It’s freezing in Park City, Utah, but Jason Mitchell is unphased by the brisk windchill and unending slow flurries. The 31-year-old’s career is continually rising, and it shows in his upbeat attitude. His performance on the Lena Waithe helmed The Chi is garnering rave reviews, but Mitchell is at Sundance for another project entirely. In TYREL, the New Orleans native stars as Tyler, a young man who takes a trip to upstate New York with one of his friends. He soon finds himself trying to navigate blinding whiteness as the only Black person in the group. When Mitchell read the script which was penned by the film’s director Sebastian Silva, he jumped at the chance to be involved. “It was the most unorthodox thing I think I’d ever seen,” he explained. “(Sebastian) let me know that he wanted me to have the role, but he also wanted me to make sure all the nuances were right because he’s not Black.”
As Black folks, we’ve all experienced that sense of unease that comes with being the only Black person in a room. It’s a feeling Jordan Peele captured perfectly in his stellar Oscar-nominated film Get Out. It’s a feeling that Mitchell further emphasizes in TYREL — sans the horror elements. “I feel like it’s important to let people know how we feel, meaning Black people, especially Black men in this situation,” Mitchell expressed. I think it’s important to do that in a non-violent manner. I thought this was the perfect way to show that everyday struggle. A lot of times my characters go to extremes, like Ronsel in Mudbound— he was very extreme.”
From his breakout role in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton as the legendary Easy-E to his more recent roles in The Chi and Amazon’s Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Tyler is Mitchell’s closest role to an every day Black man, and he wanted to be sure that the screenplay reflected as such. “(Sebastian) really wanted to know if you were Black, how would you feel in this situation,” he said, “A lot of the ways I moved reflected that. That’s what makes TYREL such a beautiful movie. They have things in there that only black people can get.”
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