Actor and comedian Sampson McCormick is rarely at a loss for words. And even now, I get the sense that he wants to say more but is reluctant.
Above: Smollett and McCormick when B-Boy Blues was announced in October.
The last time we spoke, it was to talk about his involvement in bringing the stage play B-Boy Blues to the masses. McCormick was excited in particular in bringing actor and director (and former Empire star) Jussie Smollet onboard to help bring the project to fruition.
Back in October, The Hollywood Digest said, “Celebrated author James Earl Hardy’s wickedly funny, unabashedly real modern-day Black gay classic novel B-Boy Blues is on its way to the silver screen. The unforgettable story of Hardy’s young New York City lovers has become a ne plus ultra of the Black SGL experience since its original publication in 1994. Amidst the COVID-19 maelstrom in which we now find ourselves, Hardy and his cohorts have quietly been preparing to adapt his tome into a feature film, says co-producer, comedian, and LGBTQ advocate Sampson McCormick. The career funnyman, who has a few of his own film credits under his belt, told The Hollywood Digest that his involvement with Hardy and BBB goes back to its live theater days.”
In 2013, McCormick joined the cast of B Boy Blues: The Stage Play as Barry ‘B.D’ Daniels. McCormick recalls. “The play had several showings, toured a few cities and had huge success. James and I had a chat at his house about it becoming a movie.”
Once McCormick started producing his own films back in 2014. “[Hardy] started talking to me about being in the film. And I thought that would be pretty cool. Because he knows I had been one of the pioneering stand up comedians in our culture for a long time. He said, ‘I know you would do great in a film’. And I was like, ‘I think I would too’. He said, when you do the film you will definitely be play ‘B.D.’. And I was like, ‘Oh that would be cool’. So when I started producing he reached out to me about producing B-Boy Blues.”
Once he was on board, it was time to assemble a crew to bring the project to fruition. McCormick called on an old friend of his, former Empire TV series star Jussie Smollett to direct the picture. “[Jussie] and I have always wanted to collaborate on something, but we didn’t know just what,” McCormick says. “At first, we thought, a buddy comedy—then, I brought up that I was working on getting this film B-Boy Blues done, and we agreed that it would be the perfect story to focus our collaborative efforts on. It’s been a long process.”
Bringing Smollett back into the entertainment fold after a long hiatus, initially proved beneficial to the film. In addition to directing the photoplay, Smollett’s new studio, Super Massive Movies was on board to produce and fund the project, along with Tom Wilson, a Cleveland investor who supports LGBTQ indie film. The flick also gathered accomplished choreographer Frank Gatson, Jr. and actress/screenwriter Madia Hill Scott to extrapolate Hardy’s literary vision to celluloid. McCormick holds them both in high regard. “Frank Gatson is an expert in his craft, honorable, has choreographed with great artists including Beyoncé and Brandy, Jussie as well and others.”
Smollet, in turn, had expressed interest in working his old friend McCormick, because few wanted to work with him after the public relations disaster that resulted when the alleged homophobic attack he endured in 2019 was widely proven to be a hoax.
“We’ve known each other for a long time and, he saw the work I had going on and did with Darryl Stephens on A Different Direction,” McCormick said.
Above: Darryl Stephens and McCormick.
McCormick points out that for a Black, gay film, there were formidable obstacles for Blues to overcome.
While creating the controversial comedy PNP, that looked at Black gay boys who “partied and played’ i.e. did drugs and had sex, he had seen, “the biggest challenge was getting it picked up and backed by a studio. Then I had several meetings about B-Boy Blues, even with friends at a few of the studios and they didn’t think that Black gay films sell or are supported. I refused to accept the treatment that some of them were trying to give the story.”
So McCormick wasn’t totally surprised by the pushback he experienced when he was brought on as producer. The common refrain from potential backers was, “‘Black gay films do not sell and they certainly don’t sell overseas in particular.’ I had been hearing that for two years and they didn’t think it was worth the financial risk because they didn’t think they would make the money back. They heard B-Boy Blues and for some reason they didn’t think it could possibly have the same depth as say a Moonlight.”
