Actor Karon Riley on His Role in ‘Little,’ Black American Stereotypes and Forced Narratives

ATM: The best qualities of a father are not seen prevalent enough as they should. They are not highlighted whether in society or in entertainment on various platforms. They are not heightened enough to lift the stereotyped that are put on you all.

KR: Let’s just talk truthfully. There not enough black stories and black men depicting fathers and we are portrayed wrong in the media, film, and television. This is scripted and non-scripted. Let’s talk about all the issues. Reality television has destroyed the image of a black man every week. This is viewed more times than any other television show. It is propaganda on top of propaganda.

ATM: Reality television does show a blurred and wrong depicted image of a black father. This does hurt society. Little and young boys are watching this image. A lot is going to reflect on what they see.

KR: We are not portrayed enough and need to be portrayed more. On there, everyone has multiple baby mothers. They are bragging on the fact that they have four or five different baby mothers. Unless you are a king or a ruler of a country and have money to pay for all the kids, you should not have that many mothers, to begin with.

ATM: How does it feel seeing your race and gender wrongly depicted by the media?

KR: It encourages me wanting to do more for myself and for my people. It is all storytelling and basic narrative. Our narrative is being forced down on us by our oppressor. All our narratives have been damaging to us as a culture, especially black men. For me, when I see this depicted, I realize I have a lot more work to do. For me and my craft, I should use it on my platform to the point it is big enough. Until then, I have done what I can. I have to take roles of playing a dad and say no to roles where I am not the good father. Sometimes you have to say no.

ATM: By you saying no, this is also seen as advocacy for you having your race and gender. People have different ways, but this is a big one.

KR: This is definitely a yes. It comes down on the story. It could be a father who falls on hard times and he is struggling. Everyone has a story. He could be working his butt off and things just happen the way they happen. This is the story that should be told. This is going to get men out there who are strapping up their bootstraps and trying to get it right out there toward to win. You have to be motivated and inspired. It might inspire a man who has it and this role could inspire him to show him the way. This is what our art needs to do. We need to not use our art in a negative way and not use it as war. It is propaganda. Denzel wins an Oscar for being a gangster in a film but gets looked over when he plays another character.

He wins an Oscar for the worst version of a black man. He was a cop killer! He was a drug dealer! He was a womanizer! He was everything! He was the damn devil throughout the movie, and he wins an Oscar. These are the things you look at and say, “Wow, I get it.” I am not trying to say anything about Denzel. We cannot say this type of black man does not exist in this world. This black man deserves a story as well. It gets to a certain point when every movie gets shown in just one way. I can see if you do American Gangster and then come out with Best Man Holiday. This shows black men have great relationships and with their kids. This would be a balance. Balance is all for a reason.

ATM: Since Training Day, the scale had been tipping up and down on the prevalence of the better portrayal for the black man and for the black society. There are still roles that depicted them in a different and distasteful, but there is more of notice and awareness for a change in the roles.

KR: It has gotten better. Everything is going to get better because we are super talented people. Will Packer is a great example of how it has gotten stronger and with how we do it. It is also an example of black excellence. He is creating stories with people who we would love to go to the movies and see. It is not surrounded by a bunch of churches or it is not a church scene. It is an entertaining story. It is the same story Tom Hanks would come to see. It is a good story. We can tell great stories about whether you are black, white, Chinese, and Hispanic. The story is what’s important. It does not matter who it is.

ATM: The story always reflects what is in society or where we are trying to move into. These storylines are what people are living every day. This is the reason it is so intriguing for people to look at it. They can easily point out someone in their life who reflects a specific person whether good or bad.

KR: Yes. Life imitates art. The people who are creating the movies are people who have been out in the world. They are more influenced by the image of the world. You notice the whole superhero trend. This is where the world is at. People are seeing these images because maybe the world is so harsh. It is the flip side of reality. This is probably why the genre is so big right now.

ATM: The prevalence in the genre has transformed into different areas. But before blacks were cast and always seen in only a religious narrative. Blacks were perceived to only go to church and worship God. This portrayed created a depicted of what we were like and this makes people go off this after watching it.

KR: It was a safe story for black folks. Let’s say this. If I am a white film producer in the studio, then is a safe story for blacks. This the story they have been taught about us their whole lives from education and since we were little kids. This has been our story since the beginning of time that we know of. It was slavery, slaves, and then they gave us the church. This is what it ended up being — black people in churches and looking for someone to save us. This depowers us to save ourselves.

ATM: We were still misunderstood as a race. We were depicted as the damsel in distress. Always needing white people to save us.

KR: We always have to get saved.

ATM: We always have to go through conflict and beg the white man to save us or get us out of the conflict. We were not the race that took charge before. We were always moved throughout the story when someone was there taking charge before us. White people are the teacher and we could be seen as a student always learning after them.

KR: Right.

ATM: There are a lot of ways black men and as well as black fathers are not portrayed in. Some of the stereotypes continue to get into the storytelling.

KR: In everything. I do not see why we cannot do and play everything. The whole thinking of what can they do for us instead of doing it ourselves. We should think they should let us do it. Once we learn how to control our own storylines, this is where it will start. We have to put people in what we might not see. There are black people that love the sea. There black people that scuba dive. There are black people that can play in every movie you have seen under the sun. We must control our own narrative. How old are you? 22?

ATM: 22.

KH: Oh, so I am old enough to be your father.

ATM: Outside entertainment looks for permission to do a lot of things. They look toward the white man still to see if they can move forward. They are looking for some leader or someone to stir them in the right location to make a change. We should not need permission to create. In other sectors of the world, not entertainment, creation or change is not helping because people are not creating. This is not the case in entertainment because there has been a readjustment to the black narrative and forced stereotypes.

KR: It is looking at the perception of it all. If you are the type of person who waits for permission to do anything, then you are just this type of person. Religion has been flooded into our lives so strongly. It has handicapped so many people from making their own decisions and movies. You must break this individually and generationally. Will Packer is not like this. This is the difference between Will Packer and Joe Blow who is talking about doing something and not doing it. Will has been around building his team and putting males in the right roles. It is up to us to do it and make our own way.

Like having this interview platform, it is up to you to build at a young age and be responsible. It is also up to me as a husband, father, actor, and leader as a black man to lead by example. No one is perfect. I have to try setting the bar high. It all starts with us. It is going to take a long road. You have people like Will Packer, Tyler Perry. They have created a source and helped thousands of people find careers and jobs. We need more people like you asking your kind of questions, and they need to come up with better answers. Keep going and doing your thing.