ATM: What can you observe about how the characters in Canal Street found their faith in God?
Ada Luz Pla: Kholi, played by actor Bryshere Gray, was one of the main characters in the film. He was from the south side of Chicago and sometimes referred to it as Hell on Earth. Kholi’s mother was a woman of faith. When she passed away, Kholi lost his way. There was this grievance and anger he felt with God. He felt that his mother had been taken away from him, and I feel he was struggling in this sense. Whereas the other main character, Brian, played by actor Kevin Quinn, he was more privileged. Brian was from the suburbs and I think he worshipped drugs, money, and the fast life. These were his equivalents to God. These two characters came from different worlds and different upbringings. In the end, finding God was what healed both of their parents. In Brian’s case (he was the young man that was murdered), his parents learned to lean on God. This was their healing. In Kholi’s case, he reconnects with his faith following the ordeal he faces after being accused of murder.
ATM: What is inside a person that is full of rage from being wrongly convicted?
Ada Luz Pla: The rage comes from many different issues, especially when you are dealing with race. It was interesting to notice that writer-director Rhyan LaMarr wrote “Canal Street,” before the Trayvon Martin incident. The situations depicted in the movie, the incident with Trayvon Martin, the racial minorities killings that have come to light in the past few years, as well as the racial climate we have been facing, are relevant at this point. Kholi, a young black man, was growing up and surviving the streets amongst his community in South side of Chicago. His father in an attempt to put him in a better environment moves him to the suburbs. Instead, Kholi finds himself in a stereotypical racial situation. Race played a good deal with Kholi’s rage and how he dealt with it.
ATM: What about when a minority woman gets wrongly convicted in this situation?
Ada Luz Pla: The judicial system is a lot harsher on males. I also believe that us women of color have this stigma against us that if we voice our opinion, then we are labeled difficult and treated with disrespect. Take for example what happened to Sandra Bland. If you voice your opinion or speak up for yourself, then you are wrong even if you are right. You are judged within the judicial system whether you are right or wrong. The louder you are, the harsher the ruling. Being Puerto Rican, Cuban, having been raised Puerto Rican and Dominican from the Bronx and from the Castle Hill projects. I have seen and lived through this disrespect. I’m no nonsense and when I speak up, I’m told I’m “ghetto” as opposed to just having the right to voice my opinion. I also worked as a social worker at one point and saw this first hand.
ATM: Did you use the mindset of previously working as a social worker, parent or as an actor? Or all three?
Ada Luz Pla: In Canal Street I played a character that was a conservative. I was a news commentator. It was difficult for me because I didn’t agree with the character’s ideology. It was a challenging role because my character Leslie is very different from me. However, I was able to use my past profession as a social worker, and my role as a mom to prepare for the role. I modeled my character after Ana Navarro. She is a conservative and is also very aware of the racial climate in society. She is “woke” with the judicial system and with people of color. When creating this character, I borrowed from her and that helped me to develop and bring Leslie to life.
ATM: When up against the odds, how does this control a person’s adrenaline level?
Ada Luz Pla: I played a character that was far from who I am. I had to dig deep to find why I felt the way I felt. This was a challenge for me. I watched a lot of CNN, so I was able to study how they keep their composure when they are confronted with difficult questions. Most of the time, I’ve noticed these commentators just repeat themselves. I stuck with the questions that were asked of me regarding the legal system. What it should be, not what it is. I approached the subject from the idealistic legal system point of view instead of using realistic points of view. This was hard because I too was confronted with tons of opposing question and points of views. Although, I was flustered, I was professional. I kept my composure and repeated myself just like the commentators that you see on television do. For Kholi, (Bryshere Gray), it was hell for him. He was considered guilty until proven innocent as opposed to innocent until proven guilty. He became angry and frustrated with his situation. We were both in a sense fighting different battles.
ATM: What other things in addition to his skin color are attached to Kholi?
Ada Luz Pla: In reviewing the case, it appears that it is clear-cut. Here is a young black male who comes from the South side of Chicago. He goes into a white conservative neighborhood and is caught standing over a white male who had just been shot. It appears that he did it. From anyone looking from the outside, Kholi didn’t belong in this “good” neighborhood and was there to commit a crime. This situation is the typical accusatory stereotype that insinuates that a young black male coming from the South side of Chicago has gone into the Suburbs to do something wrong.
ATM: How does his father exercise his profession to serve his son? How is he beating the stereotype of his background?
Ada Luz Pla: As a mother, if I was an attorney, and my son was stuck in this situation and I believe that my son is innocent I would fight aggressively to prove his innocence. Kholi’s father rose out of the South of Chicago to become a professional attorney and a pillar to his community. He was passionate about fighting to prove his son was innocent. He did not feel anyone else could have been as passionate as him. There was no one who could have done the job of defending Kholi as well as he could have. He was invested in his son’s freedom.