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I watch a lot of movies, and in doing so I grow fond of character actors. Those actors in smaller roles who manage to shine, even without as much screentime as the main stars. Lakeith Stanfield, (sometimes known as Keith Stanfield), is one such actor. Here are seven reasons to love him.
Note: None of these seven reasons will be Donald Glover’s Atlanta, which I have not managed to see yet. Sorry!
1. Short Term 12
Lakeith Stanfield was a 21 year old working a few odd jobs when he was contacted about the feature film version of Short Term 12. Five years earlier, after graduating from an acting program, Stanfield had played a part in a short film of the same name, and director Destin Cretton wanted him to audition for the feature version. Stanfield, who had no feature film credits at the time, was the only actor from the short to be asked back for the feature. If you watch the feature version of Short Term 12, it’s easy to see why.
Stanfield plays Marcus, a teen at a group home who is worried about leaving. I don’t want say much else about this beautiful film, because hopefully I can convince you to watch it by showing you a short scene. In it, Marcus performs a rap which was co-written by Stanfield. This was the first time I really noticed Lakeith, and began to spot him in other projects. Take a look at the song, but be warned, it does feature some strong language:
2. The Purge: Anarchy
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Hollywood film shows us a pretty narrow view of what black men can be, especially young men. Things are improving slowly, but in action and horror films, black men are still often reduced to angry tough guys or racially stereotyped comic relief. This is one thing that makes Stanfield’s performance as “Young Ghoul Face” in The Purge: Anarchy so interesting. Lakeith is playing an armed, masked bandit, but the performance still comes off as somehow incredibly vulnerable. Part of this is a script choice, as we are meant to be surprised that one of the marauders we were previously scared of is so young and soft-spoken, but Stanfield deserves a lot of the credit. He has maybe two minutes of screentime without his mask on, this being his first big movie and all, but he manages to come across as one of the most human characters in the film, a good guy caught in a bad situation. The Purge: Anarchy, isn’t a particularly good movie, but in one short scene, Lakeith makes you care about a character named “Young Ghoul Face”.
On the opposite end of the quality spectrum, Lakeith has a supporting role in Ava Duvernay’s masterful Selma, as real life activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. It’s not a huge role, but Jackson and his fate become key to the emotional impact of the second half, and Duvernay could clearly see that any audience would have a strong reaction to Stanfield. With his trademark vulnerability on full display, Stanfield effectively captures the bravery of a real life hero, and leaves his mark on a modern movie classic.
4. This Run the Jewels Video
This music video for the song “Close Your Eyes and Count to F***” stars Stanfield as a young black man, and similarly underappreciated character actor Shea Whigham as a police officer who wrestles with him on a city street. Their fight spans the entire video, only to have the pair return home to the same bedroom in the final moments. Paired with the anti-authoritarian lyrics, it seems to suggest that the current crisis of police violence targeted at minorities has been happening forever, and may not be solved anytime soon. Beyond the bleak video itself, Stanfield shows off some impressive physical acting here, as the fight continually flips from uncomfortably realistic grappling to darkly comic slapstick and back again.
Rick Famuyiwa’s dope is a super fun if uneven movie, that went by a little bit unnoticed when it came out in 2015. Lakeith plays a small part as a school bully, and at first I thought he was miscast, but he soon proves himself suitably intimidating. The real reason he’s in the film becomes more apparent near the end however, as Stanfield’s reaction to a reveal about Dope’s main character Malcolm elevates an already powerful climax.
6. Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton was massive hit two years ago, and one of the fun things about it was it’s fanboy geekiness about the history of hip-hop. The film goes to great lengths to recreate key moments in the renaissance of west coast rap, including cameos by heavyweights like Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight. Stanfield, in probably his most widely seen performance, plays the great Snoop Dogg in one such cameo. In the case of Shakur, the film went with a striking lookalike, but Snoop had more scenes, so they went with a more experienced actor in Stanfield. I think it was a wise choice. Though much of the conversation about his performance was dominated by the fact that he doesn’t look much like the D-O-Double G, I think Lakeith captured Snoop’s essence, particularly in his impression of his voice. Stanfield also did all of his own rapping. Make your own judgement with the clip below:
7. Get Out
After Compton, Lakeith scored a part in another big hit, Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Stanfield plays a supporting but pivotal role as Andrew Logan King, a character whose role I will not spoil for those of you who have not seen it yet. I will say that the opening scene of the film is entirely focused on Stanfield, and he sets the uneasy tone beautifully. The plot also allows gives him a unique opportunity to show off his range later in the movie. So if you still haven’t seen Get Out, he’s one of many reasons to do so.
Stanfield’s film career continues to grow, with a staggering 7 more movies set to be released in 2017. These include Sundance favorite The Incredible Jessica James, the combat dramedy War Machine alongside Brad Pitt, and Netflix’s adaptation of the popular anime Death Note, where he plays the main antagonist L.
Hopefully these films give you as much appreciation for Lakeith as I do, and I hope he gets the mainstream recognition he deserves.