In the early ’80’s the devil was called by many names:  Base, Ball, Beat, Biscuits, Bones, Boulders, Brick, Bunk, Cakes, Casper, Chalk, Cookies, Crumbs, Cubes, Fatbags, Gravel, Hardball, Kibbles n’ Bits, Kryptonite, Love, Moonrocks, Nuggets, Onion, Pebbles, Piedras, Piece, Ready Rock, Roca, Rock(s), Rock star, Roxanne, Scotty, Scrabble, Smoke houses, Stones, Teeth, Tornado, Crack—Snowfall. No matter what the slag name used for the evil of cocaine powder, smokeable cocaine, injected cocaine—crack—it does not come close to describing what that evil did in helping to further weaken the African-American family structure in this country.


When there arises an opportunity to voice concerns on how we are being treated by America, well, in truth Harlem does not need twitter or any other social media platform to spread the good word.  We share information the old-fashioned way and the word-of-mouth spread quickly that “Boyz n the Hood’s” John Singleton was screening his new television show, “Snowfall” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem (NYC) — which told the real truth on how crack sprung to life in Los Angeles before it’s voracious appetite for destruction nearly consumed every inner-city in the United States of America. 


Harlem is no stranger to the evil of crack which was more destructive than a hail of bullets.  The violence that followed the commerce side of the crack business and the zombie-like people who became addicts to the drug helped to change the geography of Harlem, Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, opening the door to today’s gentrification.  Sections of Harlem with high concentration of crack dealers and addicts became war-zones, essentially undesirable places to call home. People lost their dwellings and the property value dipped so significantly, that at one point the State of New York began selling damaged buildings and brownstones, in New York City, at discounted rates that defied belief.


For those of us who lived though the wild, crack-soaked ’80’s and ’90’s — clinging to our Harlem lifestyle—we can trace back the start of their “master plan” to wipe us from the face of this city.  They wanted us gone then. They want us gone now and crack helped them speed up their nefarious pursuit.


Here’s what “Snowfall” is about:  It’s 1983 Los Angeles and a new type of drug (crack) is brewing like a churning storm, ready to lay waste the African-American community. In the one-hour drama the story follows numerous characters including:  Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), an inventive young street entrepreneur on a quest for power; Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a Mexican wrestler caught up in a power struggle within a ruthless crime family; Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), a CIA operative running from a dark past who begins an off-book operation to fund the Nicaraguan Contras and Lucia Villanueva (Emily Rios), the arrogant daughter of a Mexican crime lord—all who have embarked on a dangerous and violent collision course in the pursuit of monetizing this new smokeable form of cocaine.


FX’s Networks’ “Snowfall” is created by John Singleton, Eric Amadio and Dave Andron. “Snowfall” is executive produced by Singleton,  Andron, Thomas Schlamme, Amadio, Michael London and Trevor Engelson.  


Despite it being one of the hottest nights on record, the folks still came out in droves.  The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was standing room only and the audience vibrated with anticipation, not so much for the celebrity of the evening but for an opportunity to glimpse the new FX Networks drama “Snowfall” and get the conversation going about who really interjected the African-American communities with the vile drug and more to the point — why “they” choose to keep killing the African-American family.


The screening and Q&A included John Singleton, Dave Andron, Damson Idris (Franklin Saint), Carter Hudson (Teddy McDonald), Isaiah John (Leon Simmons), Angela Lewis (Aunt Louie), Amin Joseph (Jerome Saint), and Michael Hyatt (Cissy Saint).


Here is what John Singleton, Damson Idris (Franklin Saint), Isaiah John (Leon Simmons) and Angela Lewis (Aunt Louie) had to share about working on “Snowfall.”


L.A. Watts Times (LAWT): Why did you want to tackle a story about the rise of crack, in L.A., during the early ’80’s?


John Singleton: I’ve always wanted to tell the story about crack cocaine before it hit the streets [of Los Angeles] what [the city] looked like.  What that transition was like.  I knew that I could bring something very unique to television.  “Snowfall” —  each episode is like a new hour length movie. 


Our community is fractured now.  I can’t say blanket statements but  Black communities in several different cities was even more fractured by this instance(s) [crack].  The laws that have been changed adversely effect us.  So many different people being incarnated … and so many people being murdered; it exasperated Black-on-Black crime and I dare say that Harlem is different because of crack. It helped change the demographic of Watts [CA} and several other places in our country.


LAWT: Some people have been critical on how the imagery in the marketing materials have — in their opinion — been re-enforcing our imagery as violent and dangerous.


JS: You have to put this show in context.  We have to show [in “Snowfall’] what was lost.  The decision that one person makes in the family can reverberate and change, and all of a suddenly everything changes for the worse for the family and a community. We are going to track that out. 


LAWT: The early screening results have been excellent. Why do you think there is such a strong connection?


JS: I think a lot of people have an emotional identification with the characters in the show because they have either gone through it or have seen people who have gone through it, or heard about someone who has gone through it.  We’ve been speaking at different cities throughout the country and I ask, by a show of hands, how many people have gone through or have heard about someone whose gone through it [crack] and in the audience, there is a sea of hands. 


LAWT: Isaiah John you play a trouble making character, Leon Summons, are you anything like this colorful character?


Isaiah John: (laughing) No. Absolutely not but I do know people like this character. Kids that I grew up with.  So I did have something to work with in building this character. John [Singleton] helped me put a “west coast thang” on it!


LAWT: Your character—Auntie Louie—is very tough. She is complicated and as bold as any man in any city, at any point in history.  Yet she has great love for her nephew Franklin (Damson Idris) and delivers the tough love.  Do you share anything with your character, Louie?  Thoughts?


Angela Lewis (Aunt Louie): Louie and I both love real, real hard.  She does not want to see Franklin, dead.  There are two things happening.  I think Louie is a boss.  She is a boss but a boss whose historically has, throughout her life has been told ‘no, you can’t be this, no, you can’t be that, you are not this—you are not that.’ So I think that she’s been heartbroken over, and over, and over again.  She sees an opportunity with her nephew [Franklin] and she desperately, I think, to take advantage of that opportunity but also to do it in a way where she can protect her nephew and love him.  She thinks: ‘If he’s going to choose this road, this is the way you have to do it to survive’.  She knows this road. So [Louie] she’s going to everything she can to a win-win.


LAWT: Damson Idris your crisp British accent is gone, replaced by a distinctive West Coast one.  Growing up in the United Kingdom (U.K.)  did you know anything about our American culture in the early ’80’s and what crack did to African-American and Latino communities? 


Damon Idris (Franklin Saint): Basically London is very Americanized.  We watch a bunch of American movies and I listen to a bunch of hip-hop. [To get the American Twang] Kendrick Lamar [is] my favorite record in the world [I listened to] Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, Tupac and I kind of used them for that twang, and I obviously seen Denzel Washington to help me round out my accent. 


“Snowfall” airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX



Category: Cover Stories