Dwayne Barnes Looks Back At What Went Into His Performance As The ‘Menace II Society’ Crack Addict That Reared Up In Controversy – Guest Column

Before I auditioned I called and asked my grandmother what did she think about me auditioning for that particular role. She said, “You’re an actor. People will be smart enough to know that’s not really who you are." I agreed.
My grandmother had to work and be away from the home, leaving her kids to take care of themselves during most of the day and early evenings. My father, a few years older than my mother, came from an equally dysfunctional home. Kids playing house led my mother and father to doing things that protected kids wouldn’t be able to do. But, her dysfunctional home life which included an alcoholic father, and a mother who ended up being the sole breadwinner ate up all her hope of survival. My mother had me at 15, and my older twin brothers at 14 years old. She was a smart woman, was triple promoted in school.
Here is the Menace II Society clip again:” />
I later discovered from the directors, Allen and Albert Hughes, who also were from Detroit and who did a phenomenal job with the movie, that I was the only actor they could find who was willing to even play the role. Many people in the Black community didn’t take too kindly of the role I played in Menace.
And the personal experience he brought to it and the trauma that followed, which reared up again last weekend. Somehow it seemed right for him to have the last word on this regrettable incident, as he didn't belabor blame, but rather presented a worthy reminder of the courage it took for a young actor to take on a role like that, one that nobody else wanted. We at Deadline thought we were done with the story, until we got a note from Dwayne Barnes, the actor who played that role. We aired all sides of the story, from the email that an offended Ross sent to Baker in response to the clip (which prompted CAA to fire him) to a strong apology by Baker for being tone deaf in sending that clip in the first place. — MF Editor's Note: As we saw last weekend from Deadline's coverage of Jay Baker losing his position as longtime CAA agent after sending manager Jewerl Keats Ross a Menace II Society movie clip depicting a crack addict willing to perform a sexual favor because he was so desperate to feed his habit, we are in a moment of heightened sensitivity that leaves everyone in Hollywood standing upon a trap door that can be triggered by a single insult or misdeed.
Needless to say, my mental, spiritual and physical heath suffered many blows, and I struggled to stay alive, riddled with fears, phobias and crippling anxieties.
My first audition ever was for Boyz n the Hood. from Detroit. I didn’t land a role. I was 20 years old when I moved to L.A.
My mother went deeper into her darkness and began to heavily abuse the new drug, "crack,” that was floating around the streets, and it was over for her.
I turned to my Christian faith. It helped me get through the tough streets of my youthful Detroit, but with my sexual identity issues it was the worst place I could be. I would constantly hear that being anything other than straight would send me straight to hell.
Shortly thereafter I got the call to audition for Menace II Society. I was asked to audition for the lead role of Caine, the guy in the McDonald's drive-thru, and the crackhead.
I had no clue why a role so close to my own personal life would be offered to me. I had no clue why I was brave enough to play it. I didn’t realize that it was possible that this role was a spiritual and emotional attempt deep in my subconscious to step into my mother’s shoes and somewhat bond with her to understand her traumatic path, as well as heal some conceptions about Black masculinity and myself.
Eventually the rigors of the environment led them both to drugs, alcohol and destruction, which, unfortunately, I had to experience seeing them go through it all.
How could you play that?” — on and on and on and on it went. “Yuck.
Another “friend” said, “My friend asked me if you are gay. He said only someone gay would play a role like that. Are you gay?”
Shot in the head. When I was 11, my father was gunned down and killed in the streets of Detroit.
I followed in my parents' footsteps and had a child at the age of 17. I didn’t even love myself, and I was also struggling with my sexual identity. Searching for my identity as a Black man. I had no clue how to be a parent. I was attracted to women, I was attracted to men. What a massive dilemma. With all this going on I was a lost soul searching for a way out.
And I will not sit by and remain silent to abuse of any kind anymore for fear of someone discovering my true self. I’m not the scared little kid from Detroit with a past life of low self-esteem, trauma, abuse, and who worked hard to prove himself worthy. I am worthy. My true story. And just like Jewerl has done, I take my power back. A great queer Black man, Black actor. I am a man, a human being. I feel like this is a full-circle moment in a sense.
