“The System,” a film directed by Dallas Jackson, stars Tyrese Gibson, Terrance Howard, and Jeremy Piven, is now streaming on Amazon Prime, Youtube, Vudu, and cable on demand. (Photo by IMDB)

By AFRO Staff,

Tyrese Gibson gets caught up in “The System” in a new action packed film by Howard University grad Dallas Jackson. 

Gibson plays the role of Terry Savage, a forgotten veteran who valiantly served his country in the armed forces, but now struggles to pay for the medication his daughter desperately needs to survive. Determined to provide everything necessary for his daughter to live a long, comfortable life, Savage turns to street crime. 

His luck runs out when he is caught robbing drug houses and lands in prison. There, Savage encounters a brutal warden, played by Jeremy Piven, who entertains himself and lines his pockets with a fight club kept in operation by the inmates of his choice. Terrance Howard, who recently announced his retirement from acting, appears as the wise old inmate offering the young Savage a way to survive his plight. 

All seems lost until Savage receives help from an unsuspecting source. 

The AFRO had a chance to view the film ahead of the recent release and sat down to speak with Jackson, who directed the film. 

AFRO: In watching this, The System is talking about the for profit prison industry. A lot of times people have the question “does art imitate life or does life imitate art.” Why did you decide to include that narrative in your film?

Jackson: The film originated from two things. One, I got sent an article about prisoners being made to fight to the death in an upstate New York prison. They had prisoners on tape, fighting each other to the death, and it got picked up nationwide. Then I read another article that got sent to me, maybe about a month later, about the corruption in the private prison system, in this kind of tri-prison system in Texas, where prisoners were being made to do free labor. They were made to assemble things or take things apart for sales. There was also an abuse component in that–they weren’t being made to fight to the death, but they were being physically abused. This was in a private prison complex, and so I thought that there was a way to tell a story wrapped up in an action message to shine the light on the corruption, not only in the prison industry, but in the private prison industry. Through research, I found out [it] was a big economic thing in small town America. 

A lot of small towns depend on private prisons for economic boosts and growth. There are cafes, there’s cleaners– there’s people that build their businesses around these private prisons. It just seemed like an entire inter-connecting thing that needed to be addressed and I did it in an action [film] so that it could be accessible.

AFRO: What is the main thing that you want audiences to walk away with after watching your film?

Jackson: A few things! One, that there is an entire system that is corrupt, that is operating daily in this country that is for profit and based on the backs of Black and Brown people– particularly males. However, there is a huge private prison system based on female incarceration as well. 

I also want people to walk away with the idea that there is something we can do about it! There is still a need for rebellion and Black action heroes.

AFRO: Why did you choose to make the warden a spot of comic relief in the film?

Jackson: Well, every good villain has a bit of levity– to a certain degree–even the Joker. You kind of like the Joker, in a crazy way. And so, we wanted the warden to be our Joker. He’s calculating, he’s a little bit insane. But there’s also something intriguing about him. 

To be honest, Jeremy Piven is such a good actor. He brought a lot of his own flavor to the character. The warden that I had on the page and the warden that Jerry Piven created is like the ultimate hybrid of what you want when an actor makes a character his own. Even some of the things that Jeremy did, being the warden, was ad lib. 

He just brought things to it, that I was like ‘Oh, I’m keeping that.’ He’s such a good actor! It was not meant for the warden to be comic relief–he is a dark character that you find ways to laugh with– not laugh at because he’s kind of witty. We were shooting and laughing at the same time.

AFRO: In the beginning of the film, you have Tyrese’s character say that even though he’s a veteran he can’t afford food and he can’t afford medicine. Why was it so important to include that narrative in your film?

Jackson: There are a lot of people in that situation right now. There are a lot of regular people who have served this country, who come home and can’t afford to buy a home– can’t afford medical care. That’s been happening for decades. They can’t afford to pay their bills and yet, they risked their lives in serving this country and this government. Now, because of economic things, COVID-19 economics, inflation economics, and all the things that have culminated to right now, there’s a lot of people struggling. I wanted to bring this character whose back is against the wall. He’s just trying to take care of his daughter and he doesn’t have any way to do that, despite having done the right thing his whole life– including serving his country.

AFRO: Last question, what was it like to have all your fellow Howard grads here tonight supporting you? And how would you say going to an HBCU gave you that foundation to go into this career so successfully?
Jackson: Howard University empowered me to be confident in stepping into [an] entertainment business that needs different perspectives – especially strong, Black, commercial perspectives. For me, the whole Howard experience empowered me to step into this space and tell the stories that aren’t typically told and aren’t typically commercialized in a way that people can digest them and actually create a hero in these situations. Howard gave me my first manager in the business and my first writing partner went to Howard. It’s the real HU, of course!

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