Jackson State University theater professor Yohance Myles is also a professional actor who has played many characters, but an impactful current role that seems to matter most is as a father whose son witnesses the fatal shooting of an unarmed white college student by an African-American police officer in Fox’s “Shots Fired.”
Although compelling, the fictional story is the antithesis of actual current news events that involved controversial police shootings of unarmed black men. These occurrences sparked nationwide protests and ignited the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The story is also “an autopsy of our criminal justice system,” Myles said of “Shots Fired,” a 10-episodic television story that airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. He said the autopsy “helps us figure out why things like this happen. And, it provides TV watchers a different view from various seats in the house.”
“It’s unlike every other show. We’re not just talking about a shooting that happens to an African-American kid. We’re talking about a young white person who gets killed. This time the storyline is flipped. The question becomes can we now be receptive to chants of ‘white lives matter’?”
Myles portrays Leon Grant, father of Cory (played by Marqus Clae). Besides working in film, in real life he’s also a stage actor committed to his role as a university professor working with students in the JSU Department of Speech Communications and Theatre in the College of Liberal Arts.FOR Myles, a father of four sons and a daughter, his role in “Shots Fired” was emotional and heartrending because “it made me realize my own set of fears. It’s one thing to raise your kids in the right way but at the same time when they are not around me there are other sets of fears, especially when they’re at school or with their friends.”
A doting parent, Myles said, the agonizing fright results from being an African-American father trying to “live up to what American society says those types of standards should be with raising boys.”
While speaking about his own children, his transparency was on full display, especially during these difficult times when this racially divided nation is facing so many injustices.
One jarring scene, in particular, that derailed him from the actual script was when son Cory in the show is interrogated intensely by an investigator who implies the crime brings everyone into question.
Myles said the grilling “makes you wonder are you being racially profiled just because you were near the site of the crime – wrong place at the wrong time.”
Nevertheless, the scene that appeared all too real knocked Myles completely off balance. He spontaneously snapped out of character, abrasively demanding to the detective that “you’re not gonna talk to my son like that.”IMMEDIATELY, the white director said, “Hey, pull back!”
An agitated Myles said, “No, I can’t pull back. I’m not gonna let you sit here and just talk to him like this.”
Myles’ outburst prompted an African-American man near the director to say, “That’s just our culture. That’s how we express ourselves. It’s not that we’re angry. We’re just very protective of what we really care about.”The scene that appeared all too real knocked Myles completely off balance. He spontaneously snapped out of character, abrasively demanding to the detective that “you’re not gonna talk to my son like that.”Myles’ sudden improvisation was merely representative of the passions felt by many African-Americans who’ve experienced police brutality – sometimes with lethal consequences similar to several other real-life casualties: the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in 2012; the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in St. Louis in 2014; and the deadly choking of Eric Garner in 2014 in Staten Island, N.Y.
Nevertheless, it’s uncertain whether that bit of improvisation will make the actual cut.
Throughout his acting career, Myles has portrayed many characters but again reiterated that his role in “Shots Fired” wasn’t much of a stretch because of his experiences as a father.
“There are moments in your life when you know you’re prepared for it; you just know this is really for me. … I’m a dad; I can relate to this.”
Myles said “ ‘Shots Fired’ is long overdue although it’s still in the right time.” He said he wonders what the dynamics would have been had the show been produced during the volatile and highly charged instances of police brutality against blacks.
Despite being cast in several high-profiled roles, Myles exudes profound humility. He dimmed the light on his acting achievements while still illuminating the issues of cultural violence and unequal justice in the African-American community – whether unprovoked police brutality or senseless black-on-black crime.TO that point, he encourages parents of all races to sit down with their children and have thought-provoking discussions to further their understandings of what’s happening in America.
Myles spoke candidly about one stunning story shared on the set by lead actors Sanaa Latham and Stephan James. The first day Myles showed up he heard the other actors mentioned that a teenager had been fatally shot two days earlier in the rough project community of Gateway Station in Charlotte, N.C., where “Shots Fired” was being filmed.
Myles commends Fox for its approach in telling the narrative of “Shots Fired.”
“The network actually goes behind the scenes. We see from different perspective of lenses: the community views; the law enforcement views; we even go into the life of the cop who did this particular shooting and his household environment and the ensuing chaos. It’s important to mention that when news media report about a crime we often forget about all the other people involved because no one raises questions about them,” Myles cautioned.
He’s especially pleased with others aspects of authenticity in “Shots Fired.” He notes that two of the researchers for the show are former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Los Angeles Police Department detective Michelle Alexander, author of the “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Many musical acts have loaned their voices to “Shots Fired.” Viewers will hear the sounds of Swiss Beatz, Scarface, Blu Cantrell, Nas, Molly Music, BJ the Chicago Kid, Leon Bridges, Alan Black and many others.
So, what’s next for Myles, the actor whose other credits include the television drama “Containment,” the film “2 Guns” and the action-adventure television drama “Into the Badlands”?
Myles shared that his next role is “Created Equal,” which was recently picked up by the Sunscreen Film Festival. Directed by Bill Duke, it’s a drama about a Catholic nun who wants to become a priest. She files a lawsuit against the archdiocese of New Orleans for sexual discrimination.
Another upcoming role is a “small hush-hush project coming soon that’s connected to the OWN Network,” he said.