Review of Interview: Dulé Hill on Starring in Night of the Animated Dead, Its Portrayal of Race

Daljit Kalsi

Night of the Animated Dead, which is an animated remake of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, is set to release September 21, 2021, on Digital and October 5, 2021, on Blu-ray Combo Pack & DVD. It features the voice talents of Josh Duhamel (Transformers) as Harry Cooper, Dulé Hill (Psych) as Ben, Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) as Barbara, James Roday Rodriguez (A Million Little Things) as Tom, Katee Sackhoff (The Mandalorian) as Judy, Will Sasso (MadTV) as Sheriff McClelland, Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) as Johnny, and Nancy Travis (Last Man Standing) as Helen Cooper.

“Siblings Barbara and Johnny visit their father’s grave in a remote cemetery in Pennsylvania when they are suddenly set upon by zombies,” says the official synopsis. “Barbara flees and takes refuge in an abandoned farmhouse along with stranded motorist Ben and four local survivors found hiding in the cellar. Together, the group must fight to stay alive against the oncoming horde of zombies while also confronting their own fears and prejudices.”

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Night of the Animated Dead star Dulé Hill about the original film, reuniting with his Psych co-star, and how it tackles race.

Tyler Treese: The original film is so iconic and Duane Jones was so great as Ben. This role was such a big deal at the time and even controversial due to the racial climate at the time. What did it mean for you to voice this character and take over this very special role?

Dulé Hill: For myself, it was humbling. It was also an honor really to step into this role because it does say so much without saying so much. I think that the challenging needle to thread it used, it uses art to entertain but also to enlighten. The fact that it was done back in 1968, which was such a tumultuous time within the world to then now be able to revisit that role now, which is also a very tumultuous time in the world, it really was an honor. It was an honor for me. I really wanted to make sure that I gave it my all and give my best with the opportunity.

Do you remember the first time that you saw Night of the Living Dead and how did it stick with you?

I don’t actually don’t remember the first time that I saw it. I knew I was always aware of it. I don’t vividly remember the first time that I saw the movie. I know that it stuck with me seeing an African-American exerting his point of view, exerting strength, not capitulating to the different thing, coming against him in his environment in the world that he was in. I know that the strength of Ben resonated with me, but also, I guess the idea that it wasn’t just about helping himself, he really was looking any way to help everyone make it through the night.

I mean, obviously, if you seen the movie, then you know how it turns out, but the motive behind it was coming from a place of wanting to make it through the night. That’s something I think that always resonated with me. I think oftentimes in life we go through challenging times, some can seem as extreme and as crazy as a zombie apocalypse. I mean, some people might think we’re going through a zombie apocalypse right now, what’s going on within the world, but it seems like night comes on you quickly and unexpectedly, and all you’re trying to do is make it through the night. That I can really relate to.

Yeah. Like you’re talking about, Ben is very assertive and is seen as a natural leader during this unprecedented situation. Is that how you would act during a zombie apocalypse?

Look, I mean, you never know how you go, you never know how you’re going to act in an extreme situation, especially when there’s zombies outside. I would hope that I would though. I would hope that I would give my all to make sure that everyone around me, myself, and everyone around me makes it through the night. Hopefully, I’d be willing to just keep fighting, keep willing myself to get through. Willing us to get through to the night.

I hope that maybe I could be a little more open to other points of view because maybe that might give me a better outcome. Not all points of view, but at least consider other points of view a little bit more.  Because I think one of the fatal flaws of a lot of the characters in the movie is that they’re stubborn. They get a little bullheaded. Whether you’re talking about Ben or whether you’re talking about Harry, even when you’re talking about Tom. There’s a nuanced moment there with Tom and Judy where nobody really listened to another point of view. But maybe if we did that a little bit to other points of view, and maybe we could have a different outcome. So I hope that I would, in the moment open my ear to the voices of others. Listen to what they’re saying, not necessarily follow what they’re saying, but consider what they’re saying.

You mentioned Tom, who’s voiced by James Roday, which is super exciting for Psych fans. How did this come together? Are you guys like a package deal at this point?

Yeah. That’s how we do it. Whatever we do, the other person has to show up. That’s just how it is. I mean, the door is closing on me getting over there to A Million Little Things, but hopefully that’ll happen before the show runs its course. This is what we do. I would say, I love working with Roday. He’s my brother, he’s beyond a friend. I think he’s really a phenomenal artist and a very interesting artist. It doesn’t surprise me that he showed up in this movie because this is his world. He loves horror. He can probably tell you so much intimate, specific details about this film and others. He’s a horror fanatic.

But Michael Luisi, he’s the one who reached out to myself. I know Roday and Michael Luisi are very close. So Michael reached out to see if I would be interested in playing the role, and actually, Roday I think may have even been a catalyst in connecting us for the role. Then once I spoke with Michael and understood what they were attempting to do, I just jumped right at it. But it’s fun to work with people that you enjoy, that you love, that you appreciate. That you are fans of their work. And when you add in James Roday Rodriguez, you add in Jimmi Simpson, someone else I know very well, and the entire cast it was a no brainer for me to take part in it. Psych fans, hopefully that they will love or appreciate us in different roles outside of Shawn and Gus. Hopefully, as our careers go on, we can continue to [work together].

You mentioned earlier about the ending. That is such an iconic part of the film and it is shocking. George Romero said he didn’t really set out to tackle race, but I saw Jordan Peele made a very interesting point that Ben is basically prepared to deal with this because he has to live in fear every day as a black man during that time period. So how do you view that ending and just the role that race really plays in the film?

Although George Romero wasn’t intending for it, I’m so glad that it did happen because it makes a huge statement. I think that also ties into the timeliness of the film. I’m sure in 1968 it was really powerful because that’s what was happening in the world. A very tumultuous time and African Americans were under siege. They were not being looked at as full human beings, they weren’t given full rights. What happened at the end of this film says so much about that. Because people make it through the night and they still looked at [Black people] as other, as not human in the eyes of a fellow man. I think that is a very powerful, very powerful thing for me. The story resonates because even though it was set back in 1968, it’s still the same way now. You still see that happening now. That people who look like me are not looked upon as being full human beings, oftentimes looked on as averages.

When you look at Philando Castile a few years ago in Minnesota, who was in the car with his girlfriend, his young child in the backseat. He told the police officer, I have a gun and I have a permit to carry it. He told the police officer that and still the police officer was afraid for his life and opened up and shot Philando Castile. That let’s you know that all of humanity [isn’t treated the same].

That’s why this story is so powerful now because that same thing is going on now. It’s a subtle thing, and I think film art can be entertaining and enlightening at the same time, because it still has a very big statement. The thought would be that could not be something human over there. The ideas of “That’s a human being over there” never crossed the mind of them at the end of the movie. No, that is a zombie, for sure. There’s no way that thing over there could be a human being. That’s a zombie. That’s kind of what we oftentimes are wrestling with in society today. I don’t know if we’ve lost it, or we’ve never attained it, to be able to truly see people who look like me as full human beings as a society as a whole.

I’m not saying specifically, but I think when you see what’s going on within the world, oftentimes that’s a part of the issue. You don’t see my humanity, you know? That’s why this movie was so powerful. Because it makes a statement in a very entertaining way and that’s why it resonated with me. Also, I was overjoyed to be able to play the role because that was the type of material that I’m attracted to, that can take people on an emotional roller coaster on an entertaining journey and still have something to say.

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