Ten year veteran of film and television Chioke Jelani Clanton has taken on his most audacious and arguably most important role of his career in the upcoming Neo-Urban Noir series RED SLEEP. Written and directed by Andre Welsh, RED SLEEP is the story of a former prison inmate trying to overcome the effects of an experimental U.S. Military program.
Drawing inspiration from documented cases of medical experimentation on black prisoners, RED SLEEP is an artistic examination of the atrocities of the pharmaceutical/military industrial complex. Clanton appears as the show’s lead character “Clyde Harris”. The series also stars Ron Kaell, Jessica Sonneborn, and Don Stark.
DZI: The Voice connected with Clanton to discuss RED SLEEP, the history of governmental human research on people of color, and more in an exclusive interview.
Yohance Kyles: When did you first discover your voice as an artist?
Chioke Jelani Clanton: I began to discover my voice as an artist while I was in my youth. Creating visual artwork became a way for me to express how I felt about the negative environment that surrounded myself as well as many others.
YK: How did you get involved with RED SLEEP?
CJC: I got involved with RED SLEEP from its beginnings when the series’ creator talked with me about the concept of the show. We began sharing ideas about the premise of the series, possible plot points, actors who’d be a good choice to be cast in supporting roles whom we wanted to work with, and our goals in completing and releasing the series.
YK: Can you explain the premise of the series?
CJC: RED SLEEP follows the story of a man named “Clyde Harris”. Harris is listed as an “escaped” inmate from San Quentin penitentiary who’s offered an opportunity to be used as a test subject in an experimental U.S. military drug program in exchange for his freedom. Once Harris is released from the program he moves to Los Angeles in an attempt to begin a “new life” and to leave his former ways behind him. While living in Los Angeles the side effects of the experimental drug, as well as the U.S. military return to haunt him and to restrain him for further study and observation.
The series’ title, RED SLEEP, is an abbreviated form of the “red sleep substitute chemical” that is featured in the show. This is the experimental drug that Harris has been taking while he was used as a subject of the program. This drug is designed to simulate sleep so that whomever takes the drug will not need to ever physically sleep or rest. The subject would theoretically be able to survive for many days on end without ever having to shut their eyes.
YK: How would you describe your character “Clyde Harris”?
CJC: I’d describe Harris as another victim of racism. Although Harris is socially engineered and manipulated into joining the RED SLEEP program, it’s his own misunderstanding and confusion about panopticism that actually keeps him from making quality decisions so that he can escape the mental constraints that keep him imprisoned.
If Harris would only begin to ask questions, study, and look into the world around him, as opposed to looking at it, he could start to create a positive new life on his own. Instead, because of his ignorance he’s relying on the U.S. military to provide him with solutions, when it’s the military who are the ones controlling his problems and reactions in the first place.
YK: What led you to take on the role?
CJC: I liked the premise of RED SLEEP. Harris was a character that I felt was relatable to some of my own life experiences. I also felt like the subject matter of America’s long history of medical experimentations on people classified as “black”, those incarcerated, as well as many others is a topic that needs to be brought to many people’s attention.
There would be no modern medicine if it had not been for the many non-white slaves who were murdered, mutilated, abused, and tortured so that criminals like J.Marion Sims could rise to prominence within the medical field. Former American president Thomas Jefferson would practice surgery on his slaves as well, and because the victims of these crimes were held captive in bondage they were not allowed to oppose the abuse that was being perpetrated and committed against them.
Many prison inmates, those classified as “white” and those classified as “non-white”, as well as many children, physically and mentally disabled, homeless men and women, and countless others are still being used as guinea pigs by the pharmaceutical/military industrial complex to this very day. These are a few reasons that I decided to accept taking on the role of “Clyde Harris”.
YK: Are there any plans to film a second season?
CJC: The show’s creator and the Malicious Pictures production team have discussed filming a second season of RED SLEEP. I’d be interested in the series being expanded into a second season because there’s so much depth to the characters and the storyline that fans would enjoy seeing explored.
YK: The series tackles the pharmaceutical/military industrial complex. How much of RED SLEEP draws from inspiration from actual events and known incidents of medical experimentation on black prison inmates?
CJC: News sources have been reporting this calendar year about the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency successfully engineering a drug that’s designed to keep military soldiers awake for days at a time. I’ve seen articles detailing the research into this “sleep” drug for several years now.
A book that I like that documents the horrible incidents of medical experimentation of black inmates from colonial times to the present is Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington. Acres of Skin by Allen Hornblum is a good source also. So, although RED SLEEP is a fictional narrative, the series draws inspiration from stories of people who are really victimized by the pharmaceutical/military industrial complex in their attempts to create super soldiers to be used in war. These victims are usually unsuspecting people who are used against their will, and these stories need to be told.
YK: When can viewers expect for RED SLEEP to debut?
CJC: The show’s producers have been in talks with network/cable distributors who are interested in a development deal for RED SLEEP. If the project gets green lit to debut as early as the fall that would be great, but it’s looking like it could very well develop into a feature and much more. So everyone involved is hella excited about it.
YK: Web-based series have become extremely popular over the last several years. Do you think that medium will become more dominant than network/cable programming in the near future?
CJC: Well I don’t know if the medium will become more dominant than network/cable unless the web-based shows begin to generate more attention than people who watch network cable based shows. There’s really no separation of the two. It’s all one entity. It’s not about money. The key word is “programming.” This all has to do with mind sciences.
The Hollywood industrial complex is just a psychological warfare division of Anglo-American imperialism. So, wherever people who view television “programs” that only advertise products, or implant overt and subliminal ideas are watching, then those are the mediums that the oligarchs who control the entertainment industry will use to dominate our minds. They’ll tell people what to watch, when to watch it, and where to watch it, whether that’s a web-based program, or a cable/network-based program.
YK: You played an actor playing a serial killer in the short film Method and a criminal on the run in Investigation Discovery’s Cuff Me If You Can. Are you naturally attracted to play dark, complicated characters?
CJC: Yea, no doubt. I’d say that these characters are merely reacting to very dark and complicated worlds within the settings of those films. Our “real” world isn’t any different, and we ourselves are very complicated characters reacting to the madness that’s going on here on this earth.
YK: What television shows are must watch programs for you?
CJC: I really don’t watch television man. I don’t watch sports anymore, no so-called “news programs” or nothing. I’m usually reading and studying a lot.
YK: You’ve said that you are an avid reader. What books are you reading right now?
CJC: Right now I’m reading Civilization or Barbarism by Cheikh Anta Diop, and Tragedy and Hope by Carroll Quigley.
YK: What’s next for Chioke Jelani Clanton?
CJC: I’m always learning, helping give voice to the voiceless, and fighting alongside like-minded ones to replace these systems of oppression with a system of justice.
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