Last summer, Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts made headlines for an incident involving the LAPD during which she was detained for refusing to present personal identification to an officer responding to a 911 call. The incident eventually led to both Watts and her boyfriend, Brian Lucas, being charged with lewd conduct. For much of the summer, the couple did various press interviews speaking about the injustice they faced during and after their encounter with the LAPD. Now, Watts is speaking out about a different injustice: the lack of attention missing children of color receive from the police and the media in comparison to their white counterparts. The subject is the central theme of one of her recent films, Muted, which is being aired on HBO throughout the month. We were recently able to catch up with Daniele to discuss the film, how her encounter with the LAPD has changed her life and the impact last summer’s incident had on her career.
MN: How did you get involved with “Muted?”
Brandi, the writer, saw a video interview that I did on a natural hair blog and contacted my agent to offer me the role.
MN: What inspired you to accept the role of Crystal?
I loved that the character was an aspiring artist. I am a deep believer that creativity and the arts are a door for kids who come from marginalized groups to discover and actualize their value in society. I was impressed by how Brandi was able to incorporate that idea while also looking at the broader implications and challenges that a girl like Crystal may face in the society we currently live in.
MN: In the film, it seemed that both the media and investigators took similar stances regarding Crystal’s disappearance. (They didn’t show interest until it was too late) Why do you think that is?
American society was built on the premise that black people were less than human. Even when there was integration happening in the 60’s—when my own father was growing up—there were deeply ingrained ideas of resistance and fear around accepting “colored” people as valued members of society. Since that was happening as recently as when my father was a kid, it follows that members of society who are currently leading institutions of media, and law enforcement, would be influenced by those limited ideas of the value of a black life versus a white one.
MN: What do you hope for viewers to walk away with after seeing “Muted?”
People may not be aware that biased media coverage continues to shape the way people are perceived or not perceived in America. Through films like ‘Muted,’ we can become more aware of the ways that systematic racism and bigotry has shaped, and continues to shape our perceptions. As we become more aware, we can allow for greater compassion and understanding—hopefully for all people.
MN: You expressed that you felt some of the issues raised by your arrest are consistent with themes presented in “Muted.” Can you elaborate on that?
Through the months following my arrest, there were many comments that surfaced on my Facebook page—and all over the Internet—based on biased media coverage of the incident. Some said, “This is why we call them Niggers,” or “Black girls are so ugly… they’re angry for no reason”—with many people calling me, in so many words, a “disgusting whore.” I was confronted with countless people who were willing to dismiss my basic human dignity based on negative stereotypes to do with my “blackness” or my “womanhood.”
Although this triggered deep feelings of anger towards society, I really felt disappointed and ashamed with myself for allowing those ideas to affect my own feelings of worth… I can see those emotions mirrored in the journey Chandra Wilson’s character takes in ‘Muted.’ Her life becomes very complicated when she and her missing daughter are devalued and dismissed based on stereotypical ideas. You can feel her pain, and her desire to be supported by the society she lives in. Which was similar to how I felt when much of the media was portraying my struggle in a way that totally dismissed the bigger issues at hand.