Written By: Mark Plante
DJ Qualls is a tall, thin, white man best known for his work in Road Trip, but on July 22nd he can be seen in the Sundance hit Hustle & Flow as Shelby, the man responsible for the hooks to go with the raps that his friends create. Here he talks about the film, the south, and racism in America.
One of the main bonuses of making this film was changing the stereotype of the white man from the south, according to Qualls.
“I’m a Tennessee boy and so is Craig and I was tired of seeing the South portrayed wrong. Every time I see a movie it’s a just-post “Gone With the Wind” south, which really doesn’t exist; the accents are always wrong. And literally my first role as an actor was telling Cisely Tyson she couldn’t sit at a lunch counter,” said Quales. “In the media we keep perpetuating the sort of myth that the white man in the south is either a baffoon or a racist and I’m neither. Well, I guess even buffoons or a racists have something good inside them because God made them, but I’m not those things and it’s not what I grew up knowing.”
As he continued to ask about race he is honest and straightforward, which is surprising and refreshing.” I don’t know. I don’t think much of words at all. I think we attach way too much meaning to words like that. I really don’t give energy to racial slur or sexual orientation slur. The world is so complicated and there’s so much going on and life is so full of good things and I really don’t think about bad things.”
Quales also is open about poverty in America, speaking as someone who has come from humble beginnings.
“I grew up in the South. It’s not some sort of segregated area, at least where I grew up.
Poverty is the great social lever. I grew up in a pretty poor area. Also a great misconception of South Central Los Angeles is that it’s all black. It’s not. There’s a huge Eastern European population there. You go where you can afford to live. My parents never taught me any sort of difference between black and white.”
Quales was also picked on when he was in school when he was little and it was an African American girl that had his back.
One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the movie for Qualls was hearing the finished project. “When I hear those sings I feel ownership of those songs. In those scenes when we were pretending to create them it felt like we were creating those songs. And what you see in the movie about that process of finding the beat, adding the flow and coming up with the hook, that’s really how, kids like all over the country are doing it. It’s so funny people are afraid of hip hop. It’s what rock n roll was in the fifties. It’s the music of our generation.”
Quales is also proud of the new found success of his costar and friend Terrence Howard. “He was a perfect choice for this character. There’s just something about him that’s hard to hate. There’s something about him that he can get away with a lot and you’ll still forgive him. There’s a vulnerability to him that he actually carries in his real life. He’s also aside from being a great actor, a great friend.”
Next up for Quales is a romantic comedy with Gilmore Girls star Alexis Bledel. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this intelligent man transition into the leading man role as well.