Algee Smith A Journey Through Black History Covershoot

Beret: Kangol
Jacket: Hollywood Trading Co
Shirt: Prada
Gloves: Club Monaco
Bracelet: David Yurman 

Photographer / Creative Director: Raen Badua @exclusiveartists

Stylist: Enrique Melendez

Hairstylist: Soteria Nisreen

Photo Assist: Jojo Reyes

Words: Miles Holder

Judas and The Black Messiah releases today in theatres and HBO Max. Telling the often untold story of Fred Hampton, the time leading up to his murder and the Black Panther Movement in the late 1960s. Directed by Shaka King, the movie shines a light on some of the darkest injustices in America’s history while also telling the stories of activists intentionally written out of world history.

Coverstar Algee Smith plays the role of Jake Winters in the film, a young, wide-eyed freedom fighter forced into a life of oppression. We caught up with Algee to discuss his role in the movie, the mental toll of retelling these stories and of course, his FAULTs.

Jacket: Gucci
Pants: Marni
Necklaces: David Yurman
Ring: German Kabirski 

Did you know much about Jake Winters before taking the role?

Algee Smith: Unfortunately, a lot of the information about the Black Panthers was intentionally removed from my schooling system in America. I had to rely on my community and family members to educate me on these leaders, so I didn’t have in-depth knowledge until I signed on to the film. It’s immeasurable how much I’ve learned from signing onto the film.

These stories are essential to telling, but they also create an emotional toll on the viewers and the actors who tell them. Is this mental toll something you faced with the part of Jake Walters?

Algee Smith: I feel like the emotional toll was there way before me even starting the movie. The issues we see in the film have been going on for years, especially in the black community. I’m sad to say that we’ve all become a little desensitized and that’s very sad – I’ve become numb to something so inhumane.

I’m playing a 19-year-old kid who starts very bright-eyed, vulnerable, open and wanting to learn whether he’s up at five o’clock in the morning, feeding the kids in the free breakfast program, or outside passing out newspapers in the freezing cold. He always has a smile on his face, but then that smile turns very dark – I think having to deal with that switch was very hard.

What was the biggest challenge you faced with the role?

Algee Smith: I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced was knowing how much the world needs people like Fred Hampton, but instead, a lot of us feel more like Jake Winters. People are tired and fed up with asking for fundamental human rights. The most challenging part was understanding that I’m a vessel to speak for someone who’s no longer here to speak for himself and knowing the responsibility that I had in my hands.

Was there an air on-set of how vital this project could be?

Algee Smith: We all knew how impactful it would be; we’re not just creating characters these specific figures really lived. That makes it a lot tougher, but the impact greater. As soon as I was able to read it the script, I got chills. I understood the magnitude and responsibility at that point.

When you look back on your career, what do you want your choice of roles to say about you?

Algee Smith: I want it to be said that I did what I wanted to do. I followed my heart and made people feel the emotions behind my art. That’s the biggest goal for me: evoking emotion and having people start conversations because of my art.

No two of your roles are the same, is that by design or chance?

Algee Smith: It’s never by design. Up until this point, it’s just been about what roles have come along that I can fall in love with. I’ve always been picky about what I choose, but now it’s about being more careful with my time.

Suit: Mia Vesper
Necklaces: David Yurman
Boots: Saint Laurent 

As your acclaim grows, will it become challenging to choose roles which are at odds with what your fans want to see from you?

Algee Smith: It can be difficult when you’re doing it to please people, but if you are following your heart and doing what you love then, that will never be an issue.

Suit: Mia Vesper
Necklaces: David Yurman
Boots: Saint Laurent 

What’s something people rarely ask you?

Algee Smith: What challenges I face in my everyday life. I’ve never been asked that. I’m a human being, dealing with regular things, just like every other human being does. I have to go through life and deal with my self-doubt emotions, just like everyone else. I love to share stuff about myself because I love relating to people.

What have you done to protect your mental health with everything that’s happened the past year?

Algee Smith: A big thing for me was self-care and self-love. Just little things like waking up earlier and eating the right things for my body and taking care of my mind by not reading certain things. That helped keep me sane and grow as a person. Self-love is a really tough thing to do because you have to really sit down and be honest with yourself about many things. I had to learn how to love myself more, and I’m still learning every day. It’s a process, but I’m getting better at it.

How fluidly do you switch between your acting and musical commitments?

Algee Smith: I do slip between them quite well, but the tricky thing is wanting to go to the studio but not having time to because I have to do other things that need my attention. I may want to sit down and read a script, but I can’t because that certain day is dedicated to music. I think that’s the only difficult thing, but it’s not difficult when it’s what you want. Both music and acting are my loves, and one will never outweigh the other.

Jacket : Etro
Sweater: Sandro
Pants : Jeffrey Rudes
Shoes : Saint Laurent
Ring: David Yurman 

If you could go back to the start of your career and leave yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Algee Smith: I would say, “love yourself more and, understand that you’re a human being, and things don’t have to be perfect.”

Do you like to set career goals or do you prefer to go with the flow?

Algee Smith: I set goals. Everything might not go according to plan all the time, but as long as you have a roadmap on where you want to go, you’ll always be moving towards it. I always have a roadmap; I have goals that I’ve already written down. I have to have at least five number one songs on the billboard hot 100 chart this year.

Which character would you say was the hardest to let go of after the production ended?

Algee Smith: I would say Khalil in The Hate U Give. I just really resonated with that role and I had problems sleeping certain nights from the trauma of playing a young black teenager who dies at the hands of a police officer, and that’s a very real reality. I think that was the hardest to let go and shake off because I had to be in a casket for some of those scenes. I had to lay in the coffin, and it was just weird, but I got to understand that particular side of life.

What is your FAULT?

Algee Smith: I try to be perfect in everything, and that’s not possible. That can make you miss out on a lot of beautiful things.