But McCormick stood his ground, “I definitely wanted to do the film and I wanted to keep the integrity of the story. I know James appreciated that. Jussie’s involvement is very complicated because Jussie has been around in the community a long time as well. And so James, a few years back talked about him being Mitchell, the lead character, in the play, but that never happened. As far as this film, this first go around, I was the one who introduced Jussie to this project. I was working on the structure on the film and he wanted to come on as a director and I spoke to James about it. And he said, ‘Alright. That’s cool.'”
So McCormick was shocked when upon arriving for pre-production in New York City, Smollett urgently took him aside and told him he needed to record a casting video to secure his role as ‘B.D.’
That was the first clue something was up.
McCormick was confused, “For several years I was guaranteed this role, and the agreement with James Earl Hardy in producing this film was that I would get this role. I don’t know what happened and I’m not accusing Jussie of anything. He was responsible for getting all the funding and he was the biggest name on the project, and because I advocated for him, it seems to me that it would only be right for him to intervene and say, “This is what I came into, this is the person I have known, and this is a person who advocated for me so let me get him taken care of. I think that’s simple reciprocity.”
But as the production commenced and they began shooting, McCormick felt increasingly shut out. “First they stopped including me in the production meetings. I tried not to read into it so much when they stopped calling as much. He [Jussie] would pop in from time to time and give me little updates, and that was cool because my focus was on learning the role still.”
Eventually, McCormick was completely shut out and learned he’d lost the role. “My issue,” he says haltingly and with a twinge of hurt in his voice, “with them is that they, James and Jussie, tried to erase me from the project.”
McCormick remained professional and still showed up to set, “Even though I didn’t get the role I was promised. I rehearsed and knew all my lines. I remained focus. I wanted the project to succeed.”
Finally, McCormick reluctantly decided to return home and work on my his own film. “I had a film coming out Valentine’s Day weekend called Love the One You Are With. So that’s where my focus went. Because it was odd that they didn’t want me to work on the film with them.”
McCormick says “People in our community have always trusted me because I tell the truth.”
But Smollet in particular has now put him in a position that precludes him from doing so. “I cannot righteously promote this film as an executive producer, knowing that they have not made amends with me for what they did. This is me speaking to integrity.”
He continues, “People still look at him [Smollett] sideways and in the court of public opinion he has not won. I’m not hurt, I’m disappointed. This is not coming from an emotional place. On a moral level, I’m disturbed because that’s not the way I do business.”
McCormick believes Smollett used him “because the people in the community trust me. James and Jussie tried to push me out when everything got moving. We have had several conversations when I got home and they have never taken accountability or done anything to make it right. They would have never done something like this to Billy Porter.”
Above: McCormick and mentor Robin Williams.
“I have done comedy for over 20 years now,” he says, “And comedy is the most under recognized and challenging art forms there is in the entertainment industry and I have done it as a Black gay man. I have been hailed by several outlets as one of the best LGBT comedians of all time.”
McCormick admits, “I rarely openly acknowledge this, because as a dark skinned, Black gay man in the entertainment industry, we’re told to be ‘just be happy to be here.’ But facts are facts. For over 20 years, I’ve contributed tremendously to Black, gay culture and representation in this business. But many of the things I’ve done, as incredible as they are have either been overlooked. Folks have tried to erase my involvement from things, or simply straight up stolen credit for things I’ve done because I haven’t had folks to protect me, or didn’t know better.”
Above: Comedy legend Martin Lawrence and McCormick.
While McCormick’s body of work is as important as anything else that represents Black gay men “and our advancement in this business. I’ve simply been humble and kept working — to the point of exhaustion. The series of events that occurred with this project seemed to be the universe giving me full license to stop being ashamed to verbalize deserving to be honored for the things that I have rightfully earned and are due.”
McCormick pauses and then says thoughtfully, “I deserve my things.”