An Evening with Aaron Rahsaan Thomas

The Malik Aziz Foundation held its annual Black History Month dinner on Wednesday in an undisclosed location in Beverly Hills.  This year’s Guest of Honor was Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who participated in an interview, followed by a Q&A with our benefactors, trustees,  and their guests.

The following is a transcript from the untelevised interview session.

(Our Host Malik Aziz enters the room during the fourth course of the five course meal.  On this particular evening, he’s wearing a midnight blue tuxedo from the Tom Ford Collection.)

MALIK: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and thank you all for coming this evening.  In the play, Richelieu, Or the Conspiracy, you will find in the Second Act, the Second Scene, the following monologue:

True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —

States can be saved without it!

Our guest of honor tonight is a young Afro-American gentlemen, who is living proof, the pen truly is mightier than the sword.  His work has been respected by his fellow writers, as evidenced by his nomination for a Writers Guild award; and also by the coloreds, as evidenced by his NAACP image award nomination.

The Malik Aziz Foundation is proud to welcome to the stage our guest of honor this year, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas!

(Applause as Aaron takes the stage… He gives Malik a look as he sits down.)

MALIK: For those unfamiliar with your past, let’s start with where you’re from, and what inspired you to become a writer.

ART:  Wait, wait, wait, hold up, brotha….  Did you just use the word, “coloreds”? And, whatsup with the English accent  and the blue velvet suit? What kind of place is this? I thought Popeye’s chicken catered this dinner.

(Malik, shakes his head with discernment.)

ART: Anyway, to answer your question, what inspired me to become a writer was my faith in God, my parents’ encouragement to pursue my dreams and the amount of enjoyment I get from writing. Knaw mean?

MALIK: Yes, I know exactly what you mean.  Now, your first Hollywood experience came working on the television version of the popular urban story, Soul Food.  What was that like, and do you feel like that experience shaped you either positively or negatively in what your idea of what ‘Hollywood’ is?

ART: My experience on Soul Food was all good. Everything I learned on that show, from how a writers’ room operates, to how you carry yourself as a professional in this industry, was invaluable. Combine that with the fact that I was able to see people who looked like me working together in a business where such “urban” situations are extremely rare and mocked by people like you and I can’t begin to estimate the positive impact it had on me at an early stage of my Hollywood experience. Knaw mean, brotha?

MALIK: Yes, I understand what you mean, but don’t call me brother.  Now everyone has different feelings about the ‘film school’ experience.  As a part time teacher, I would gather your feelings are better than others.  But with the benefit of retrospect would you consider it a good decision?

ART: I consider it a great decision. As an adjunct professor at USC, I’m exposed to some of the most  talented and ambitious storytellers in the world. It’s a rush to be around them and it keeps me on my toes to make sure that I’m able to give them something they can hopefully use going forward. Reminds me of a cat I went to film school with who used to be down for the cause. His name was Mali—

MALIK: Moving on!  Friday Night Lights.  You were there from the beginning.  Smash Williams is the cocky, smart mouthed black member of the team in the predominantly white high school.  In one of the trademark episodes of the first season (and truly the whole series), Smash goes through something of an identity crisis when he feels singled out, and underappreciated by his coaches and superiors.  Did you draw from any personal experience when writing the episode ‘Full Hearts’?

ART: Good question. I think all writers try to draw from personal experience. Certainly, in the case of FNL, we tackled topics such as race and class, which were prevalent in the book and movie that proceeded the TV series. These topics are always interesting to discuss and write about. Certainly, I had experiences to pull from to help inform my writing on Full Hearts, which dealt with Smash going home to confront a past he had left behind, including some humble beginnings. Speaking of humble beginnings, my brotha, don’t you know a little something about that?

MALIK: I’m sorry but these beginnings you elude to escapes me (Malik straightens his conk).  Tonight is about you so let’s get back on topic. Your first credit as a feature film writer was the film Cover.  For those unfamiliar with the story, it focuses on a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when she discovers her attractive, upwardly climbing African-American husband is in fact, a closet homosexual.  Did you draw from any personal experience when writing the film Cover?

ART: Lol….  Okay, I see what this is. The answer? No. That story was built off interviews and based on true stories that happened to real people.

MALIK: Next we come to Numb3rs. Your episode ‘Sneakerhead’ revolves around two characters who have a fetish for high priced tennis shoes.  In light of the repeated violence that has taken place as sneaker companies try to release ‘limited edition’ versions of popular tennis shoes, do you feel that this subculture has gotten any of hand?

ART: Yes and no. The shoe companies know exactly what they’re doing. Like Chuck D once said, “I like Nikes, but wait a minute…” The shoe companies profit off the high demand for (really dope) shoes. But, even if the sneakers did not exist, the problem with customers would probably still be there. The demand would simply be for something else. And, because supply and demand aren’t going anywhere, I think the issue starts at home. It has to be ingrained that just because you don’t have a pair of sneakers, your stature isn’t any less. You don’t need them bad enough to trample, fight, or maybe even kill somebody. Full disclosure, I’m a sneakerhead, and what I’ve found is even if you don’t get the pair you want on release day, do a little research and due diligence and things have a way of working out.

MALIK: Assassination Games.  If I would have told 13 year old Aaron Rahsaan Thomas that someday he’d write a movie starring the Muscles from Brussels, Jean Claude Van Damme, how would he have reacted?

ART: He would have smiled, been very happy, but not necessarily surprised. 13 year old Aaron had some big dreams. Now, if you told him he’d be interviewed by a brotha from KCK who adopted Michael Caine’s accent while wearing a suit from the Love Boat, he might have been curious…

MALIK: You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father; I swore to them that I would protect you.  And I haven’t!  But moving on, now we come to ‘CSI:NY’.  You’ve had a wonderful collection of guest stars over the years, from Edward James Olmos to Ne-Yo.  Do you have a personal favorite? Is there anyone you’d like to write an episode for that you haven’t had the opportunity to do so with yet?

ART: It’s all a blessing. Working with talented people who I respect is a joy. And, every episode is a new and different chapter. As for people I haven’t worked with? Anyone who has a good story to tell and believes in telling it well, I’m open to collaborating with. Dropping that knowledge on a sucka, knaw mean?

MALIK: Now let’s talk about this week’s episode.  What can you tell us about it?

ART: It involves the world of The Go Game, adult role playing and takes a few twists that you may not see coming. There is one murder victim and someone else who gets kidnapped. Basically, it is truly an episode of television that will change your life. Or, maybe entertain you for an hour. One or the other.

MALIK: Thank you for joining us again, ladies and gentlemen, one more time for Aaron Rahsaan Thomas!

Aaron’s latest episode airs tonight on CBS. Check local listings.


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