Jamie Foxx talks expressing Disney-Pixar’s first black role in ‘Soul’

There are few entertainers like Jamie Foxx; he is a multi-hyphenate superstar with a trophy purse. Although Foxx has a number of dramatic, comic and generally unusual characters to draw when it came to Joe Gardner in Disney-Pixar’s “Soul,” the film’s creative team only wanted the Oscar and Grammy winner to be himself, which meant entering the full width of his Blackness in the role.

“In my career, I’ve never had to apologize for being black,” Foxx says Variety, looking back on his Hollywood journey. “I was on ‘In vivid colors’ – I had a black boss [Keenan Ivory Wayans, who Foxx touts as a mentor], Black Writers, Black Creators. Back then, in the show ‘The Jamie Foxx Show’ everything was black. So I never had to worry about whether I would turn black or reject black. It was just me and I always succeeded. When I do, great things come out of it. “

Foxx sees this role as one of those great things: “” To be able to say and proudly say, [I’m] the first African-American lead at Disney-Pixar, it’s amazing. It’s good. “

Through its star and jazz focus, Black Culture is the centerpiece of the film – which focuses on Joe, an ambitious jazz musician who works as a high school teacher in New York while waiting for his big break. Just as things are progressing, misfortune separates Joe’s soul from his body and he ends up in the Great Past trying to get back to Earth in time to play a gig that could launch his music career. But because of the specificity of Joe’s world, the show helps musically focused animated dramas to really sing.

For Foxx, that specificity all starts with the film’s co-director and co-writer Kemp Powers.

“Kemp was smart, [he] either like, ‘No, I want him to be Black, I want it to be a haircut too [right]’”Adds Foxx, noting the inclusion of scenes in the local barber shop – a pillar of many black communities. “When we have to make a cut, it’s a cultural thing.”

The entire Soul team – led by Pixar film director, co-writer and creative director Pete Docter and producer Dan Murray – took the task of bringing black culture into the film’s DNA seriously, pledging to nail cultural references and avoid caricature, tropes and stereotypes .

We wanted it to be as correct as possible, to be as authentic as possible, “explains Docter. “Because I think that when you’re in the audience and you can say that something is completely wrong, it affects the strength of the film. What we always try to do is just move people, make them worry, make them feel something. And I think those two things are very connected. “

The filmmakers hired a host of culture, music and religion advisors from the A-list – including Ryan Coogler, Kenya Barris, Quincy Jones and Yo-Yo Ma – to add their expertise and perspective to their history in addition to the craftsmen who worked on it. a film directly, like Jon Batiste (who composed the original music for the film) or Daveed Diggs and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who expressed the characters of Paul and Curley in the film, while also advising on the story).

Speaking about the internal cultural collective made up of the film’s authors, Powers says: “The wonderful thing about when all those voices resonate is that people realize that in many cases not everyone agrees with each other.”

“[The assembly of consultants] it was not an attempt to cover everything black, “he explains. “It was actually an attempt to somehow understand the diversity of thinking, the diversity of humanity, and if anything else, just avoid certain stumbling blocks. But I love the fact that in many cases our consultants have had heated discussions [with us] about many things in the film. This film involved a lot of discussion in its creation. “

In addition to the topic of presentation, “Soul” has the difficult task of asking and answering big questions about what is outside this world, both before and after we reach it, and how (and why) to ensure that every second counts.

“I believe family fun should try to ask big questions,” Powers explains. “We didn’t read fairy tales when we were kids to achieve product placement; there should be lessons from these stories. “

“We spoke to someone who said we were able to explain how depression felt towards him,” Murray adds, recounting a conversation with a fan of the film. “He says,‘ That’s what it looked like and now I can show it to people and say I feel it. ‘And I just thought,’ That’s amazing. ‘ “

Helping audiences think about these big issues is an opportunity that Tina Fey (who votes 22, a reluctant soul that Joe unknowingly becomes a mentor during “The Great Before”) also liked, especially with the film that debuted in the middle of a pandemic.

“It actually makes me think a lot about living a well-lived life and separating it from achievement, from external scrutiny, and chasing it,” Fey says. “It’s really working [asking] ‘Are you present for the people in your life? Are you present to enjoy the little moments, enjoy the peace, enjoy the process of getting where you are going? ‘And I think it’s something we’ve all been thinking about for the last eight or nine months. “

She continues, “I hope people feel connected to their lives after watching the movie and grateful to be alive, even when the way you live at the moment may not be exactly what you planned or aspire to.”

“Soul” is now airing on Disney Plus.