Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’s John Clarence Stewart Breaks Down That Pivotal Episode on Systemic Racism

John Clarence Stewart stars as Simon on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

We had an opportunity to speak with him following Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 2 Episode 6.

Learn on to seek out out what John needed to say about how this pivotal episode got here collectively, his response to the ultimate product, and what’s subsequent for Simon.

Speak to me about how this entire plotline got here collectively.

I heard about this again in like June, July, because the writers’ room was getting kicked off. And [story editor] Zora [Bikangaga] would say what they have been going to speak in regards to the season, which on the time was like, three, 4 weeks after George Floyd was killed.

I used to be within the throes of processing quite a bit, as all people else, particularly, the writers within the writers’ room. This got here up, and [creator] Austin [Winberg] reached out to me and stated, ‘That is what we’re pondering.’

And I informed them what my reservations have been so far as approaching the subject material on the present and needed to ensure that I am part of the method as a result of I need to ensure that we’re doing it proper, in a method that offers me peace, as a result of, you understand, it is my face and my identify on it. He obliged, and I had a dialog.

He linked myself and Zora, who wrote the episode, and we had a couple of conversations that started after I got here as much as quarantine in Vancouver in late August. We talked about being Black males on the earth and the office, particular experiences. A few of these discovered their method into the script.

Zora additionally talked to Alex Newell and Kapil Talwalkar about their very own experiences on the earth in an effort to get as particular as potential. The priority that I had that was shared by quite a lot of my fellow solid members was that the characters wouldn’t be particular, that they’d be used because the plot units.

And it might be on the finish of the day; we have now a white savior in Zoey. We might get like a pleasant capsule systemic racism episode with a … chaser of pleasure on the finish, and it is like, uh, we did not need to try this. So Austin was actually instrumental in ensuring that did not occur, and fortuitously, we didn’t have that.

Choreographer Mandy Moore early on thought in regards to the language, the bodily language of the episode, and needed to ensure that the whole lot was in line bodily with that very same stage of specificity towards the Black expertise and reached out to Luther Brown, a collaborator and good friend of hers for a very long time.

He got here in and simply did simply an unbelievable job, bringing this bodily language to the episode that I feel is fairly singular. And lastly, it was the choice of Austin and Zora within the writers’ room to ensure that we had solely Black musical artists that we use within the episode.

I feel that was additionally very instrumental and ensuring that we as soon as once more are in step with this specificity that we needed to seize so deeply.

On the finish of the episode, the characters have a good time a small victory. Are you aware if a few of this plot will proceed all through the season as a result of there’s nonetheless a lot extra work to do? I would personally like to see extra, as that is such an necessary story to inform.

You already know, what that makes me glad to listen to. So far as I do know, you’ll be seeing extra of this storyline. Particularly for me, all of it comes right down to the specifics. Not solely will you get to see components of the storyline, however you may get to see how they’re particularly making an attempt to take every step ahead, which I feel is essential.

Synthetic intelligence, there’s a complete lot of issues happening. There’s a whole motion happening proper now about ethics and AI having to do with racial bias and algorithms. And never solely that on a micro-specific stage, however simply systemic racism usually in each office.

So we’ve not received a silver bullet, however we’re going to preserve it as a part of the feel and the story of the present transferring ahead, which I feel it’s totally accountable. I feel that is simply I feel that is accountable storytelling to take action.

So how was filming this previous episode? It is one thing so necessary, so that you need to be sure you get it proper. 

It was an intense quantity of strain, and I feel everybody felt it. I felt it again in June, July, after I was informed that this is able to be an task we’ll be doing that we’ll be addressing systemic racism within the office at SPRQPoint, and I believed, ‘Oh snap.’

I already felt a sure diploma of strain as a result of we have seen tales be informed earlier than in regards to the Black expertise, in regards to the brown expertise. And we have seen these tales be informed in a method that does not take a dialog a step ahead; it that takes us 5 steps again, that causes wounds and hurts individuals.

And I did not need to inflict additional trauma on the Black and brown group, given the whole lot we have lived via. In order that was one thing I used to be dwelling with very presently all through the method, coming as much as taking pictures and thru taking pictures. Not solely that, however we’re all in an area that’s predominantly not Black on our set.

Luckily, there was an intentionality the place Black individuals have been introduced into the area, as we noticed on the finish of the episode, all the Black and brown our bodies celebrating inside that area, which was, you understand, akin to a religious expertise on set.

And we even have Anya Adams, our director, a Black girl, and Zora Bikangaga, our author, a Black man, who got here up as we have been taking pictures the episode, which was actually, actually useful. Nonetheless, to shoot a few of these scenes was proper on set off factors for me.

The scene between Zoey and I, the place she whitewashes my humanity and calls me Simon, devoid of my blackness, is a dialog I’ve had with many white buddies of mine who I really like and care about, a few of whom, when George Ford was killed, reached out to me, and have been speaking to me as we have been each spectators watching the world burn.

Versus reaching out to me like a Black man who was affected by the state of the world and the whole lot that was occurring, so one thing’s very, very shut, and it was labor. Nevertheless it was if the labor that we select — the labor that I selected. I feel labor is the very best time period for it as a result of there’s the ache.

