The “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Interview
with Kam Williams
Me and RJ!
The youngest of three boys, Ronald Cyler II was born in Jacksonville, Florida on . March 21, 1995. He demonstrated a love of the arts and entertaining early on, teaching himself to play the keyboard and drums, and forming a dance duo with his older brother, Broderick, at the age of 12.
In the summer of 2012, RJ traveled to the West Coast to hone his skills at acting camp. Encouraged by the experience, he asked his parents if they would consider relocating to Los Angeles to support his pursuit of a showbiz career.
With his family solidly behind him, he began meeting with agents, and subsequently signed with Landis-Simon Productions and Talent Management, as well as JLA Talent Agency. Here, he talks about making his acting debut in the title role of Earl in the screen adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which won both the Audience and Grand Jury Awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Kam Williams: Hi RJ, thanks for the interview.
RJ Cyler: Ola, Kam! No problem.
KW: I really loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But so have all the critics and audiences. Congratulations!
KW: What interested you in the film?
RJC: The honesty of the film, and how realistically it treats teenagers. A lot of movies present us as only interested in romance, which is kind of offensive, since we're a lot more complicated than that. We also have friends who are genuinely just friends. This script highlighted that aspect of the teenage mind, and I appreciated the fact that it was authentic and raw.
KW: What was it like playing the title character in your screen debut?
RJC: I'm still trying to wake up from the dream. It's crazy, really.
KW: Were you familiar with the book the movie's based on before you became attached to the project?
RJC: No, I only read it right before we started filming, in the week before production.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Would you describe yourself as similar to your character, Earl?
KW: Patricia also asks: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
RJC: To be more appreciative of the many blessing that that we take for granted everyday, like our health and the simple ability to move our limbs.
KW: Patricia asks: How old were you when you knew you wanted to become an actor?
RJC: I was 16.
KW: Children's book author Irene Smalls asks: What do you consider Me and Earl, a love story or a coming-of-age story?
RJC: It's more of a coming-of-age story, because it doesn't follow that boy-meets-girl, boy-dates-girl formula.
KW: Irene also asks: What were you most trying to communicate to the audience about your character?
RJC: That he wasn't your stereotypical black best friend, but a character you learn from, since he serves as the moral compass of the film.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How does a young performer who started out as a ”song and dance man” prepare himself for a performance on screen as a compassionate and caring teen?
RJC: By being genuine. I had no special technique for my approach to the character. The way that Earl handled situations was the same way that I would handle situations in real life.
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: RJ, I loved the trailer, and cannot wait to see the movie. What did you learn from this experience?
RJC: Every second on set was a learning experience. I mostly learned that less is more, that you don't have to push for emotion. The movies that push the hardest for emotion are the worst movies. The genuine emotions and the genuine laughs that come unforced are the ones that people remember most.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
RJC: ”Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Nick Offerman.
KW: I didn't know he wrote a book.
RJC: He wrote two. I just got his new one.
KW: Did you see him in The Kings of Summer? That's another great coming-of-age movie.
RJC: No, I missed it.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
RJC: ”So Special” by Lil Wayne and John Legend.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
RJC: Ramen noodles.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RJC: I see this really odd, awkward person who's ready to make history.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
RJC: The same powers as Superman.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
RJC: Slipping on a melted carpet and hitting my head on the radio while running through our apartment when I was about 6 years-old. Now, there's a patch on my scalp that doesn't grow hair at all.
KW: Sorry about that. The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
RJC: If I were an animal, I'd want to be a lion.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
RJC: There's literally no difference. I just look way better on the red carpet, since I don't wear suits on a daily basis.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
RJC: Brand-wise, I really like Michael Kors and Prada.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
RJC: Just today.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
RJC: The drive and tenacity to be creative, to take chances and to take that leap.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RJC: Faith in God will get you there. I promise!
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: What’s your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
RJC: I think Beverly Hills might do. Another area I'd like to live is close to the observatory, if I could build a little house there.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
RJC: A lot of business cards, some Canadian money and a picture of my brother Broderick who's in the military.
KW: Thanks again for the time, RJ, and best of luck with the film.
RJC: Alrighty, Kam. Thanks.
To see a trailer for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qfmAllbYC8
FilmReview by Kam Williams
Amy (Amy Everson) has been left so haunted by demons after years of unspecified sexual abuse that today she dreams of crushing a rapist to death with her thighs. She also fantasizes about gouging out his eyes and sticking a pin in a penis.
