When Henry Brown was offered the lead role of Moses Stanton in Everyday Black Man, he was thrilled to learn the movie would be filmed in Oakland.
Returning to his East Bay roots has brought Brown’s acting career full circle. Growing up in Alameda, he credits a brief encounter with Henry Fonda with motivating him to pursue the acting career he had only dreamed about.
Brown was 12 when he met Fonda at the Alameda Naval Air Station during the filming of the movie Yours, Mine and Ours.
“I approached Fonda on his lunch break and he asked my name, which I had never really liked,” recalls Brown. “He told me Henry was a fair name for an actor and that maybe someday we would star in a movie together.”
After graduating from Encinal High School in 1966, Brown went on to act in Oakland’s Civic Theater and studied drama at Laney College, under the direction of Lew Levinson, whose famous students include Danny Glover. He later
graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, becoming the first college graduate in his family.
“With its beaches and charm, Santa Barbara reminds me a lot of Alameda,” says Brown, 59, who lives in Santa Barbara with his wife, Kim, and their daughter, Sarafina, 12.
Over the years, Brown has remained steadily employed as an actor working in theater, television and film. He has guest starred in television shows including Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Star Trek: Voyager and L.A. Law. His movie credits include roles in Lethal Weapon, Scrooged and Oprah Winfrey’s television production of Their Eyes Were Watching God, starring Halle Berry.
The movie, Everyday Black Man, produced by Montclair resident Carmen Madden, marks Brown’s first starring role. The film is scheduled for release this year.
As Moses Stanton, Brown stars as a neighborhood grocer trying to overcome a violent past while raising his daughter and running a successful business in his West Oakland neighborhood. When a young man named Malik comes into his store, claiming to be a black Muslim, Stanton hires him as a partner but soon realizes that Malik is a drug dealer (with ties to a drug dealer named Yousef) seeking to destroy both the neighborhood and Stanton’s daughter. The story is based loosely on the life and alleged criminal activity of
Your Black Muslim Bakery founder Yusuf Bey.
“I would love viewers to see the movie as comparable to Do the Right Thing,” says Brown, referring to the 1989 Spike Lee film. “Moses is a man with predatory instincts who is trying to create a better future.”
Although he lives in Santa Barbara, Brown returns frequently to the Bay Area to visit his mother and siblings who still live in the area, and he keeps in touch with several of his Encinal High classmates.
“I always enjoy returning to Alameda and seeing old friends,” says Brown who recently attended a multiyear Encinal reunion. “I used to look forward to eating at Doggie Diner when I returned to Alameda, but since they closed, I go to Everett and Jones barbecue.”
In Santa Barbara, Brown keeps busy acting in local theater productions and says he also serves as a “glorified chauffeur” to his daughter. After sustaining five knee surgeries, a broken back and a broken neck, partly from doing his own movie stunts, Brown makes it a habit to exercise on a daily basis.
“A lot of people recognize me as the guy who walks the city every morning carrying 16-pound weights in each hand,” Brown says.
An avid jazz fan, Brown has tied in his love of animals with his passion for music. Over the years, he has rescued shelter animals and named them after some of his favorite jazz and acting legends—there was Satchmo, the black Labrador retriever, and Ella Fitzgerald, a pit bull mix. Today, Kitty Carlisle the cat, and Abbey Lincoln, a pit bull mix, live the good life with Brown and his family.
Brown admits to being a huge fan of Lincoln, who starred in the 1964 film Nothing But a Man about a young African-American male from the South who wanted to be treated as “nothing but a man.” Critics have hailed the film as a classic that addressed issues of race in a manner never done before in movies.
“I see a lot of parallels between that film and Everyday Black Man,” Brown says. “They both feature men whose basic human pride won’t be compromised under any circumstances, and tell a story that is both specific and universal.”
Brown recently reached out to Lincoln’s publicist and in turn received a call from the legend herself. He remembers the call with unabashed enthusiasm, proving that even stars can become starstruck.
“She and her publicist invited me to meet them the next time I was on the East Coast,” Brown says. “It was amazing to get a call from someone whose work I’ve admired for so many years. It left me speechless.”
—By Linda Childers
—Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography