Will Catlett believes there is a new Black Renaissance underway. (Photos by Courtney Beckett)
By Gregory Dale, AFRO News Editor
For Will Catlett, discovering that he wanted to act was like finding the missing piece to a puzzle.
Over the course of time, he had pursued other passions like playing sports and writing poetry, but couldn’t quite figure out what exactly was missing.
“I always knew I wanted to do something else, but I just didn’t know what that something else was,” he said.
After experiencing an “a-ha” moment, Catlett dived headfirst into pursuing his newfound passion. But his rise-to-fame method of breaking into “Tinsletown” was unlike traditional stories heard in the past.
Like many other burgeoning actors, producers and writers of this era, Catlett has built up a buzz and his résumé thanks to Web-based projects. And now, there’s a renaissance of Black Web projects that have come into the national scope.
Among the leaders of the pack is comedian/writer-producer Issa Rae, who got her big break in Hollywood after her Web series “Awkward Black Girl” exploded in popularity. Also, the YouTube network Black & Sexy TV has experienced tremendous success, garnering a deal with HBO and implementing their own Netflix-esque paid subscription service.
Catlett burst on the scene in 2012, after co-starring in the Black & Sexy series, “That Guy.” The project, which ran for two seasons exclusively on YouTube, later spawned an entire movie, which was available for purchase online this past Christmas holiday.
Now, he’s gearing up for the season two rollout of another YouTube Web series he stars in called “First.” The project, which premiered on Feb. 25, follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a 20-something African-American couple.
“Creative people are saying, ‘What are we waiting for?’ We have access to the cameras, we have access to the talent and a lot of times, actors are writers, directors and producers anyway,” Catlett said. “So, you can have direct contact with the audience by going to YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, or wherever you want to go.”
Catlett explained that the rules of making it big in Hollywood have changed dramatically, and those who can’t keep up with the times are left in the dust.
“These executives hire people based on how many Twitter followers they have,” he said. “That’s the wave. I did a read at BET and my friend told me the type of questions they ask ‘What is your social currency? What kind of fan base do you have online?’ That’s the norm. Me and a guy could be going head to head, and I could be the better actor…But he has 25,000 followers and I have 2,000. So, they look at it like that.”
Before he was even able to chase his dreams in Hollywood, he had to first overcome his fair share of obstacles, Catlett said. The 31-year-old was raised in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. He graduated from T.C. Williams High School where he played football and basketball.
“I experienced like any kid growing up in the inner city, Catlett said. “My sister was on drugs all my life. That was a challenge. My mother was always the one who encouraged me to get an education.”
After moving to California to play college basketball, Catlett said he eventually caught the acting bug and never looked back.
He recently appeared in an ESPN commercial and is currently trying to get his film, Griffin off the ground. The project, which is still in the planning stages, will be based on his experiences and people he met in his life, the actor said.
“I was fortunate to have my dad in my life, but a lot of men don’t,” he said. “Some men do have a father in their lives, but he’s absent in the home. I wanted to write a story on four guys’ perspective of growing up without a father. It’s kind of along the lines of Juice—a story wrapped up in four young men and how they become father figures for each other.”
While the fundraiser that he started on the crowd funding website Indiegogo.com didn’t yield the finances that he set out for, Catlett explained that he remains optimistic about the project and counts his setbacks as a “learning experience.”
“We’re trying to find the resources to fund it. I want to come back home to shoot it because I’m from Virginia and it’s untapped there,” he said. I want to be able to hire talent from D.C. who would never come out to L.A.”
Becoming the captain of your own ship is what Catlett preaches. In his opinion, that’s how Blacks can truly change diversity in Hollywood.
“We want to create our own lane and make our own way…. , we don’t take ownership or keep ownership. And that’s the problem,” he said. “We create dope stuff and then we sell it off. I believe that’s what Black and Sexy and Issa Rae .”
See “That Guy” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxkrKZqyitE
See “First” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxX62WIX3SI