Good luck to anyone who gets involved with the traumatized survivor, since she's obviously still dealing with the fallout of whatever happened to her. Some of Amy's suitors are oblivious of the warning signs, such as the cad who cavalierly suggested that the date rape drug, Rohypnol, doesn't even exist.
Such callous behavior plays right into Amy's belief that most men are exploitative jerks who think they have the right to grope her just because she's female. She laments that they don't understand that there are other forms of violence besides punching or stabbing or shooting with a gun.
Rather than retreat into her shell, Amy copes by creating elaborate costumes which make a feminist statement about the patriarchal state of the culture. For instance, she'll strap on a fake penis and cover her face with a mask before taking a walk in the woods; or she might don a giant chicken mascot costume in order to follow a dude around.
Yet, despite her apparent disgust with the opposite sex, Amy hasn't given up on finding Mr. Right. She hangs out at a pool hall where she peppers possible partners with probing questions like: “Do you prefer docile chicks?”
Inspired by its star Amy Everson's real-life experiences, Felt is a surreal, semi-autobiographical adventure with a patently political agenda. Directed by Jason Banker (Toad Road), this unsettling experimental indie is simultaneously a psychological thriller which never affords the audience an opportunity to get comfortable in their seats.
A cattle prod of a picture which incessantly provokes and pushes the cinematic envelope while taking no prisoners in a very freaky battle-of-the-sexes.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: Amplify Releasing
To see a trailer for Felt, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr59LitGL1k
Film Review by Kam Williams
Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) was understandably unhappy when she learned from her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) that the family was relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco. After all, she'd be leaving behind her home, her hockey team and all her BFFs.
So, it's no surprise that the uprooted 11 year-old might be very lonely after moving to the Bay Area. And, unfortunately, that solitary condition leads to an inordinate amount of introspection as she attempts to sort out her emotions, literally and figuratively.
For, her feelings aren't merely metaphysical experiences but five actual little figurines living inside her brain. This anthropomorphic quintet, composed of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), are constantly contending for control of rattled Riley's moods as she navigates her way around a new house, city and school.
That struggle is the subject of Inside Out, the best animated offering from the talented team at Pixar since the equally-affective balloon adventure Up (2009). Don't allow the the awkward-sounding premise revolving around a melancholy kid who's a bit of a head case turn you off, as the material is handled delicately enough to be appropriate for a child of any age.
A touching tale illustrating how a dramatic life change might, temporarily at least, exact a terrible toll on a frail human psyche.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for action and mature themes
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: Pixar Animation / Walt Disney Studios
Film Review by Kam Williams
17 year-old Malcolm (Shameik Moore) was raised by a single-mom (Kimberly Elise) in a rather rough section of L.A. where he's turned out to be more of a milquetoast than a menace to society. He's actually so nerdy he's formed a funk band called Oreo with a couple of fellow geeks, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). The tight-knit BFFs carefully negotiate their way through the perilous gauntlet lining their path to school, doing their best to hide the fact that they do “white sh*t” like getting good grades in hopes of going to a good college and making it out of the ghetto.
Malcolm has his heart set on Harvard, which just might happen, given his high SAT scores. In terms of his application, he still has to finish his personal essay and then do a decent job in his upcoming interview with esteemed alumnus Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), the check-cashing magnate.
However, what might prove more of a challenge is simply keeping his nose clean the rest of senior year. After all, he encounters danger on a daily basis, whether it's bullies trying steal his sneakers or neighborhood gangstas pressuring him to join the Bloods.
Malcolm's unraveling starts when, against his better judgment, he accepts an invite from a girl he has a crush on (Zoe Kravitz) to a drug dealer's (Rakim Mayers) birthday party at an underground nightclub. His first mistake is even entering the seedy, subterranean rave. His second is asking Nakia to dance, because she's also the object of the macho birthday boy's affection.
Then, when a gunfight suddenly breaks out, Malcolm grabs his backpack and runs for his life, unaware that his rival in romance has hidden a stash of contraband there. So, the next thing you know, Malcolm's on the run from a number of unsavory characters who covet the carefully-packed powdery substance.
Thus unfolds Dope, a cleverly-scripted, coming-of-age comedy reminiscent of the equally-sophisticated Dear White People. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, this laff-a-minute, fish-out-of-water adventure mines most of its humor at the expense of an emboldened 98-pound weakling who's used to having sand kicked in his face.
The picture was directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) who keeps you entertained by turning more than a few conventions on their heads. The film also features a very pleasant soundtrack which includes a couple of crowd-pleasing tunes by 11-time, Grammy-winner Pharrell Williams.
