One day, about 20 years ago, actor Romany Malco was walking down Venice Boulevard, his girlfriend and cousin in tow, when he decided to buy a pair of fake teeth. He put them on, kept walking down the street, started talking like a life coach, and Tijuana Jackson was born.
The character dates back to the year 2000, when Malco (“Think like a man”) set up a camera with “the blurry background of the 60-minute interview” and chatted through the lens for hours, speaking like a former inmate who watched “These Streets University (™) “and now works as an aspiring coach. There was magic in this character, he said.
This magic ignited as soon as the Internet opened up new opportunities for content. Tijuana Jackson may be earlier than social media, but after he accessed YouTube, he started talking about everything from the Jonas Brothers for Community service.
But there is a method for Malco’s madness: Jackson uses humor to discuss contemporary issues such as systemic racism and the mass incarceration of communities of color. “Initially, I started this character as a means of educating poor people in a way that I was not educated when I was growing up,” said Malco. “Nobody ever came to me and explained the importance of personal finance. I was not taught the etiquette of chasing investors. I wanted to use this character to educate this underprivileged group. “
Although the criminal who became a motivational speaker started long before the current moment, the character in Malco’s new film, “Tijuana Jackson: Purpose on prison”It speaks precisely of the current crises in America.
Malco talked to The Times about humor in prison, racial disparities in the judicial system and where krumping came from. The following interview was edited for clarity and condensation.
“Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison”, available on demand, examines ex-convicts (and their families) with empathy.
What was the strategy behind the decision to shoot Tijuana Jackson’s first film as a documentary?
When you hear the way the character talks, and you look at the subject, and you combine that with his antics and the comic tone, things are raw. Things are very raw. And for some reason, not breaking that fourth wall just didn’t seem to find the authenticity of everything else involved in the project.
And I also realized that what was missing was that I needed an audience member to join the tour … we needed someone outside that ecosystem to be the observer and represent the audience. And that was when the idea for a documentary filmmaker came up.
Satire requires a lot of legwork – you need to know your material backwards. How was the research process for this film?
The research process starts with my life. As a child, I always had friends who I knew had a friend or family member who had just come out of prison. Many of us don’t realize this, but the system is not the only thing that ostracizes when it becomes criminal. The family and the community also tend to ostracize. With that, I learned a lot. I learned to develop empathy for what these brothers were going through. And that was what interested me in the first place.
I made a video called “The Racism Racquet”A few years ago – when I started doing the crowdfunding campaign for this project – I think it really delved deeply into the history of the United States of America, which dates back to Lincoln, in modern times. And what could be traced was the racism money line, starting when slaves were brought to the United States of America. I continued to identify the need for cheap and / or free labor in all politics and the entire judicial system, and everything that has been documented to this day, so that I could find the front line. And in all the research I did, what I found was what became the movie “Tijuana Jackson: Purpose of Prison”.
I also interviewed many prisoners. I interviewed and had consultants who served 10 years, 19 years, 12 years. And I’ve been arrested myself, but I’ve never been in prison. I was in Los Angeles County. So, through personal experience, and through books, data, court transcripts, I was able to put together this narrative that really reflects what it is like to be a criminal in America: the way the system really intends to deprive you yet again you were stuck.
The seed for this character and this idea was born during the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, but long before this current civil rights movement. How does the current moment fit into this narrative?
This is what is so scary. What is happening now is what Tijuana Jackson has been shouting for 15 years. He’s online talking about it, he’s making videos about it: a movie about exactly what people are protesting at the moment.
One of the things that is probably most important is that the United States has finally awakened to the fact that there are wide racial disparities in our judicial system. The truth is, until now, it seemed that black voices were not enough. And therefore, getting our white and anti-racist colleagues from all other different nationalities to participate seems to resonate on a global scale. People can no longer remain silent about this.
I feel that Tijuana Jackson is probably one of the first projects to be launched since then. It takes an approach that is not vindictive, that does not come from a feeling of anger, but that simply comes from a place in the sincere and authentic struggle that people like George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks struggle with daily. And it helps to educate you about how difficult it is to navigate the world after you are considered a criminal in the United States of America, mainly for a non-violent crime. There is no way to watch the movie and not identify this character – no matter what race you are – in your family or within yourself.
You said that you see this film as a “gateway” for education and the humanization of discussing all the lives of black people. What do you mean by gateway, exactly?
You love black culture, don’t you? You like to dance to the music, doing a TikTok to the beat. But do you know what it’s really like to take the place of a black man? Do you understand what inspired krumping? I believe Tijuana Jackson will help people make connections. Because, as a culture, there is a dissociation. Think about the way the country was founded. Think of Native Americans. Think about what happened to black Americans in the first hundred years of the country’s founding. My argument is that this pattern of disfellowshipping is synonymous with culture.
What I mean by “front door” is that Tijuana Jackson will help people to appropriate and identify with where they disassociate themselves. Help people identify the connection.
Regina Hall Tijuana parole officer (and passion), Cheryl Wagner. Malco made a point of including the fees and stipulations required by parole.
You said you wanted to be very sensitive to the experiences of criminals and ex-convicts. Have you watched any of these people and what did they think?
I’ve seen them watching the videos since 2000. But the feedback is that people are like, “Man, I swear to God, this guy stole my story. Bro, I swear to God. People are saying that if they knew me, if they knew me, if we grew up together, they would have sworn back and forth: I stole their story.
I think it’s important for us to understand that, in representing prisoners, what we don’t realize is if you haven’t lived in communities where one in four men in the community was taken to prison … your connection to the police is like what television and Hollywood show. This is a very different interpretation of what life is like in America. You are experiencing a different America.
We have become quite insensitive to people who make mistakes in our country. And we’re quick to make villains out of people who make mistakes. We completely forget who we are. We forget what we did. And I don’t believe that there can really be a real connection between humans until we can connect.
What is your target audience for this film? Who do you want to watch?
I want poor people to see this movie. Let me be more specific: in my opinion, the most indoctrinated are often the least educated. Those of us who have been denied an education, those who have been denied the basic necessities of life: clean water, consistent sanitation and even the freedom to explore beyond the borders of their community.
When you are denied these things, you live an isolated life. I believe that living an isolated life often leads to self-destruction. So, my goal is to reach people who experience it and who cross all borders. I have an even more specific answer: I want anti-racists to see this film. All class levels. I need anti-racists to see Tijuana Jackson. This is my demographics.
The cast get together to watch something on Lil ‘Eric’s tablet. “The family and the community,” said Malco, “tend to ostracize as well” after becoming a criminal.
But these people must already be thinking about it.
I think that just because you quote history does not mean that you will make history. Many of us are quoting history and making fun of TikToks, but we are still spending our money among companies that support oppression. Among the companies that are selective in who they hire, based on race and gender. People are acting, and that’s great. But there is still a great deal of dissociation. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be …