SACRAMENTO — When local activist/filmmaker Imani Mitchell decided to bring back all the actors to re-audition for her film, “Whirlpool” because she didn’t feel that the cast was up to par, the move totally caught the attention of Craig Stokes.
Ms. Mitchell wrote her first film script and redrafted it a few times before she was comfortable with the characters, dialogue and direction. But after she auditioned the actors and made her final selections, she still wasn’t satisfied.
Stokes said Mitchell said she didn’t know if she had the strongest cast to put her vision to life. “So basically what happened she made everybody audition again,” he said.
In the process of casting for the second time, Ms. Mitchell kindly asked Stokes to audition for the starring role, “Malik.” Stokes was already in line to play another character in the film.
“I had already met the previous ‘Malik’ she cast prior to that. So she gave me a shot at it, challenged me and pushed me,” Stokes said. “Eventually, she gave me the role and I also emerged as a producer because I was able to see it from both sides. I respected her decision and I wanted to do well.”
Mitchell’s soon-to-be-released film, “Whirlpool,” is a man, a Black man with an obscure problem that could destroy his world. She wrote the script and directed the film entirely in the area of Sacramento. Ms. Mitchell chose to tell the story of “Malik Johnson” from a man’s perspective.
For the role of Malik, Stokes said he had to really get into it and “do a lot of studying and understanding” of Mitchell’s script to capture her vision of what she deems as a complex person.
Without revealing anything about the film’s content, Stokes said he really had to “put himself aside” to play different stages of Malik’s life. That notion alone is one he and Mitchell hopes will tell the complete story. Stokes indicated that he took this role seriously.
“It’s challenging because Malik and Craig Stokes are two different people and we move differently and show our emotions differently,” Stokes told The OBSERVER. “So it was a true study of ‘who is this guy? Is he a bad guy or is he a good guy? Does he do things maliciously to hurt people? Or, do his intentions lead him to have an impact that he didn’t desire to have?'”
Stokes indicated that he took this role seriously and with a lot of moxy.
He entered Whirlpool’s production with a lot of experience. He has acted in various commercials and auditioned for other projects at a high rate. He found a website for casting calls. But it was not for the role of Malik.
It was for the portrayal of another character by the name of “Amir.”
The story and the synopsis was explained in the casting notice and Stokes thought, “This seems like something cool. I love acting and I would do it for free,” he said. It also was a way for him to cut down traveling time since he was departing from Roseville for projects.
“I wasn’t worried about how much I would make from it. It just seemed like a great opportunity for me,” Stokes said. “Plus, it was going to be shot in Sacramento where typically all of my work was done in The Bay Area. That traffic on Interstate 80 could be crazy. So I auditioned for Amir.”
When Mitchell revisited the casting, Stokes said, the situation changed and he took the reigns of portraying Malik Johnson. Ms. Mitchell said casting Stokes, as the protagonist, or what could also be the antagonist, was the right choice.
The film itself will hit the silver screen, soon.
“Working with Craig was great. He’s got a lot of experience in commercials and hosting, so he understands much of the film process,” Ms. Mitchell said. “(He was) very professional and was 110 percent committed from the very beginning. Craig brought a vulnerability to Malik that really humanized the character.”
Stokes’ background is impressive and expands far beyond acting. He attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Sciences (Minor). He also owns and operates a Chick-fil-A franchise.
He’s been executive producers for Craig Stokes Productions’ web series vehicles such as “London In America,” “Craig Stokes Presents: The Show,” and “Style Minute.”
He also has on-air/studio hosting, interviewing, reading teleprompter, brand management and marketing skills. Stokes is a highly requested speaker for teen and young adult audiences in high schools and colleges around the country.
He routinely volunteers his time to speak to teens in juvenile detention centers and “otherwise in need of redirection and mentorship,” his LinkedIn profile stated.
Stokes insists that Ms. Mitchell’s film “Whirlpool” is going to “plant into a lot of people minds” that they too can reach any goal they set for themselves. Ms. Mitchell had an idea she developed, and it’s going to come to life because she made it happen, he said.
“Regardless whether you have done it before or not or have a lot of money … it doesn’t matter,” Stokes said. “If you believe enough of yourself to put it out there, enough people will come support you and help bring your vision to life. It’s going to open up more doors for her so she can do this more often.”
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Photo Courtesy of Imani Mitchell Studios