Michael Jai White Discusses Outlaw Johnny Black, Discipline, & Jaigantic Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

Michael Jai White speaks!

Outlaw Johnny Black Michael Jai White

Michael Jai White is set to breathe new life into the Western genre with his upcoming film Outlaw Johnny Black. White recently sat down for an interview with Heroic Hollywood to discuss his inspirations behind the film, how his martial arts training inspired his directing and his reasons for creating Jaigantic Studios.

Note: Outlaw Johnny Black and all parties involved with the interview are not considered struck by the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strike. For more information, please visit the SAG-AFTRA notice regarding non-struck work.

Outlaw Johnny Black is the spiritual successor to Michael Jai White’s cult classic Black Dynamite. Whereas Black Dynamite was a satire of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, Outlaw Johnny Black is set to return fans to the Wild West. When asked what drew him to the long-forgotten genre, White revealed he had always planned to pay homage to the westerns he grew up with:

“When I did Black Dynamite I intended on doing three other movies in that same kind of genre. One of ’em was this one, Outlaw Johnny Black. Kind of in the phase of Buck and the Preacher and Take a Hard Ride type of movies. But also, doing homage to just famous Westerns abroad, you know. So that was the intention.”

Buck and the Preacher was a classic western starring Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier and Emmy-winning singer and activist Harry Belafonte. Michael Jai White continued on about the inspiration of their works on Outlaw Johnny Black, citing a desire to capture the authenticity and moral consciousness of the time:

“Growing up there were movies that Harry Belafonte and Syndey Poitier did that, to me, it was indicative of movie making back in the ’70s, which was the time I grew up, that a lot of the movies, especially Westerns, had a great moral consciousness. There’s something about the Western that I’ve always loved. The roles and the good guy bad guy things were really defined.”

I’d argue that movie making is really pretty much resulted from that and a lot of movies that we see nowadays are just different versions of westerns. So for me, to go back and to do a western purely how they did it back then and have that kind of, have those actors that kind of give you that idea that they’re really rooted in an authentic time.”

“The music of the 70s and the way that the filmmaking was pretty much pure, I wanted to redo that in a way for younger audiences that didn’t experience that and then kind of a review for the older audiences that did experience it.”

Music ended up being a key aspect of how Michael Jai White was able to recapture the identity of the Western in Outlaw Johnny Black. White collaborated with David Barber, who he had previously worked with on projects like Triple Threat and Black Dynamite, to recreate the iconic sounds of the time period. According to star, there was nobody better for the job than him:

“We worked together on Black Dynamite so we reconnected on this. It’s just that authenticity, that thing that when you hear it, just the sound of a gun firing, and there’s this old kind of ricocheting sound that as soon as you hear it it tells you it’s the 70s. That kind of PWEOW thing. There were only a few sounds that they really used. And I wanted to bring that back. Even if you’re not paying attention it’s something you notice is very authentic about that time period. So yeah, the sound design is very, very important. So Dave [Barber] is the right guy to do that stuff.”

The authenticity put into Outlaw Johnny Black by no means stopped with the sound effects. Despite still containing its fair share of comedic moments like its predecessor Black Dynamite, the film also deals with more serious matters like faith and revenge. According to Michael Jai White, this was integral to doing the Western genre right:

“You want to do an homage to the entire genre. And a lot of things with westerns, traditionally, are connected with revenge. So that template is very much a part of this movie and the storytelling as well. So to do a Western right is to make people feel like they are experiencing that same type of movie making that we’re based on in the 70s.”

Revenge isn’t the only dark theme touched on in Outlaw Johnny Black. The film also took inspiration from real-life tragedies that befell local communities like Tulsa during the burning of Black Wall Street in 1921. Michael Jai White wanted to use the format of the Western, not just to tell the stories of these communities, but to spread a message of hope that they can be built once again:

“I based this on the Tulsa Massacre. The early days when it was called Greenwood before it was named Tulsa. And there were thriving communities all around the country full of free black people who created these thriving communities and cities that, unfortunately, were decimated by outside forces.”

