In the film Bolden, musician and director Dan Pritzker takes audiences on the compelling journey of New Orleans musician Buddy Bolden, who was coined the “Father of Jazz” and one of America’s many unsung Black heroes. But as the film details, Bolden never got a chance to make a name for himself or for his music to be recorded, as he was imprisoned in a mental health institution just as his career was taking off. Though jazz great Louis Armstrong always credited Bolden with creating the genre, Bolden has often been forgotten in history because he was never able to tour and record music like Armstrong and eventually died in a mental health facility.
In an interview with Shadow And Act’s Deenie Matthews, the cast discussed how Bolden explores Black male mental health and what they hope the film’s impact will be.
“I think Buddy Bolden was kind of this eccentric, creative dude who had different thoughts, and it wasn’t cool in the late 1800s,” said Reno Wilson, who plays Louis Armstrong in the film. “If you’re thinking differently and have different ideas flowing through your person, they’re going to throw you in a mental institution, they’re going to put you away. Some would say Kanye is someone people like to talk about in terms of mental health. You put Kanye in those days and that might have happened to him. You put a creative genius in a cell when he might need someone to talk to or give him some support,” Wilson said. “It’s such a great message…I think it’s very valuable and I love that it’s something we’re talking about with [regards to Buddy Bolden].”
A native of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Wilson went on to highlight the impact of PTSD in Black neighborhoods. “It’s something that’s not addressed,” he said. “There are so many subject matters to talk about that are underneath the surface.”
“The fact that so many conversations are being had around it [mental health] is definitely helpful, it’s the first step. And hopefully people are finding alternatives because it can be a lot to cope with,” co-star Yaya DaCosta, who plays Nora, Bolden’s wife.
Bolden also stars Gary Carr as Buddy Bolden, Ian McShane, Michael Rooker and Erik LaRay Harvey, with music written, arranged and performed by Wynton Marsalis.
Watch the full interview below.