I shared with him a year or so. I was humiliated. He said, “You moved all the way out here to play a crackhead and to say that shit?” I was crushed. On set, one of the actors (MC Eiht) asked me how long had I been in L.A.
The look on their faces would be a look of utter confusion, not knowing whether to laugh, or to cry.
It was the first thing that allowed me to be able to step out of my chaotic life and embody another reality. I had no emotional outlet whatsoever until I found acting in my 10th grade year in high school. I could finally scream, laugh loud, cry and play, and not be negatively called out of my name for doing so. You see, acting changed my life.
I guess they, like my grandmother said, were wise enough to know that actors act; we play roles that sometimes mirror back life's harsh realities. I vividly remember other actors like Too Short, Larenz Tate and Clifton Powell being so kind towards me.
“Wow, you are nothing like that. But don’t get me wrong, there were many people who after meeting me were amazed that I played the role so good. You are so smart, intelligent and talented. How did you pull that off?” Sometimes I would smile and take the compliment and sometimes I would shock them and say, “Well, my mother was on crack, so I guess I had in-home research.” It seemed like I became the butt of every joke with regards to my portrayal of that character.
Jewerl has inspired me to no longer remain silent, and I thank him for that. What Jewerl experienced was super inappropriate and not OK. I applaud him for not just taking it, but speaking on it. We’ve heard the expression “silence is violence” all during this pandemic. And thank you Michael for shining a light on this issue.
I actually had a moment similar to the scene I played with my own mother. She cried out to me for help. “Help me Wayne. Help me.” Someone just did something to me. After Menace II Society came out I was so challenged. She didn’t say those words, but one day while going to school with a friend I came upon her and she was just as broken and riddled by that crack disease.
I knew it would be controversial but I guess because it was so close to what I grew up in and around it wasn’t as shocking to me as I discovered it was to others after I decided to do it.
Disgusted with my life.” The word shame doesn’t even sum up the way I felt. A close “friend” of mine’s sister said “my mother said she was disgusted by the role you played in that movie.” I stood in silent terror thinking, “I guess that means she is disgusted with me.
to pursue my acting dreams she went into a comatic state that lasted for 15 years mainly due to her crack use. Two weeks after I relocated to L.A. My grandmother took care of her in the home until my mother died.
Dwayne Barnes
Never once did I know the impact this movie would have on this world. Little did I know that Menace II Society, a sober look into the products of systemic racism, which I am a part of, and its impact on the Black community, over 25 years after its creation, would be used as a weapon of oppression. I thought It would be a low-budget film that no one would ever see. What a shame.
All I could do was to tell her to go home to her mother, my grandmother, and maybe she could help her. The moment was to much for my young self to handle.
It was hard enough for me to be a Black man living in America, but on top if it all I had the challenge of trying to make sense out of my burdening attractions. At that time, queerness wasn’t celebrated like it is today. I heard nothing about LGBT.
It disgusted me. All I could to heal these wounds of being a Black man in America, of being a queer man in America. It’s taken awhile, lots of therapy, lots of prayer, shifting and sifting through spiritual practices, I did it all. And as soon as I felt as if I had gotten free, after all the Black Lives Matter, and all of the progress that has been made, I see this article on Deadline where a non-Black person has decided to drum up my scene and use it as a weapon to oppress another Black man, to humiliate him.
As I’ve shared my mother was also a crack addict. It was also interesting to me that the man who was attacked with my scene managed Barry Jenkins, who directed Moonlight, a film that is scarily similar to my own life. I, too, struggled with my sexuality and had to deeply wrestle to come to terms with my own truth.
The rejection, the heartbreaks of not getting roles I wanted, the people-pleasing, the predators, the users, the abusers. I ran into them all while my mother laid in a hospital bed in a room in my grandmother's home. Now, mix in the challenge of being an actor in Hollywood with all of that.

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