“The first real domestic terrorism, well not first if you want to consider what happened to the Native Americans, but it’s just another story of the serval stories that unfortunately happened. But in this telling, this is telling a time where communities were set up and how we kind of return to that and, how, dare I say we can do that once again. So these are the things I’m putting up on this type of platform.”

Serving these communities that have traditionally been disadvantaged seems to be a passion for Michael Jai White. A statement from his recently formed production company Jaigantic Studios stated that they want to uplift black and brown voices that have been passed over by Hollywood. When asked if he wanted to create an entirely new film ecosystem for these voices or to have the studio serve as a springboard in their career, White revealed his passion was for telling the stories of underserved communities, no matter the race:

“Both. We’re putting a little bit too much on Hollywood. The world has become smaller and you can create Hollywood anywhere you want. So, yeah, it’s just remedying something that is an imbalance. Whether the people happen to be black or brown is not the biggest significance. It’s just that there’s an inequality there.”

“It’s not a racial thing, it happens to be that these people are underserved, these communities are underserved, these stories are underserved. So it’s priority-wise, it’s that, and they happen to be black and brown people. Just like for me, a lot of movies that you see that I do, I happen to be a black man. But the stories I’m telling are universal.”

It seems as though Michael Jai White is well underway in setting up his own community in New Haven, Connecticut, with Jaigantic Studios. When asked what spurred him to break from the Hollywood bubble, White revealed he thought it was the best place to tell stories that deviate from the formula like Black Dynamite and Outlaw Johnny Black:

“Well, the fact that I want to tell stories and I want to do it in an independent fashion as I did with Black Dynamite. I feel that I understand show business, it’s called business for a reason, but there are basically formulas that they follow, which I understand, but there’s not many storytellers that are heralded for what they bring in the studio system.”

“I have no interest in a lot of formulaic movies I see over and over. As a viewer, I have no interest in those. I want to be transported into something, I want to be taught something, I want another experience when I’m watching movies. So, for me, I understand these languages quite well. The language of movie making, directing, teaching, martial arts. So, I bring all my worlds together and it makes the best sense to be at the helm of my own films.”

Yes, before his acting career took hold, Michael Jai White was a teacher! When asked if being a teacher influenced the way he works as a director on films like Outlaw Johnny Black, White revealed his experience with working with different groups of people is key to his success in the industry:

“Absolutely. Because being a teacher, being a parent, you realize, and especially I was a special ed teacher, so you might have different studios that are in a class that may have a host of different disadvantages or obstacles. You might have one that might be dyslexic, and you might have one with a whole different set of obstacles, but you have to be able to teach that entire class as one.”

“So, with being on the set, dealing with actors and very technical people and crew people you gotta understand their world, you gotta be empathetic to everyone. And since as the director, you’re the one who kind of coordinates, you’re the orchestrator, so that’s been a strength of mine in life. I’ve always understood every type of person.”

Michael Jai White would go on to explain how he’s always tried to connect with people from every walk of life, emphasizing the ability to find common ground both on and off set:

“I’ve had amazing conversations with people who you think I wouldn’t have anything in common with. But my belief is I don’t care who you are, there’s something I have in common with you if you’re a human being. Everybody is reachable in my eyes. So being on a movie set, I’m in my comfort zone. I know that I can get one department to jive with another department.”

“It’s been something that’s followed me my entire life. When I was a child, when I was 16, I had a birthday party and there were like 5 different factions in that birthday party because I was part of the jock crowd, I was part of the nerd crowd, I was part of the music crowd and the art crowd which had nothing to do with each other. So this is pretty much me using my particular unusual eclectic way for my benefit.”

Teaching isn’t the only passion Michael Jai White claims has helped him in his career as an actor and director. Having been training since he was 7, the actor’s martial arts prowess is almost synonymous with his name. When asked if this training has impacted how he approaches projects like Outlaw Johnny Black, White emphasized the importance of discipline both on and off-set:

“Martial arts, I use martial arts, it’s about the discipline that you use in martial arts that you apply in your life. And that’s the biggest thing. Some people get distracted by the fact that you’re kicking and you’re somewhat dangerous but even your danger is because of your will. If I have a will that says you can’t defeat me and I have a will to go through a brick wall then that is far more formidable than any technique.”

