The story I tell most often when asked for a Hollywood anecdote is when I chose to work with a still up and coming Issa Rae over the fried chicken commercial my agent at the time tried to talk me into. It’s funny, it’s a name my people recognize, it’s a good anecdote.
As this year comes to a close though, there’s another story that now feels like the definitive ‘Malik in Hollywood’ episode to this point. It’s not funny in the same way, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But looking back, it says so much more about how my life has played out.
Early in my acting days, I was hired to work background for a courtroom scene. Easy money, make some new connections. That was the plan.
Number one on the call sheet was a white comedian. I wouldn’t say I was a fan but I knew his style: goofy stuff. Didn’t give it a second thought until he came out dressed as the judge.
In full blackface.
And when I say full, I mean not just the makeup, but the voice, the mannerisms: I was having a full Tropic Thunder moment. At this point, I could care less about the money (remember that for later). But I also lost any desire to ‘play along’…
I fell back into my film school knowledge for the most dignified solution: I figured out which camera was focused on me, and as soon as the director called ‘Action’, I deliberately sat up/slouched/leaned forward or leaned backward so there was never a clear view of my face during the scene.
I have to give credit where credit is due; someone in Video Village noticed.
The highest ranking brother there was playing the bailiff: six foot four, forearms like tree trunks, a smile for everyone in the cast and crew. He’s who they sent over to get me on board.
And he told me about his life: he gets cast in all of Comedian X’s projects. He has a place out in Malibu. He runs into Emma Stone all the time at the grocery store.
The message was clear: You play ball, and everything you want is on a silver platter. So come on Malik, let’s get you on camera smiling and laughing at this white boy doing blackface!
To this day, I believe that brother thought he was serving my best interests. Consistent work in an industry that pretty much guarantees the exact opposite? A place on the beach? Hanging out with movie stars on the weekends? That’s ‘the Dream’ right?
As this year ends, I think of how much faster I could have made it to financial stability. The path I’ve chosen, in the most literal sense, has meant I have yet to permanently sell out the Muslim community or the black community for personal gain. My base feels stronger than its ever been. And it’s growing.
The people closest to me know I also end 2018 with a Muse. I sincerely stopped planning for ‘that’ years ago. Not through any particular cynicism, I just came to the conclusion that just wasn’t part of Allah’s plan for me. So by my own admission, the storyteller in me can appreciate watching my heart go through every romantic comedy cliche: ignorance, denial, self-sabotage, annoyance at my inability to turn it off, and finally, sitting on the 101 in wall to wall traffic, singing along to ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ like nothing else in the world matters.
Submitting to whatever or whoever decides to put in my life now feels inherently right. I feel completely set in my individual Calling. The dirty secret behind me building a public persona as ‘Batman’ is this: perhaps the single greatest achievement of my life has been surrounding myself with mutually respectful, sincerely loving relationships of every possible type. In my mind at least, I’m genuinely not looking to fill an ’empty’ space. I have been opened up again to the idea of sharing what I’m building with a woman I’m passionate about.
Maybe in 2019.
Happy Holidays everyone. See you next year.