A rollicking roller coaster ride around the 'hood that's basically a hilarious cross between Kid and Play's House Party (1990) and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated Rfor profanity, nudity, sexuality, ethnic slurs, drug use and violence, all involving teens
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Open Road Films
To see a trailer for Dope, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=strEm9amZuo
The “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” Interview
with Kam Williams
Lucy McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, the unarmed teenager gunned down at a Florida gas station for refusing to turn down the radio which was playing loud rap music. Although Jordan's murderer, Michael Dunn, has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the crime, Lucy has remained a very vocal advocate on behalf of all victims of such violence.
Here, she reminisces about Jordan while discussing 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, a documentary chronicling the trial of her son's killer. She also discusses her commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and to pressuring the criminal justice system to hold all violators of black civil rights accountable.
Kam Williams: Hi Lucy, thanks for the interview.
Lucy McBath: Thank you, Kam. I'm glad we're able to connect.
KW: 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets was a very powerful film. What did you think of it?
LM: I'm extremely pleased because it's truthful and it does the very thing we wanted, which is impact people. It's been very, very well received, particularly among people who never spent much time thinking about the issues of racism and biases and guns and violence. They see how we're all related dynamically to my story in some way, because it's everybody's story.
KW: What interested you in participating in this documentary?
LM: I'm a product of the Civil Rights Era. My father was a Civil Rights leader. So, I understood the power and authenticity of being able to move people for a cause. I felt that this would be one of the most effective ways to reach the largest possible audience and to prick their conscience and to get them to open their homes and communities to discussions about gun violence and race. This gives us a chance to reach more people than we'd ever be able to just in our own communities.
KW: Editor Jaymie Cain notes that you went to grammar school in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois.
LM: Yes, that's where I was born and raised. And I still have cousins who reside there.
KW: She's wondering whether you filed a civil lawsuit against your son's killer, Michael Dunn.
LM: Yes, we did.
KW: How would you describe Jordan in 25 words or less?
LM: Fun-loving, intuitive, spiritual and humorous... [Chuckles] He was always playing jokes, yet he was also really concerned about others, especially people who had less than he had, and people who who didn't have the opportunities that he had.
KW: What was it like to not only lose your son, but to have to grieve in the national spotlight, and at a time you were also battling breast cancer?
LM: It was extremely, extremely difficult. I had to deal with my son being murdered as well as my health, and have it all played out in the media. But I understood the inherent importance of what we were doing, and that I would have to put aside all of my ills and my “isms” because what God was doing was much greater than Jordan, and that Jordan's life was serving as a catalyst for change. So, I had to put aside what was uncomfortable for me to do what I needed to do.
KW: Have you bonded with any of the other parents of other unarmed young blacks killed by whites in recent years?
LM: Absolutely! I'm good friends with Sybrina Fulton [Trayvon Martin's mother]. Just recently, I spent some time with Michael Brown's mother [Leslie McSpadden]. I've met Eric Garner's mother [Gwen Carr] and Tamir Rice's mother [Samaria Rice], too. Every year in Miami, Sybrina hosts what she calls “The Circle of Mothers.” Along the way, I've had a chance to meet quite a few other mothers who are grieving over the murders of their children, many of whose cases never garnered national attention.
KW: Do you see a psychological difference in yourself from them, since you're the only mother whose son's killer was convicted of murder.
LM: In that regard, I'm kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just because we've received justice, doesn't mean that we don't care about everyone who hasn't. It actually makes us even more passionate because we know that justice can be done. We wanted to set a precedent in the justice system to give a sense of hope to our people. We have to care about what's happening in our community. We have to care about the other mothers and fathers who have never received justice for their loved ones. So, we feel very responsible to continue to stand and fight the system with our heads high for the rest of our lives, if necessary, until we create the changes necessary for everyone to receive justice.
KW: Is there one widespread misconception about Jordan that you'd like to correct for the record?
LM: Yeah, Jordan was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Because it happened in Florida, everybody thinks Jordan was from there. But he has a whole history in Georgia. His church friends... his home school group... the church school group... The whole essence of who Jordan is, is because of Atlanta. That's what I want people to know.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to Jordan's childhood?
LM: Very much so. He was very heavily involved in his youth group. He would go on the spiritual retreats our church would have for the children. And when he was very young, I was a flight attendant,and my church family and other single-moms would come together and take care of him if I had to work, so he wouldn't miss a beat. He was very enthusiastic about attending the children's service. He would scream, “Come on mom, I don't want to be late.” I was just so happy that, at an early age, he had found God for himself, and had his own personal relationship with God.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you want people to take away from 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets?