“So what it is about martial arts is that you are overcoming obstacles and you’re gonna have to overcome obstacles your entire life so being on a movie set is just one obstacle after another that you’re gonna have to overcome, but you’re gonna wind because you hired people who know what they’re doing and so the deck is stacked in your favor. But really the martial arts, as far as that discipline is concerned, that’s been a mainstay and something that’s helped me to thrive in every aspect of my life.”

Michael Jai White would go on to clarify that a lifelong dedication to martial arts training is by no means a requirement for those who hope to succeed. According to the star, discipline can be found in any avenue at any age:

“I think discipline is going to be good for anybody, I don’t care what age you are. Even if it’s fencing or even if it’s dance. If you have to pit yourself against yourself, which, of course, the biggest obstacle in your life is gonna be you, any kind of discipline is gonna help you. Mine happened to be martial arts, another’s could be marines, what have you, but really it’s about discipline. Discipline is pretty much the nucleus of every success.”

Michael Jai White was far from the only action star on the set of the film Outlaw Johnny Black. When asked if there were any moments on set that made him realize the film was going to be something special, White raved about how lucky he was to have such a talented cast, specifically citing Glynn Turman’s performance as mesmerizing to watch:

“Absolutely. I mean Glynn Turman was the only choice to play my dad. He is a Western, he is a cowboy for real. I mean, he has a ranch. I’ve ridden with him in rodeos, y’know? He was the only person I could think of to play the part of Bullseye Black, which is my father. And on set, I’ve watched this man and been so amazed with what he’s doing and I totally forgot to call cut. And he just would kinda do everything he could think of for that take and just kind of, ‘uhh’ then ‘Oh, sorry cut!’. We were just kind of mesmerized by his abilities. I knew, my goodness, I’ve got that kind of royalty working for me and so many others like Anika Noni Rose, who’s my only choice for [Jessie Lee]. Erica Ash. I’m just lucky beyond words.”

While Outlaw Johnny Black certainly has a star-studded cast, the film is also packed to the brim with cameos. While Black Dynamite and comic book fans will certainly find plenty of familiar faces (keep an eye out, Doom Patrol fans!), one missing face is that of Samuel L. Jackson. Michael Jai White revealed the story of how his cameo got cut, while also teasing his involvement in a future project:

“I don’t have to keep it hush-hush because ultimately we didn’t do it, but Samuel L. Jackson was gonna- I mean he was healing up from a back surgery and he was ready to come to set. And I couldn’t in my conscious have a friend go through that pain for a mere cameo. I felt that, okay, let’s revisit this when you’re well. And maybe we’ll just organize a shoot should It be necessary. But I ultimately said, hey, I’ll take that favor in another situation. There’s another movie where I’m like hey, if you’re gonna do me that favor, there’s another one that he’d be really tremendously important for.

“I was over the moon that he would do that. And with this movie, everyone I contacted came in for the movie. So this is like a dream come true, I got my dream cast, and I almost feel a little like I was cheating because I mean I have a cast of extraordinary people who happen to be actors as well. And then all you had to do was basically call action and watch what they do man. I was like a kid in the candy store.”

Outlaw Johnny Black seems to be a labor of love from Michael Jai White and Jaigantic Studios. Despite all the excitement behind the successor of Black Dynamite and the comeback of Westerns, the main thing White hopes to emphasize with this movie is creating something the entire family can enjoy:

“I just hope that what’s occurred in the early screenings is indicative of what people will come away with in this movie. I am letting those comments kind of dictate what I’m saying. I don’t fall in love with my own stuff. But what people are saying is that, 1, It’s better than Black Dynamite, and 2, that there are some messages in here that come along at a really good time as far as these messages about redemption and forgiveness that people don’t expect.”

“This is something that the whole family can come and see. And that’s what I really intended to do. I wanted to make movies that I experienced when I was a kid. That my whole family could watch and feel uplifted by. So that’s what I’m hoping. And I think folks are gonna find some surprises in the movie.”

Outlaw Johnny Black is set to release exclusively in theaters on September 15, 2023.

Anthony Singletary

Anthony Singletary

Anthony has always had a love for stories. An aspiring screenwriter and video editor, he takes pride in connecting fans with the latest heroic news!