Fans of the hit HBO crime drama “The Sopranos” have waited more than 14 years to learn the original story of Italian-American mob boss Tony Soprano.
But for actress and singer Leslie Odom Jr., a self-described “card-carrying member” of “The Sopranos” fan club, “The Many Saints of Newark,” which premiered on Friday, also expands the New Jersey-based world of crime family. black perspective.
“Here, David Chase was adding it and also, you know, making it a counterweight to the Italian-American story he was telling,” Odom said of The Sopranos writer and producer. “I was just hoping I could create a portrait of Harold that is as psychologically interesting and accurate as they used to see these actors in the original series.”
Odom plays Harold McBrair, who started out as number runner Dickie Multisanti (played by Alessandro Nivola) – gangster, uncle and mentor to teenage Tony Soprano (played by Michael Gandolfini, son of actor James Gandolfini who founded the role). He says his character represents one of the 6 million blacks who, like his grandfather, moved to the major cities of the North and West from rural communities in the South during the Great Migration of the 20th century.
“I saw a lot of my grandfather in Harold. And so when I look at the movie, I feel like I can see bits of him and glimpses of him, it’s deeply meaningful to me,” he said.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson compares the Great Migration in her 2010 book The Warmth of Other Suns with the movements of refugees who travel long distances to escape persecution.
“People did not pass through the customs gates on Ellis Island. They were already citizens. But where they came from, they were not treated as such,” Wilkerson wrote, referring to the six million blacks who emigrated from the South between 1916 and 1970. — vocalist figure dating back to century which would become an abbreviation of the violently enforced laws of the southern caste system.”
Odom connects this broader history of black with his off-screen grandfather and McBriar on-screen.
“My grandfather comes to New York. Harold settles down in New Jersey,” Odom said. “My grandfather gets a job in a factory and stays there for 30 years, puts his kids through college, and nursing school, with this gig. And Harold, of course, does something else with his time, and makes money in a different way. But the impetus, which drove them out of the south, would have been the same.”
Large numbers of black families took root in the Newark area during the Great Migration, including some that eventually turned stars like singer Whitney Houston and actress and singer Queen Latifah.
Played as the English translation of Tony Soprano’s uncle’s last name—”Moltisanti” from Italian to “Many Saints”—the film is set in the 1960s during riots sparked by racial unrest.
On July 14, 1967, the National Guard and the New Jersey State Police used armed personnel carriers violently engage With black rioters in Newark. A rumor about the murder of a black taxi driver inside a police station sparked several days of unrest that ended in 26 dead and more than 700 wounded.
The film describes that era in the city as a time when the black and Italian American communities were “often at each other’s throat.”
For Odom, adding this black story to other American stories, such as the story of The Sopranos, is a tribute to the long hard road many black families have endured in their pursuit of the American Dream.
“I obviously know on a deeply personal level, the sacrifice previous generations made to me, and what my great-great-grandfather had to do as a co-farmer to make opportunities available to my grandfather, who worked in the factory for opportunities for my father, who was a businessman, for opportunities for me, who earns my livelihood as an artist.” “It’s the American Dream. And it was hard, ugly, beautiful, sinister, and amazing to win, but it’s ours.”
Odom rose to prominence after winning a 2016 Tony Award for his outstanding performance as Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton”. And now, having recently co-hosted the 2021 Tony Awards, the actor and singer said he hopes that as more peers return to Broadway stages and film sets shut down by Covid-19, they will continue to push for diversity in the arts.
“In our return to these public spaces, I hope that artists will not abdicate our responsibility to push boundaries, and that we do everything we can to tell stories that have not been told before about people who have never told their stories because that is the power of what we can do.” “We have the power to make people feel less lonely. And this is a power that we should not forget.”