And I feel that is the factor, that there is labor to the birthing of this story on this very particular and intentional method, which introduced up quite a lot of dissonance, laid on quite a lot of triggering locations for everybody concerned.

However fortuitously, everybody’s keen to have the conversations mandatory and to indicate up day in and day trip as a way to inform the story. And we’re left with a product and a narrative that’s particular, that’s true to the Black and Brown expertise. And we see that, I feel, in the best way it has been obtained, and that makes me most glad.

Did it’s a must to have any powerful conversations with individuals on set?

Oh, yeah. I imply, I needed to have powerful conversations. Zora and I had powerful conversations about themes and like, what we have been making an attempt to get in, considerations that we had about whether or not or not a white character like both Zoey or Danny Michael Davis was going to be softened an excessive amount of, desirous to ensure that made the errors.

The factor that was so necessary to me personally was that we present course of. Like, I feel we’re so afraid of course of, nobody needs to personal that they do not know and that they should study. And studying will not be like I sit on my own and watch a bunch of Instagram movies.

The educational is, you understand, how do I present up on the earth when I’ve this little data? How do I, in a flawed method, try to fail to indicate up in the easiest way that I am allowed? I feel we see that with Zoey.

One of many issues I needed to navigate — I feel all of us needed to navigate this — was the scene between Zoey and myself with Zora and Anya on set that day as a result of we’ve not fairly cracked it.

It took a while and exploring on behalf of Jane [Levy] and myself and Zora and Anya to seek out what it was that Zoey says that triggers Simon to the place the place he feels the necessity to say what he says to her.

And we lastly received to the area … the place Zoey, in an effort to attach with Simon’s wrestle, brings the very best factor that she has to the desk, which is being a girl within the office. It is an expertise that I’ve had with white buddies, with white buddies who’re ladies as nicely.

And in additionally my view, it is also an expertise that I’ve had as a Black man towards Black ladies after I speak in regards to the wrestle that I’ve, and so they have to tell me and let me know that the wrestle will not be the identical, and I’ve to go, ‘Acquired it. I imagine you, and I’ve to should eat it, personal it and do higher. ‘

And we get that chance via the work on the day with Jane and Zora on set, which is nice.

I actually liked that scene you are referring to when Zoey and Simon have the powerful dialog. I particularly love when Simon talks about having to amputate components of himself.

That was a particular dialog that Zora and I had on the telephone. We have been speaking to one another, and I used to be like, you understand, this concept of amputating, the amputation itself lingered and has been like a language that circled me for a couple of years. And Zora and I have been speaking about it, and he wrote it down, and I am so glad that it discovered its method into the script.

As a result of it is in all probability probably the most potent metaphor I can consider, together with extending it, the concept of what it’s to amputate a limb and the phantom pains that occur when a limb is now not there.

What are your ideas on the ultimate product?

Okay, so I had two reactions. My first response was, ‘Oh my god, I am horrible.’ However then I took a step again, and I noticed what we crafted. I noticed the performances of everybody. And I additionally really feel like how Simon suits into the story, the whole framework of what we construct, and I used to be very, very proud.

I imply, there are such a lot of methods we may have been left with one thing on tv to reside for eternity that brings disgrace to all of us. And that wasn’t my expertise. I really feel extremely proud.

And the musical numbers that I used to be capable of do, I felt very happy with myself, and of Luther Brown and the choreography and all the numbers from Alex and Kapil. 

Are you able to tease something for what’s arising within the subsequent half of the season for Simon?

You will see some extra textures and layering in of these items, which is, you understand, accountable storytelling, I feel it would be actually bizarre if it is similar to, excessive 5, cool, let’s get drinks, and so I feel there’s, you are gonna see some textures of that.

I feel you may additionally see what occurs within the relationship between Simon and Zoey. Shifting ahead, there is a very particular factor that they’ve navigated, and also you get to see whether or not they’re nonetheless navigating it, what their friendship appears like, after which if anything occurs.

Is there anything you’d prefer to see occur to seek out within the season?

The issues that I prefer to see occurring with Simon are, as issues proceed, I simply need to see specificity with Simon in terms of work. I’ve talked to Austin, and I’ve seen a number of the scripts which have come down the pike.

I feel there is a specificity that’s mandatory as a result of we occur to be speaking a couple of subject and subject material that’s occurring proper now.

It is occurring in AI proper now … So there is a duty that we have now to be as particular as potential, no matter whether or not it is plot A, B, C, or D within the cloth of every episode.

Is there anything you need to add?

I need to ensure that all people is thanked: Anya Adams, our unbelievable director; Zora Bikangaga, our unbelievable author; Alex Newell, phenomenal  Mo; Kapil Talwalkar, terribly fantastic Tobin. We have now Austin Winberg, who steered the ship and introduced this to the desk, to start with.

And likewise props for locating ‘Black Man In A White World.’ Austin’s the one which introduced that into the room, and I received to additionally give as much as our complete solid. As a result of it’s totally… we grew to become nearer on this course of. And I feel that I am simply very grateful that we have now the individuals round us that we do.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 2 will return with new episodes on Sunday, Mar. 28, 2021.

Jessica Lerner is a employees author for TV Fanatic. Observe her on Twitter.

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