Settle in for a Scorsese masterclass that’s a pure treat
Godfather of Harlem is based on the infamous real-life crime boss, Bumpy Johnson, who returns from 11 years in prison to find the neighbourhood he once ruled in shambles. With the streets controlled by Vincent “Chin” Gigante (Emmy nominee Vincent D’Onofrio from Daredevil and Jurassic World) and the Italian mob, Bumpy must take on the Genovese crime family to regain control. During the brutal battle, he allies with radical preacher Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch from Selma).
Godfather of Harlem also shows how the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement collided during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
We caught up with Forest Whitaker during his recent visit to South Africa to chat about his experience of creating one of the most talked-about crime drama series of 2019.
There was an incident where they were driving, and a gunfight ensued between them and these other mobsters. While Bumpy was shooting at the mobsters, he ordered June Bug not to get out of the car, but being young and hot-headed June Bug got out the car anyway. That sent Bumpy over the edge as June Bug didn’t listen to his orders. That was something that was interesting to me – how Bumpy always walked into the line of fire and how he had his own set of rules about what he thought was right and wrong.
Lifanesh does this scene after I come back from prison where she forces me to speak about my life in prison for me to be able to to move on with my life. I found her to be really powerful in that particular scene, and it made me appreciate her even more as an actress.
The same goes for Antoinette. Antoinette does this amazing scene where, after a policeman sexually assaults her, she has a heart to heart chat with me as father and daughter. In that conversation, she expresses how she’s forgiven me. In that same scene, she reveals that she’s setting me free and that I don’t have to feel guilty about her being who she is anymore (a drug addict). Both those scenes were really emotionally powerful for me.
I do independent films a lot, so you have to shoot at a specific rate (with regards to speed and time), and these kind of movies are low budget which is what I was referring to when making this series.
Also, for us, we were lucky because Michael Wright (Epix President) didn’t impose a bunch of things on us to create the show, so that made the series even more independent, especially when considering its individualistic viewpoints.
I think he had a certain mentality that he maintained throughout his life. You know, Bumpy died still selling drugs – he had a heart attack while he was still under investigation. But, I think, for his sanity, he found a way that he thought was correct, and that was to pursue his dreams through this type of business.
Although his decision to do so made him do a lot of things that were harmful to society – the drug business allowed him to maintain a sense of balance in his life. I also think this show is going to display a continuous play on the mental issues that happened with someone who chose this kind of lifestyle and how he tried to fix his life and his family despite going through a lot mentally. We’ll see that as the show continues to evolve.