LM: I want people to think about more than just themselves. I want them to think about what's happening in the country, dynamically, in terms of racism and fear and guns and violence. And if you don't condone what's going on, I'd like you to ask yourself what you're going to do about it. In what small way can you contribute to make sure everyone's human and civil rights are respected. We all have a responsibility to be each other's keepers. If we don't, we're going to begin to fall as a nation, and you'll see us completely begin to dismantle ourselves.
KW: Patricia also asks: What do you think should be done regarding gun control laws to make sure that weapons do not get into the hands of the wrong people?
LM: Because of the Black Market, I realize we're not going to be able to take all the guns off the street. But that doesn't mean that we can't work with our legislators to change the laws so that they're not so expansive and allow people to use their guns any way they want to as vigilantes and self-appointed sheriffs. Having representatives meet the families of the victims of gun violence is extremely impactful, because our legislators need to be reminded that they are accountable to their constituents and must work to keep their communities safe
KW: Why do you think Michael Dunn was convicted while George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin?
LM: I think the problem with Trayvon's case was that he was demonized from the very beginning. And because he was dead, there was no one to refute what the shooter said. In our case, we had his friends and other witnesses who could testify. And if it weren't for a stranger, Sean Atkins, who reported Michael Dunn's license plate before he fled the scene, he might never have even been arrested.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: I hope I am not invading your private grieving, but are you willing to address what changes you'd like to see in society so that Jordan would not have died in vain.
LM: I'd believe how we look at race in this country, systemically, how people are allowed to use guns, and how police brutality plays into gun violence all need to be addressed. And all these issues are interconnected and interrelated. You cannot solve one without the others.
KW: David Roth says: I'm so sorry for your loss, and I'm also sorry for our society. Without excusing Michael Dunn's sociopathic overreaction, I wonder whether you ever find yourself wishing Jordan and his friends had simply turned down the radio when they were asked? Did the evidence in the case suggest that such a response would have avoided provoking an insane, deadly response?
LM: If they had “obeyed” his wishes and turned downed down the music, yes, Jordan probably would be alive today. But I don't dwell on that because Jordan had been raised to care about and champion the underdog's freedoms and riots. And that's exactly what he was doing. He gave his life caring about others. They weren't doing anything other than exercising his rights. He was doing exactly what he'd been taught in terms of caring about others.
KW: Editor Marilyn Marshall asks: What advice should parents of young black males give them about the dangers they face in society?
LM: What we taught Jordan was: We do not want you to live in fear, however, you must protect yourself. You must be aware of your surroundings and who you spend time with, and you must understand that, as a young black male, people will make assumptions about you without even knowing you. I even had a big discussion with Jordan after the killing of Trayvon Martin, warning him that people no longer use reasonable convict resolution nowadays. That they will just take out their guns and shoot you. I remember saying to him, “Jordan, sweetie, you've got to be careful, because someone might shoot you rather than try to revolve a conflict peacefully.” He said, “No, mom, that's not going to happen to me. I'm going to be okay.” It tears my heart apart whenever I reflect upon that conversation because I was foreshadowing my own child's demise.
KW: Marilyn has a follow-up: How would you like Jordan to be remembered?
LM: I want him to be remembered as a young man who was very loving. He loved God; he loved his friends; and he was very inclusive, trying to bring all different types of people together. And he surrounded himself with kids who had a heart like his. I really believe that if Jordan had been allowed to live out his life here on Earth, he would have become a civil activist creating change out in the community. And now, I've become that very thing that I saw in my own son.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
LM: I see my father. I understand his work so much better now. He was the president of the Illinois branch of the NAACP for over 20 years. As a child, it had been hard for me to appreciate his commitment to justice for our people. Today, I finally understand his drive since that's all I think about day and night, and with every fiber of my being, because I know it matters.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
LM: That we could live here in the United States, a nation of immigrants, as God intended us to live.
KW: If you could have a chance to speak with Jordan what would you say?
KB: [Long pause] I understand why you're not here, sweetie... [While weeping] And I accept it, because I know that you were here for this short period of time for a greater purpose. Despite my selfish desire to have you here because you're my son and because I love you, I understand that God had to call you home because you were needed for a larger purpose. I hope that I was the mother that you needed me to be. I want you to know that I am doing well and that I need you to continue to give me the strength to now be the mother to other sons.
KW: My sincerest condolences on your loss, Lucy, and best of luck in your mission to make sure Jordan didn't die in vain.
LM: Thank you, Kam, for taking an interest and for helping us make a change. We really appreciate that.
To see a trailer for 3½ Minutes,Ten Bullets, visit: