Omari Hardwick Talks Being A Renaissance Man And Praying Away Our People’s Narrow-Mindedness
When you hear the name Omari Hardwick what character comes to mind? Carl from For Colored Girls? Derek in Middle of Nowhere? Andre on Being Mary Jane? Ghost in Power? None of these characters or the host of others Hardwick has come to be known for is like the other, which speaks to the actor, producer, and poet’s position as a self-described renaissance man. A multi-faceted talent who isn’t threatened by the presence or fame of his fellow thespians, but a man who is eager to help others sharpen their claws rather than remain crabs in a barrel.
One such way Hardwick does that is through his partnership with Gentleman Jack, the creators of the Real to Reel short film contest offering young African-American filmmakers the opportunity to have their work viewed and judged by an exclusive group of industry insiders, not to mention compete to win $10,000.
“For the last 15 or 20 years of my life, the biggest thing I’ve done is always, whether broke or not, I’ve always been involved in giving back to young people, young African-American people of both genders, so this seemed like a natural partnership,” Hardwick told us of his work with Gentleman Jack. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a whiskey drinker either. Or that he’s always had a giving heart.
That desire to give back comes from having received so much as a child, specifically from the men who were in his life during his formative years and who shaped him into the individual he is today.
“I was never on the recipient end of what those kids are getting but I always was on the recipient end. Not from coming from a broken home, but having a father who was extremely present in my life, with the tough love that a father provides, and I was also involved in sports,” he shared. “I was at a ballpark as much as I was in school. I was on a basketball court or football field as much as I was in school so I definitely was receiving mentorship when it came to coaches, my father, my grandfather and my uncles.”
In the same way you can’t separate Hardwick from his many roles, it’s nearly impossible to celebrate the success of his biggest show yet from the recent groundswell of other hit series with African-American showrunners, directors, producers, and leads. There’s an excitement around Power that’s deeper than good acting and sexy storylines. It’s the fact that Courtney Kemp Agboh, a Black woman, created it and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is executive producer. It represents opportunity and garners enthusiasm from audiences and fellow content creators. But as for being in the industry and seeing what many from the outside perceive as a shift toward diversity and inclusion up close, Hardwick still thinks “we have a long way to go.”
Saying that, he admitted, has “become so cliché at this point, it’s almost corny,” but that doesn’t make it untrue.
“The reality is for every hand that you think gave me heaven on a silver platter, that hand is connected to somebody who doesn’t look like me, who, literally, has every silver platter within heaven as we speak. So we are fooling ourselves if we ever forget that we are brown-skinned in a very racist society that I actually think in many ways is more racist than it’s ever been.”
But while the entertainment industry’s doors may not be as open as we’d like them to be, the crack is widening, and that’s good news for everyone.
“I’ll say what’s great is you have brown people within the same industry that carry my same attitude and same moxie and same humility and same expertise,” he added. “Craft is everything. These young generations are forgetting craft but craft is what gets you in the door and can allow you to stay around the table for a while.
“We are gaining a quantity of people who are black and brown and red and yellow. I would say we are doing ourselves a big service by championing opportunities of quality and people are forced to go, ‘okay what’s happening?’ When the quantity can increase the quality can increase. People are fond of that crabs in a barrel mentality and I’m like, ‘No, there needs to be more so we can create more barrels; there doesn’t need to be one barrel.’”
But while content creators are busy trying to break down walls on the inside, audiences have to do their part on the outside as well, Hardwick said. Last month, the actor had a strong response for fans who reacted negatively when he posted the photo below after a day on set for a new role. The general sentiment from some followers was,”I only care about Ghost, not Omari.”
When asked about the incident, Hardwick responded with the same passion as he did a month ago.
“Our people are often extremely narrow-minded. We’re behind the 8 ball when we try to do this thing called life. We’re in the runner’s stance when the gun goes off and everyone else is taking off running. Is some of that our fault? Absolutely. Is some of it not related to us and are we guilty for being in the starting block when the gun has already gone off? No, the blame can’t solely lay with us but we have a lot to do with that. And we continuously perpetuate that same thought when we go, ‘the starting block and the ending block for me, homie, is watching you as Ghost.’ It’s very interesting because you and the like could go, ‘Well Omari is a renaissance man, actually. He’s a poet, he’s an ex-athlete, he’s an artsy-fartsy complex, really interesting cat, and he’s of our race and culture and helping us to move forward.’
“You’re doing yourself a disservice as a people when one of our able-bodies is being relegated by his own people — and obviously it’s not all of us as a people, it’s specific, narrow-minded individuals which exist in every single race — but for us, remember we’re behind the 8 ball. And that, again, is not all of our fault, but we definitely need to be blamed if we’re perpetuating it and saying ‘I’m just going to stay right here, I’m comfortable here.’ What’s comfort? Watching him on Sunday nights play this character. ‘I don’t want to see nothing else.’ That’s horrible. You can’t move the needle forward.”
That’s why when such occasions arise, Hardwick doesn’t respond to negativity simply to redeem a bruised ego. He sees those opportunities as teachable moments.
“I never got into art for Omari only. I got into it as a community service activist so it’s really a different thing for me. I’m obviously extremely brave to play a character like Ghost but in that bravery I’m also very private. Social Media in many ways is a very positive thing and in some ways it’s one of the most corrosive things we’ve ever experienced. It’s narro- mindedness and sometimes I find myself trying to teach and people think I’m being defensive and I’m like, nah, I’m just naturally a teacher. I can’t be what I’m not.”
But what he’s also not immune to is the negative effects of social media, which many don’t realize trickle over into the entertainment industry and how actors of color are perceived. If fans can’t or don’t want to see Hardwick as anything other than Ghost, what’s to make a director or producer see him as anything more than a thug on screen as well?
“I had to be taught to share on social media so now that I’m sharing its kind of counterintuitive as a fan — obviously these people aren’t really fans — but, again, you’re eliminating the opportunity for one of our leaders, artistically at least, to move the needle forward.
“It’s shooting yourself in the foot saying we’re going to keep all of ourselves in one place and then get mad at the white studio execs when they don’t put Omari, Michael B. Jordan, Cory Hardrict, or Michael Rainey Jr. in the roles we want them in. We will continuously celebrate this one specific role, but ‘I’m mad as hell, exec, that you didn’t remember Omari could’ve played this [other] role.’ It’s so stupid. It makes no sense. So it’s just narrow-mindedness and I always pray it to fade away. Pray is the operative word because I don’t think it will ever fade away.”
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