Alfre Woodard has been giving audiences classic performances for decades. The actress has starred in classics and fan favorites like Crooklyn, Love and Basketball, Captain America Civil War, etc. However, for her latest project, the BET+ series, “The Porter,” – the four-time Emmy award winner not only took on a role in front of the camera but stepped behind the scenes as an executive producer as well.
“The Porter” is set in the early 1920s between the cities of Montreal, Canada, and Chicago. Actual events partially inspire it. The series follows two train porters and war veterans, Junior Massey and Zeke Garrett. Both have ambitions of living a better life when a tragedy on the job sends them down vastly different paths that ultimately end up on a direct collision course with each other.
Woodard portrays the role of “Fay,” the oldest working resident living in St. Antoine’s brothel. Fay is a free spirit and enjoys living life on her terms. Woodard talked with Jill Munroe about the role, why it’s important to share this story, and what gets her interested in a project after being in the entertainment industry for so many years.
“They have been working on this story for eight years. So by the time I came along, everything was together. Everything was in motion. I think initially; I came in because they wanted someone they had looked at all of their lives on the screen to say yes, I see you. So I was a consultant, but I’m nosey. So then it went from consultant to producer. Later on, when they asked me to take on a role, the initial role they suggested was a little too upstanding for me. If you want to get dressed, you want to show off! So I told them I wanted the character of Fay, and they were surprised.”
Woodard went to explain what she saw in the character. “I’m always interested in people with life in them and complexities,” said Woodard. “As an actor, you want to find and explore the complexities and not play judgment. You want to find who that person is, and the circumstance is part of the plot. I wanted to establish her not as a victim left there, but as someone who is risen out of the ashes. I don’t believe that everyone comes away tortured and reactive. She had somewhere to turn. The sacred and the secular really intersect at that brothel.”
The stories of hundreds of Black men who worked as porters during those days and helped carve out a Black middle class were ones that Woodard had desired to tell for some time.
“You know I wouldn’t even call it history,” she explained. “History is something that happened last weekend. One thing I think our group was able to do well was to bring to life the story and all the characters that contemporary people can relate to. Woodard continued, “we didn’t just think ourselves up. Look at who you are. Look at where you come from. Look at what individual and collectively people have contributed. You don’t have to be reactive to what the dominant culture says. The journey of the porters, crossing the country, community to community, sometimes organizing for the greater good, sometimes running numbers and bootlegging. Whatever it was, they helped create the Black middle class. The one that we are struggling to hold onto in America right now.”
The series is a Canadian production that debuted on CBC in February. “The Porter” also stars Aml Ameen as “Junior Massey,” Ronnie Rowe Jr. as “Zeke Garrett,” Mouna Traoré as “Marlene Massey,” Loren Lott as “Lucy Conrad,” and Olunike Adeliy as “Miss Queenie.”
Episodes are streaming now, only on BET+.