"Ma" Director Talks about Casting BFF Octavia Spencer & How the Film's Not About Race



-Taylor and Spencer were roommates for seven years, and he claims to know her tastes and that she loves forensic shows

-Thought it was a great opportunity to "get my dear friend her first lead role in something that could really redefine her career [...] It was really out of love and admiration that I wanted her to be Ma...a fucked up teen killer"

-The character of Ma was originally conceived as a middle-aged white woman with no backstory

-Sees Ma more as "a cautionary tale of what happens when we treat people poorly -- from bullying to sexual harassment at the highest levels."

GQ: As a white male director, how did you think about putting yourself into a character like Sue Ann and portraying the elements of race that exist within the film? Because it's embedded in the film.

Tate: How do you think race is embedded in the film? Because I don't see it that way.

GQ: You have these white kids hanging out with a middle-aged black woman, andthat same woman had been bullied by what were predominantly white classmates. So maybe that's not the defining aspect, but it's there.

Tate: Isn't it funny, the way our country is set up, the minute I give a very talented person who's my best friend a part because she wanted to break out, the movie becomes about race. It's crazy. Me and Octavia talked about it. She goes, "Why is everyone saying this is about race?" I said, "Because you're black and I'm white. And I guess friendships and love does not trump that." As far as Octavia goes, casting her in that role, it was a victim of trauma.

The only thing I think I commented on as far as race goes is Ma had a specific amount of torture assocaited with each of the kids, and when she painted Darrell's face white, it's Ma trying to put psychological torture on a black man. She says, "There's only room for one of us," and it's me saying, "Yeah, enough already with the one black character and they're never the lead."

-On his love for female characters: "I love female characters. I love characters with obstacles, and I love characters who are often subpar in society's mind. And unfortunately, women have a great deal more to deal with in the world than men do. They just do. They get out of bed, things are slanted against them. And I think being raised by a single mom and seeing how she nurtured me and took care of me, I've definitely got an affinity for female characters."

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