Rising star

Date06 July 2021
Published date06 July 2021
Publication titleSignal
KELVIN Harrison jun is the very definition of a rising star.

Since his big-screen debut in best picture Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave in 2013, Harrison (26) has become a fixture of Sundance dramas (Mudbound, Luce), A24 films (It Comes at Night, Waves) and awards contenders (The Trial of the Chicago 7, in which he plays Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton).

His latest project is Netflix’s Monster, adapted from Walter Dean Myers’ 1999 young-adult novel. The legal drama follows a 17-year-old black teen, Steve Harmon (Harrison), an honours student who is accused of being the lookout for a deadly robbery. Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson co-star as his well-to-do parents, while Tim Blake Nelson plays a teacher who maintains Steve’s innocence after the boy is arrested and put on trial.

A handful of recent films have dealt with systemic racism and police brutality. What’s unique about this movie’s perspective?

What I like about the book and movie is that we get to see a young black kid from an affluent black family doing well for themselves [that’s] created a life where they felt like they could have protected him. Because of the work that they’ve done, he should maybe be exempt from some of these passing altercations with the cops and the justice system. And it just wasn’t the case. The movie shows how we group together young black boys as if they’re all the same and don’t really factor in nuance. I think that’s the thing about this movie that’s a little different: No-one’s exempt and we see that with Steve.

Monster premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2018, and so much has happened since then regarding racial justice and Black Lives Matter. Does the movie resonate with you any differently now?

Looking at everything that’s been happening now, it’s just reminded me how it’s so important that we encourage each other and support each other and don’t get into the trap of trying to label and judge each other in our own communities. That’s just bringing division in the community and that’s the last thing that we need. We’ve all worked so hard — even my existence in this business is an act of working really hard to get people to see me and understand me. What is a movie like this for, other than to educate and give me more humanity as a black person? But it doesn’t make me exempt [from racial injustice].

Your characters in Monster, Waves, Luce and Monsters and Men are all high achievers. Is that how you’d describe yourself in school?

I was actually terrible...

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