Story originally posted on Feb. 25, 2017.
Brian White launched his acting career playing the role of Jason in “The Matchmaker” in 1997, graduating to the role of Omar in BET’s hit show, “The Parkers.” Brian White went on to star in the movies “Stomp The Yard,” “The Cabin In The Woods,” and ABC’s show “Scandal.” Now, White takes on a new role as Michael Jones in TV One’s latest TV-movie, “Media.”
Michael Jones is the son of Jackie Jones, played by Penny Johnson Jerald. Jackie is the founder of Jones Universal Media Properties – JUMP – portrayed as the world’s leading urban media corporation. When a family tragedy strikes, Jackie pleads with Jones, the lead city attorney, prosecutor, and Mayoral candidate, to leave his political ambitions and take over the company. Jones soon discovers the business is not as easy or clean as he expected.
“Media,” executively produced by Cathy Hughes, Radio One founder, and chairperson, along with Susan Banks, is an outsider’s look into the competing world of an entertainment corporation. The audience lives this experience through the view of those who run its operations — The Jones family.
Sheila Ducksworth, executive producer for Lifetime’s 2015 film, “With This Ring,” is the one who called White and told him she had a key role for him to play. “By page five I knew she was right,” says White.
Throughout his life, looking at TV and film, White had yet to see a show like “Media.” Says White, “There’s never been a show or movie that celebrated African-American wealth. The only family I can think of that was upper-middle class was The Cosby’s.”
Particularly a family with wealth and led in a matriarchal setting. Whereas in reality, the world recognizes African-American media moguls such as Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and The Obamas, for White, such representation was rarely shown on the TV and movie screens. “It’s crucial we have examples like that otherwise young black kids may not [hear] of that wealth.”
White’s own father was inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame. “Always heard from him, we’re doing okay but the owners are wealthy.”
He added, “‘Media’ is a show about a black family that writes the checks.” An act White hopes for children to watch and be inspired by. “Harriet Tubman had that great quote, ‘I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.’ Cathy Hughes is changing that.”
White began acting in a sort of “random” way. While in college at Dartmouth, White studied ballet; a requirement to for the football team. “It was the first time I did something outside of the fraternal bond of guys in lacrosse and football. First time I didn’t do the team thing.”
White was then asked to remain on the dance group, gaining a lifetime interest and love in dance. Eventually, he founded his own dance group called the Phunk Phenomenon Urban Dance Theater, currently with 400 students. White was first scouted while taking his students to auditions. He has ballet to thank for the “artistic awakening” that led him to act. “Ballet is very individualistic. If I didn’t do ballet I wouldn’t have had the courage to do acting.”
The role of Michael Jones and that of Brian White are not so different in some ways. Though the show is only beginning, in the pilot, the similarities are clear for White. “In the pilot, we’re both college educated family men.” Raised in Boston, White comes from a family of four, all younger sisters, raised by his mother in a matriarchal home alike to Jones. “My family is a corporate and business family. Mortuaries and churches were the family business.”
Yet, besides the business and day-to-day operations that support it, family and faith come first. White also stressed the importance of philanthropy to both his family and himself. “My grandfather is a pastor with a church in Saint Louis, Missouri. My grandmother, through her success and her focus on philanthropy, it inspired me.”
His grandmother showed “other black kids not as fortunate that there was a path to wealth” and that “if you don’t look after the community no one else will.”
He would go on to support such organizations and groups like Boy Scouts, Big Brother, and anything he could do to give back. “As soon as I got to Hollywood and had the platform, all I wanted to do was to make a difference in the world.”
A difference that now extends to that of his soon to be three-year-old daughter, Layla. “Having a daughter is the biggest blessing in the world,” says White.
He jokes on how Layla perceives his work to be nothing but constant auditions. Never work. A daughter has also awakened for White, the future and present state of the world. White explains being more “proactive” in his decisions.
“She makes me even more aware of how unloved the playing field is. With the stories I do, it’s my job to level it.” Despite how busy work life may get, White ensures to stick to his family values, putting his wife and daughter first. “My dad taught me we’re very blessed to do the things we love but we do that for our families. It’s always about them and working for my family rather than putting work first.”
With “Media,” White gains motivation for more stories like it to be told. “These are the stories I’ve wanted to tell. The families that have created real wealth from success look like the Jones family.”
He continues to say, “Most of them are in committed relationships, talk to their families, are college educated, mogul families.” A reflection of reality for White. For White, “‘Media’ is authentic in pulling the curtain and letting America see how big business works.”
Especially under the control of President Trump. For White, prominent media moguls know that the narrative is “slanted,” with certain stories being retold. “Barack and Michelle just left and the 45th president is changing contents of said narrative that would make next generation not know bits of information.” Being under the guidance of Hughes for White is to “become aware of our responsibilities as actors putting out stories.” For White, actors, and actresses, media moguls alike, “have to be about something.”