Nate Parker’s Nat Turner biopic “The Birth of a Nation” is on everyone’s mind and David Banner, like the American slave rebellion leader, isn’t keen on working on anyone’s plantation.
"My plan is to never be a slave again," the Grammy Award-winning music producer, recording artist and actor said. "Anything that I do will be through my company. So, even if I decide to do something with a record label, they would have to do the business deal through my company."
The 42-year-old, who heads the multimedia firm A Banner Vision, hosts Aspire TV’s “ABFF Independent,” a weekly series that showcases independent films and documentaries from emerging black filmmakers. The series is affiliated with the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). Banner took over hosting duties from Omari Hardwick, who left to star in the Starz hit “Power.”
Being off the plantation doesn’t mean Banner won’t work on various projects. He also scores music and video games and has received praise for his work on Gatorade’s “Evolve” commercial and the 2014 World Cup. If a project doesn’t excite him and he or his company doesn’t have an invested interest in it, he won’t do it, explained the Chicago-born, Mississippi-bred Banner, who also counts Mercedes Benz, Disney and Sony as clients.
“It’s really slave work. You’re killing yourself to build somebody else’s brand,” said Banner, who had roles in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Ride Along.”
Banner and I had a very candid conversation about the working relationships among black people in the entertainment industry, the 2016 presidential election and the lawsuit he filed against Lil Wayne’s music label, Young Money Records.
His latest project, “The God Box,” drops in early 2017.
“ABFF Independent” airs Tuesdays through Sundays at 1 p.m. ET on Aspire TV.
WATCH: “ABFF Independent”
Tell me more about your experience working with Aspire TV and “ABFF Independent.”
BANNER: The thing that I like about “ABFF Independent” the most and the people that work at Aspire that I know, they really mean it. I would say at least 80 or 85 percent of these film have won film festivals and have accolades on their own. These are great films that have stood on their own before the ABFF opportunity came. The problem is that it’s so hard to get an independent black film off the ground and without that push. It can happen and it has happened before, but I think ABFF gives those opportunities and I’m really, really proud. That’s one of the reasons why I’m most emotional about “ABFF Independent” because it really does push for that.
Why was it important for you to be an entrepreneur?
BANNER: In America, we all start off free, when you think about it. Then people see a value, because we’re chasing the American dream and they give us a lot of money. I learned something: if somebody gives you a dollar, you’re worth four. Think about that: nobody’s going to give a dollar to somebody if they can’t at least flip it. So the problem is, in a lot of cases, we don’t see our own value and we’re hurting. America sets it up like that, you know. Everything is based on the dollar and when you’re hurting so badly, you put yourself in positions where you aren’t able to properly think. I’m so thankful to the Most High and I’m so thankful to myself because I always wanted to have children but I’m so happy that I don’t have any kids. Kids can put you in a situation where you have to make decisions that may not be best.
If I had to do a movie anywhere, I could travel. I jump out of planes and I swim with sharks- that's something that people don't know about me. I challenge my fear all of the time. A lot of stuff I know that I should not do and I'm not going to sit up here and tell you that I'm not scared. But I always want to run towards the fear and that helps me as a businessman. I got to be honest with you, going into big business meetings with people who I had to have a translator in order to speak to, that stuff was easy once I jumped out of a plane. That was nothing.
WATCH: “ABFF Independent”
You've referenced actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler's working relationship as something more black Americans should duplicate. How are professional relationships among blacks in the entertainment industry?
BANNER: I don’t think we do like we should. I know one of the reasons. Most black people see white people as right and they seem them as power. I have a lot of friends and I have to give Idris Elba some credit. I have an independent movie called “Walking with Gods” and Idris Elba promised me that he’s going to be a part of that. Most actors, when they are respected by white people, they won’t come back and do what he did for me. Some won’t do independent movies anymore. When I did “The Butler,” I came back and intentionally did an independent film. I did for someone who was deserving. I just don’t do black businesses and black films. I do great black businesses and black films. If you’re raggedy, I ain’t doing it. I don’t care how big you are.
Why do you think black Americans support each other like they should?
BANNER: I think one of the problems is that we don’t see value in self. Even with my new album, “The God Box,” I hope my album becomes what people call pop but I do my music for my people. And if other people love it and they like it, that’s fine. I won’t that but I don’t think we have to be global. Blacks in America spend approximately $1.5 trillion dollars. If we would just support ourselves, that would garner the respect of other races and other people. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? But we focus on impressing so many other people that we end up missing what’s happening right here in our house. And I think that’s what happens to so many actors and directors: they want to be around white people so badly or there’s this certain stigma that’s connected to black… I want to crush that and I love the challenge.
In what ways have you done this?
