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Race has always been a difficult issue in America. Recently, with the announcement of an entirely white acting slate for the Academy Awards the issue of race has been a major conversation in Hollywood. For many actors, however, it has been a daily issue that they have always had to deal with. Samuel L. Jackson has recently opened up about an experience he had while filming Pulp Fiction, when the man who was on the verge of becoming a household name, was nearly arrested.
According to Jackson, he was on a long break from filming Pulp Fiction as they had finished the scenes in the diner, and were going to be focused on scenes he wasn’t in for a while. He went to dinner with some friends after a play he was doing and after the meal he and his friends were standing outside the restaurant talking when five police cars suddenly appeared around them. The police came out with their guns drawn and told Jackson and his friends to get on the ground. Jackson says in Vanity Fair, that the police had apparently received a call that there were five black men standing on the street corner with guns and bats. The experience had a profound effect on Jackson’s state-of-mind.
I was thinking to myself, I’m in Hollywood now, on the verge of breaking through, and this is still going on. It kind of put my feet back on the ground in terms of ‘OK, you’re still just another nigger working in town, so you still got to walk softly.’ And I still do. Just an object lesson for life in L.A.
While it sounds like the incident was cleared up fairly quickly, probably because it would have been impossible for any of the men to be concealing a baseball bat, so it was obvious none of them had one, one can still understand how the experience can make somebody think. Today, the idea of something like this happening to Samuel L. Jackson, of all people, seems impossible. But is that accurate? Even if Jackson had already been a movie star at that moment, it doesn’t mean he would have been recognized in time to prevent the incident. He understands that in that moment none of the Hollywood stuff mattered. He was just a guy who matched a profile.
It’s more than a little depressing when Sam Jackson feels he has to "walk softly" in order to prevent incidents like this from happening to him, when he never did anything to incur them. If he feels this way we can be fairly certain that he’s not the only one.