On the heels of releasing Larenz Tate’s newest film, Dueces, on Netflix, the triple brother team of TateMen Entertainment wraps up the last episode of their critically acclaimed podcast, Bronzeville, this week. The Chicago natives — Larron Tate, Lahmard Tate and Larenz Tate —co-produced the audio series with Cinema Gypsy, actor Laurence Fishburne’s production company and Audio HQ.
Based on excerpts from the book BLACK METROPOLIS: A Study in Negro Life in a Northern City, by St. Claire Drake and Horace R. Cayton, the story follows the underground world of racketeering and the number policy game during 1945 in Bronzeville, an African-American community on the South Side of Chicago.
With an all-star cast that includes both Larenz and Lahmard Tate, Laurence Fishburne III, Tika Sumpter (The Haves and the Have Nots), Omari Hardwick (Power), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), Chicago native, Wood Harris (The Breaks) and on-going flow of great actors–the 10-episode audio drama cracked the Top 10 audio downloads on iTunes.
During their non-stop media and press run, the Tate Brothers, along with Fishburne, hosted a private reception and panel discussion at Bronzeville’s Gallery Guichard, where they had an opportunity to discuss the development and production process with fans. The following day, the Chicago Defender sat down with Larenz, Lahmard and Larron.
Q:You have partnered with some amazing heavy hitters in the business, including Academy-Award nominated writer Josh Olson. In bringing this story to life, based on excerpts from the book, BLACK METROPOLIS: A Study in Negro Life in a Northern City, it is a bit surprising that the writer is white
Larenz: When set out on this project, we wanted the best of the best for what we were going to do. We were able to join forces with Laurence Fishburne and his team. We could identify the arc of the show and how we wanted to roll it out creatively from the various characters. We shaped up a lot of stuff. We thought to ourselves unanimously and there were several different people.
Our thinking was we just want the best writer. We were going through different writers without looking at who they are.
We’re able to identify them and we came across Josh. He just got it. To discover that he was nominated for an Academy Award for writing and winning other awards, that’s kind of the icing on the cake. He had the goods and understood how to execute what we gave him. Make no mistake that the concept and the story of what people are listening to was curated by TateMen Entertainment as well as Cinema Gypsy Productions.
Q: How hard was this process to produce an audio series compared to what you’re used to completing through a film production?
Larenz: To be able to execute on paper, it’s difficult to write a show that does not have visuals and it’s all vocal. That’s a challenging thing. A lot of people don’t have that ability. Josh had that ability. It would allow us as performers to really hit the target where we needed to hit. There is talk about how do we continue to engage with the people who want more in respect to doing a Season Two.
With each episode, I understand Josh gave you 400+ pages, which is a lot of history to stick in there. What were the most interesting parts that you felt you had to pull out of the script?
Myself and Laurence’s partner, Helen Sugland, made sure he was guided the right way. The one thing that we wanted to elicit was this idea of community and how each character related to one another on how they moved through the community. The important thing is beyond all social infrastructure the forces around them, these guys were labeled villains for what they did back then.
Every community has some form of illicit affairs, whether it’s bootlegging or prohibition or the speakeasy gambling. These guys made their money from policy. We wanted to show the community was thriving off it as well. You may hit four, put up a dollar and win $300. Put up a nickel and win $50. That could sustain you for a long while. Also, what an impact it was for these guys, who had been demonized by the powers that be but held up as champions by the community because they were providing jobs and providing scholarships for kids — they were giving back to the community
Q: What is the difference between the gangsters during that time and the street guys now?
Larenz Tate:There’s some similarity on how communities were built. We knew that sort of comparison would be relevant to people so that you could connect and understand. The major difference, most of those people in that underworld legitimize themselves as business people. You think about how bootlegging and alcohol was legitimized in some communities because they created infrastructure.
Have you built infrastructure? Back in those days, when I say legitimize it, people started creating jobs where people can have a taxable income. That it became one of those things, this is how we’re going to thrive. This is the American way. It’s been like that for a long time.
To add to what Larenz is saying is you make the money, you get the money, now what do you do with the money? Are you giving yourself the reward or reaping the benefits, or are you investing within and giving back?
You can’t be a career hustler on the streets — that’s not a career. You can’t do that because it’s not designed to be a career — for some, yeah, but for the masses you can’t be in the streets hustling forever. These guys were organized in a positive way.
Q: Tell us about your new film, Deuces which also revolves around a criminal empire. What are the differences between the main character you play in this film and the policy guys in Bronzveville?
Larenz: It’s about an undercover cop who infiltrates a crime ring, but a very sophisticated crime ring. We chose the story from an ”anti-hero” point of view. It’s often that you don’t get a chance to see what that life is. What we wanted to do with this anti-hero was to elevate his consciousness and his mentality, which sort of reflects Bronzeville. The money that he’s made through that is the resources to get him to buy buildings and real estate and to own companies. We wanted to have that narrative.
This guy, Deuces, is no different than a Fortune 500 CEO. He gets economics and he has a strategy. That’s, in a way, what the policy guys were doing. They ran numbers.
Have we decided if you guys will be doing a film here in your hometown?
Larron: Every time we do something, we want to bring it here in our hometown of Chicago — long-term of course. We would love to bring Bronzeville here. It boils down to economics. Unfortunately, with the tax credits and if you don’t have the major budgets it’s hard.
Ideally, we would like roll out as much production as we possibly can. We’ll love to do that. We’ve seen the likes of John Singleton do his films in L.A. or Spike Lee in New York. We would like to–it’s just about us being able to make that happen because we’re juggling various things all at one time. There’s great opportunity in Atlanta, Georgia. At the end of the day, we want to be able to get the content out there. We want to be able to get our stories told. The passion is to ultimately to do things in Chicago.