince them. I don’t make black movies. I’m a black man that makes comedy. comedy is colorless.

Also, we as filmmakers have to develop young directors and cinematographers who’ll make the kind of films that are needed. Then, if we have an onslaught of these pictures coming out, it’ll be undeniable. Of course, we’d get the accolades we’re looking for. But you can’t expect it, if you’re only releasing 4 or 5 movies a year. That’s not enough. So, we have to over-produce, Hollywood has to help us with that, and then the audience has to come support it. We all have to put our money where our mouths are and support each other.

At the end of the day, what I look for is a communicative approach to resolving problems. I don’t think you need segregation and separatism. I think you have to come together at the table, communicate, and make things work. You have to build bridges, not burn ’em. Right now, I believe that, collectively, we’re all at that impasse where we all need to come to the table, and all take some responsibility for making sure this never happens again.

Speaking of colorblind casting, I just saw your nephew, Damon, Jr.’s upcoming film, “How to Be Single,” where he plays one of Dakota Johnson’s love interests, but with no mention of his color. How do you feel about going up against your nephew?
MW: It’s not a direct competition, since it’ll be released a couple weeks after ‘Fifty Shade of Black.’ I’d be rooting for my nephew regardless. I don’t believe in competition. Everybody has their own audience, and I wish everyone luck. in the film industry, one success is good for us all.

What’s your target audience with “Fifty Shade of Black”?

MW: I don’t know. It’s everybody who loved ‘Fifty Shade of Grey,’ everybody who hated ‘Fifty Shade of Grey’ and everybody who never saw ‘Fifty Shade of Grey.’ [Chuckles] My audience is people who like to laugh, and I’m hoping to get a good female crowd in there, because I think this movie really plays to them as much as it does to guys. So, I’d say it’s a perfect date movie.

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