BANNER: Say if a Tasha Smith calls me, I’m there. Terry Vaughn is a very, very good friend of mine. She did a film and said she needed my help, so I was music supervisor of the movie and helped score it. These are the types of things of the things that we have to do for those who can be reciprocal and who can hold their own weight when it’s time. I think it’s important for us to be an example to one another of how to show love and support. Sometimes people don’t know how and we have to show them.
WATCH: “ABFF Independent”
Speaking of working together… a judge recently awarded you $164,000 for money Lil Wayne’s label, Young Money Records, owed your for working on a few projects.
BANNER: I don’t talk about the business of my client. It’s a very complex case. The only reason why it’s in public is because whenever you have lawsuits, it’s public record. So TMZ read the public records and they put it out there. I don’t do that. White firms and white people have disagreements and lawsuits and that doesn’t stop their business with each other. This is just business. And I hate when people try to make it a gladiator thing [like] “Let’s put them in the middle of the ring.” It’s not that, it’s business. Sometimes business has to be worked out through the court system. I don’t have any problems, any griefs or any gripes. I honestly don’t think it’s anybody’s business but me and that man and our perspective companies. I really hate to see people try turn it into something that it’s not. It’s business.
Are you open to working with him again?
BANNER: That’s up to me and him. To me, those types of things are worked out when the people see each other. And for me, I say on my side, good or bad, that doesn’t take away what I feel about him. He has been one of my greatest clients. They have been some of my greatest supporters. For me, I’m doing so well right now, there’s no one particular person that I need before my spirit to be right. That’s one thing that I thank the Most High for. My lectures are doing so well and there’s nearly a thousand people when I speak. I’m still a producer by myself. I still do commercials. I still do movies. I’m on a recurring television series. There are so many places where I’m able to pull from financially that it makes me a more powerful individual. So if me and whoever does work, it will be work and I want it to be in a way where we all want to work together and we feel good. We don’t have to do something because it’s another check.
Do you have other film projects coming up?
BANNER: A lot of times it’s best not to talk about movie deals until they’re slated and announced to come out. I have a lot of really big things coming up. I lost a movie role that would’ve been the biggest role in my life until I started talking about it. There are a lot of things that will surprise people. Just be patient. You’ll see me really soon.
WATCH: “ABFF Independent”
Tell me more about your project with Idris Elba.
BANNER: I have an independent film and it’s called “Walking with Gods” and the demo is on YouTube right now. It’s my passion project. Sci-fi and futuristic movies are very important to me because they set the mind up for what’s basically to come.
Election Day is a month away. What are your thoughts about this current election season?
BANNER: I think it’s embarrassing. I really do. I think it embarrasses Americans all over the globe. I guess it’s true when people say that music and television are just reflections of what’s going on in our community. Everybody’s into reality TV shows and now the presidential race is being handled like a reality TV show. There’s no grace, there’s no honor. And we wonder why America is in the shape that it’s in. As much as people come down on Donald Trump, which I do too, Hillary [Clinton] is just as bad to me. The history of the family she married into, he has to be held responsible for that. To me, Trump is scary, you know. But if we look back historically, especially with the laws that were passed by Bill Clinton, the Clinton family has almost put as much pressure — as it pertains to drug laws — as just about anything that has happened to Africans in America with the exception of slavery. Over 600,000 black men are in jail because of the Clinton family directly and they admitted it. And your apology means nothing to me because when you want something done for America or for white people you pass laws. If you’re sorry, you give money back. You do something to offset what you have done and they are not doing that.
A recent “black-ish” episode addressed black people who don’t vote. What are your thoughts on those who feel the elections are rigged and their vote won’t have any impact?
BANNER: One of the problems is that black people need an agenda. We need to stop being so emotional and stop looking for people to lead us and have an agenda. I don’t care if it’s the Klan (KKK), I don’t care if it’s a Martian, I don’t care who it is. Unless you have an agenda, it doesn’t matter. When you ask most subsections of America what’s important and they tell you what’s most important to them. Until we have that one thing that’s important to us, I don’t care what it is, we have to know what we want from these people. Until black people can create their own country within this country like every other race of people have whether it’s Little Italy, Little Russia or Little China or whatever it may end up being, why don’t we have a Little Africa? The point is this: until we have this, you have to be a part of the process that affects you so that your numbers can be counted. It only takes 15 minutes. That’s what I don’t get. If it’s rigged or not, your voice most be heard. I don’t like when people complain about things that they aren’t a part of. It’s like when we go gambling, you know gambling is rigged but there’s a slight possibility that something can happen [in your favor] because you are part of the process. That’s all I tell people. And your voice can be held and counted and you can complain about the process. We have to invest and be a part of the process or move away from it and stop complaining about it.