algee smith is an actor reconstructing the future of hollywood
The star of 'The Hate U Give' discusses the part he's playing in making the film industry
Photography Cameron McCool. Styling Melissa Levy.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Superstar Issue, no. 354, Winter 2018
Algee Smith wants you to look in the mirror and say you love yourself. “You’re not crazy for doing it!” he stresses emphatically, reeling off the advice so convincingly that we’re starting to think this actor might be moonlighting as a motivational speaker. “We talk to everybody except ourselves. Watch how it changes your day.” Self care is a rare thing in the scrutinising audition rooms of Hollywood, but you get the impression that it’s what helps keep Algee’s head above water. The 24-year-old cut his teeth as a rapper before marking his territory in film with a riveting turn in Kathryn Bigelow’s drama Detroit. Algee seems to have swaggered on to the scene with a killer dose of confidence at just the right time. “Back in the day, a lot of people couldn’t look past the first thing they saw,” he says of the way music stars segued into the cinematic spotlight in the past. “But with social media, our generation are more receptive and supportive. They just want to see you do a lot.”
“It’s so systemic and internally broke... I’m just glad that I get to be one of the people who gets to reconstruct it.”
That’s exactly what Algee is doing. As well as working on new music, his latest film, the topical race drama, The Hate U Give, is already being hailed as vital by critics. Set in modern day, divided America, it captures the hostile happenings that unfold in a town caught in the grasp of a violent police brutality case. As well as opening the necessary floodgates to a conversation privileged Americans – as well as others worldwide – seem so unwilling to have, The Hate U Give also feels like one of the rare moments that Hollywood has produced a muscular, honest and powerful role for a young black man. “It’s so systemic and internally broke that it takes relentless individuals who completely get it [to make the change],” Algee says of the stereotypes Hollywood has imparted on the roles available for young black artists. “I’m just glad that I get to be one of the people who gets to reconstruct it.” Algee isn’t willing to throw away the hard work he’s done. Next on his agenda? Hopefully, the opportunity to follow in his idol Will Smith’s footsteps and assume the role of a superhero. “I’m at this point in my life where I can either stand up for everything I believe in or not do it at all,” he says, proudly. “I’m feeling that urgency inside of myself.”
Photography Cameron McCool
Styling Melissa Levy
Hair Dylan Chavles at Art Department using Oribe. Make-up Holly Silius at Lowe and Co Worldwide using Giorgio Armani Beauty. Photography assistance Olivia Rosenberg. Styling assistance Mei Ling Cooper, Emily Diddle and Rachele Antjuanette. Production Richie Davies.