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The impact of COVID-19 has devastated the world as we know it, and although we have taken to social distancing in many areas of society, the incarcerated are still in danger, with at least 14,000 inmates testing positive in a six-week span. Jeffrey Wright, who stars in Netflix's newest crime drama about the vicious cycle of the prison system All Day and a Night, recently learned that Charles Lawrence, his costar from last year's HBO film O.G., died from COVID-19 while incarcerated at Pendelton Correctional Facility.
"They've committed serious crimes, no question about it, but many of them, like Charles, were working their way down a pathway of a very difficult redemption," Wright tells EW. "He left an impression that won't leave me."
In O.G., Wright played a convicted murderer serving the end of his 24 years in an Indiana prison, seeking justice for the new wave of prisoners while on his way out. The film was shot in a real prison with real inmates as co-stars, including Warren. Wright said they kept in touch after the filming.
"With the shortages we have, you could only imagine the access the men and women who are incarcerated in America have with protective gear," Wright adds, mentioning another O.G. castmate he's in contact with who said he was worried because he's in a cell next to someone with COVID-19.
After filming O.G., Wright wanted to continue exploring that same world but from a different vantage point: a father and son relationship. That's where All Day and a Night, which reached no.4 in Netflix's Top 10 in the first week of release, comes in.
In All Day and a Night, Wright plays J.D., the absent and abusive father to Jahkor (Ashton Sanders), a deeply troubled teen who is imprisoned for the murder of his father's drug dealer. In prison, after years apart, J.D. reunites with Jahkor, a reunion that quite literally put a mirror to the brutal truth about the criminal justice system.
"There are societal pressures that leave individuals with limited choices and limited opportunities. There's far greater opportunity toward self-destruction, then toward a positive outcome," Wright says.
All Day and a Night, directed by Black Panther c0-writer Joe Robert Cole, cuts back and forth between Jahkor's life in prison, just before the murder, and his childhood. In one scene, between Jahkor and a prosecuting officer, the officer digs into him about how he's now just like his father. "Is it genetic?" he asks.
It's J.D's dream, we learn in glimpses of Jahkor's earlier life, for his son to escape his fate, and rise above it. "A lot of those guys [in prison], they never had a chance," Wright says. "Or if they had a chance, they had to be Superman from the time they were children to adulthood to even try to succeed in a positive way."
He adds of the film's approach, "It's not an excuse, rather it's trying to understand why they made the mistake they made."
Wright says he is currently looking for ways to help Pendleton Correctional Facility during COVID-19. Wright has been leading the fundraiser Brooklyn For Life with Mike Thompson, who owns Brooklyn Moon in Fort Greene, where Thompson and Wright used to come together for chess. Wright says Brooklyn For Life has provided 100,000 meals to Brooklyn hospitals in the frontlines from over 40 restaurants.
All Day and a Night is now streaming on Netflix.
Shot ‘OG’ in Pendleton, a max outside Indianapolis, IN. Cast was mostly incarcerated men. Charles Lawrence left an impression on me (as did all the men really). Hard cat, no question. No self pity - at least not in public. But soft too. Sentenced for killing a man who, he said, abused his sister. A relative of his once told me that they put him away based on his rep. Charles was scheduled to be released in 2063. Free now. COVID. RIP #SelfRepost @jfreewright ・・・ Day 21, O.G. fades away with the sun as my scene partner, after laying it down, eases back to O-dorm...until tomorrow. Year of his projected release: 2063. #OGSquad
A post shared by Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) on May 6, 2020 at 5:10pm PDT