January 31, 2023


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Mustafa Shakir as ‘Mukti’

3 min read

Mustafa Shakir has always been “hung up” about slave movies, so when his agent sent him the script for Antoine Foucault’s “Emancipation” that the casting director wanted him to read for Gordon, a slave, it was no surprise. That “the role didn’t resonate.”

But Shakir, best known for his TV work (“Luke Cage,” “The Night Of,” “The Deuce”), was surprised by the reaction of the casting director, who was asked which character he wanted to play. “I said, ‘Without Peter?'” he deadpans, referring to Will Smith’s lead role that dominates the film. “There’s this guy Andre Cauleaux.”

Cailloux, who probably deserves his own film, was born a slave but gained his freedom in 1846, learned to read, achieved success as a boxer, and became a respected New Orleans businessman and community leader. In “Emancipation,” Cauleaux is a military captain who is one of the first blacks to command a unit. He takes the newly freed (and illiterate) Peter under his wing and then gives a rousing speech to his all-black regiment before leading them into an impossible fight.

“I was trying to find someone with a certain dignity and strength, who has a presence even when he’s not saying anything,” says Fuqua. When he hits the play at Shakir’s audition, he notices a voice and presence that reminds him of Denzel Washington. “Then I looked up and this guy was darker than me but with ice blue eyes. That’s interesting. And he has a great smile. I remember thinking, ‘This guy’s a star.’

When Shakir arrived on set, Fuqua noted that he projected a leadership quality with the cast and crew. So on the first day, he turned to the actor and said, “Discipline your troops.”

Shakir was receiving the voices of hundreds of men and voices when Fuka gave this command. “I had to get their attention and snap to them,” says Shakir, who briefly studied at the Actors Studio but didn’t like it; Instead, he often drew on what he had learned studying psychology and cultural anthropology at the New School.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is what it feels like to lead,'” added Shakir, “so much for Antoine to make me do it.” “It connects me to these people and feels a sense of responsibility to organize them in a moment. Later when it was time for me to give my speech I was talking to these people as I knew them. The fuse was already lit.”

In that fiery speech, just before the battle, Shakir admonished the men that while they were being sent to almost certain slaughter, black men fighting to end the Civil War had a stronger motivation and responsibility than white generals could. never understand

“Mustafa is a lion,” Fuqua said. “He’s low-key but when it’s time to hunt, he just lights up. When I was editing the first speech you could see there was some fire in this guy so I didn’t cut too much and just stayed with him.

Shakir said his performance, both in the speech and the subsequent battle scenes, was fueled by his surroundings. “It wasn’t a sound stage, we were out there firing mortars in the mud of Louisiana,” he says, noting how the chaos and noise disrupts the nervous system and how soldiers can be injured without being killed.

“You can do all the research and keep notes and think all you want, but that goes out the window when you’re on the ground,” he adds. “I was there in the field and felt the energy of all these people, inspired by the bombing and the way all that visceral information came out.”

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