Joe Morton and Morris Chestnut on the 'Unapologetic' Blackness of 'Our Kind of People'
By Mekishana Pierre
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Something is going down in Oak Bluffs, and Joe Morton and Morris Chestnut are in the thick of it! The two stars of Fox's new drama, Our Kind of People, sat for a virtual chat with ET's Nischelle Turner, where they teased some of the scandals, surprises, and soapy drama that fans can look forward to in the first season of the new series.
The show, which aired its first episode on Tuesday, is inspired by Lawrence Otis Graham's critically acclaimed book, Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. It follows the rich and powerful Black elite of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, who have ruled their community with an iron fist for over 50 years. Morton and Chestnut portray Teddy Franklin and Raymond Dupont, respectively, a wealthy business tycoon holding the reins of his empire with a tight fist and his smooth-talking son-in-law who's hungry for a chance to prove himself.
Chestnut said it was an "automatic yes" when it came to joining the cast because he was excited at the prospect of depicting a new kind of Black wealth.
"This world was the most exciting thing to me because, most of the time nowadays, when people see wealthy Black people they're either an athlete, entertainer," he explained. "And this world, not being a fictional world, it's a very real world, where you have wealthy affluent African Americans who reside in Martha's Vineyard. I was [immediately] sold. And then when you throw in [executive producer] Lee Daniels and then Karen Gist who's our showrunner, I was like, 'where do I sign? I don't even care what the deal is, I'll do it for free.' Maybe not for free but I'll sign."
Morton shared similar sentiments, explaining that the character of Franklin appealed to him because of his complexity. "[He] is a three-dimensional character who has flaws, who has also things that he's trying to accomplish and it is about bettering Black people from his point of view because that's in fact what this is about, the Black elite and what they do, essentially," he explained. "[They're] saying yes, we may be insular, we may be separate, but we are still about the cause."
Morton's Franklin shares many similarities with his iconic role as Rowan Pope on Scandal, another patriarch who expresses his version of tough love through grand monologues and underhanded schemes. But it's not cruelty for cruelty's sake. As Morton explained, both Rowan and Franklin work to teach their daughters the ugly nature of the real world.
"His daughter's sort of, accused him of doing some terrible things, and basically what [he's] saying is, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there when it comes to business... Yes, I still have the same things in mind in terms of bettering our people, as you do, I just might get there in a different way," he explained.
As the head of one of the wealthiest families in Oak Bluffs, Franklin isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. But Morton insisted that it isn't just about the dirt but also the accomplishment. "I think we are going to be talking about a certain kind of history," he said. "We're going to be talking about where these people came from and what their values are. It's about intrigue, who's got the money and who's got the power, as much as it's about accomplishment."
For Chestnut, half of the thrill is the dirt that the characters dig into to get what they want. "When I pick up the script I never know what's coming next, what type of salacious scandalous thing is going to be happening next, what type of sexy thing is going to be happening next. I'm having a lot of fun with the show," he shared, explaining that's the joy of being part of a soap drama.
There's one thing that the series strives to highlight that's important to both men: the versatility of the Black experience that allows a narrative like Our Kind of People to be told. Chestnut, who has been acting since 1990, explained that, as someone who's portrayed a variety of characters over the years, the chance to "introduce" viewers to a new experience is exciting.
"When I did Boyz n the Hood, a lot of people really didn't know what it was like in South Central LA, so it was something that I felt was introducing people around the world to that culture. And one of the things I loved about doing The Best Man is that it was young, successful, Black people, and it was just coming off of the quote-unquote gangster genre -- like Boyz n the Hood, New Jack City and all the kind of gangster movies -- so it was more refreshing," he reasoned. "Now I feel with this one, we're conveying to the world a reality that wealthy, affluent, elite Black people exist outside of entertainment or playing sports."
Morton echoed his thoughts and those of Gist and Daniels, who described the series as "an unapologetic celebration of the Black resilience and Black excellence."
"One of the things that's great about this series is that we never hear from the so-called Black elite. They're very quiet, they're very insular, and they're very, kind of, 'we do our thing, we do it quietly,'" he said. "For me, this is one of those series that is as important in its own way as Scandal was. Scandal brought us a female lead that hadn't been around for 40 years and Black characters that we'd never seen on TV before. This is a group of people who are not nouveau riche -- and this to not take away anything from anyone -- from the sports world or the entertainment world."
He added, "These are folks who have had money for generations and it means something very specific to them. And I think that kind of outlook is a very different thing that we've never, ever seen on television."