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- Actor, musician
Romany Malco has long been a familiar face, as Jay in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and Rome Howard on NBC’s prime-time drama “A Million Little Things.”
The current Fort Lauderdale resident has also been playing popular YouTube personality Tijuana Jackson for years, using humor to provide social commentary on the mass incarceration of Black men in America.
Now he sees the collision of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement as an ideal time for his directing debut, “Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison,” an independent film that will stream online beginning July 31.
“I was worried that people sitting in theaters would be embarrassed to laugh out loud to some of the things he says,” Malco said. “As tragic as COVID-19 has been, the film is ideal for quarantine. You can laugh and learn comfortably in your home.”
Tijuana Jackson is an ex-convict who wants to do something more with his life, and he decides to become a motivational speaker. He agrees to be the subject of a 10-minute student film, which quickly exposes his outlandish humor and his crush on his parole officer (Regina Hall).
The movie will be available for streaming on Apple TV, Amazon, iTunes, Fandango Now, Google Play and Vudu.
We spoke to Malco about the film and why he’s quarantining Fort Lauderdale.
Why choose Fort Lauderdale to ride out quarantine?
My whole family is here. My family is Trinidadian and I’m the first American born, but I have gone to school in Trinidad and the U.S.
It was predominately family, my better half is St. Lucian and Puerto Rican and all of our kids are of Caribbean descent. My family, including my brother, my mother, my nieces are all here. My In-laws are literally a skip, hop and a jump away because they’re on the island of Puerto Rico. It just worked out best for us and we want to be close to family.
There’s a big West Indian community here.
Oh man, big time and I love it. We eat and drink like real Caribbean folks down here.
What do we take away from this film?
My real focus is to show the complexities of human behavior as a whole and how that may be a byproduct of systemic racism. You will begin to understand what it means to be put through the system and the calculated steps and barriers that are set up by the system to disenfranchise felons even further.
Prison has been interpreted as rehabilitation, yet the contrast of the prison system is so extreme. There is so little being done to help transition people from prison life to civilian life outside of the halfway house. In showing the complexities of human behavior maybe we can all connect and get a better understanding that we actually need to be a little bit more considerate of inmates.
Is the timing of this movie purposeful?
I honestly didn’t make the film for this time, but this time is perfect for the film. I’ve been doing this character online for at least 10 years, maybe more. I’ve been talking about all the things that are at the forefront of the American mainstream media for at least 20 years with this character.
It’s such a funny movie. You have a guy who is institutionalized who is trying to tell you how to liberate yourself. Pretty much all of us tend to spout what we most need to learn. We are looking at a character who is really preaching to himself. In the midst of doing all of that he is funny — his language is abrasive and offensive.
How can we use humor to educate others about topics like mass incarceration and racism?
It appears that the thinking of most people is either programmed through the media or through one’s trauma. “Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison” is the Trojan horse. It gives us access to other platforms that wouldn’t give us attention otherwise. Once we’re inside we use the platform to gently help people express their own trauma. The humor basically serves as a Trojan horse to introduce more complex topics and that’s what the YouTube channel has been doing. That’s what’s raised the money to make the money. This little independent film made for less than $400,000 got this global attention by making people laugh their asses off.
Do you see yourself in Tijuana Jackson?
I see a lot of me in Tijuana Jackson according to where I am in the world. If I’m going through a break-up or I’ve lost a parent or I’ve had the night of my life with my lady — all of these things affect who I am at a given time. So I do see myself in people and I want everyone else to see themselves in him. I’m hoping TJ will mirror aspects of every single one of you, including things about ourselves that we consciously and subconsciously tend to block out. That includes all races. I personally believe that until we have that level of awareness in ourselves there’s no way for us to connect.
Many people recognize you as an actor. Was there a big jump going from acting to directing a film?
I’ve been on set for 20 years and I was definitely insecure about it. I was resistant to the idea, I aimed to hire a director. I eventually had to direct and there were steep learning curves but I’ve learned quite a bit by being on set of all the different jobs I’ve done over the years. One thing I’ve learned is that you always have to keep learning, especially when it comes to film making.
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