Nahnatchka Khan, Hasan Minhaj, ‘Just Mercy’ Cast Talk Inclusion

“Always Be My Maybe” was “satisfying” to create because it gave focus to two characters that wouldn’t typically be portrayed as romantic leads, said director Nahnatchka Khan of her Netflix film at the CAA Amplify conference in Ojai, sitting on a panel with comedian Hasan Minhaj and NBA star Chris Paul.

“We’re all big fans of the rom-com genre, and then special things happen when you center people who have never been centered before,” said Khan of the Asian American ensemble. “Randall Park and Ali Wong, they are so many things; they’re not just one thing, they’re bigger than just their identity. They’re a leading man, a leading woman… you can be layered, you can be more than one thing, you can exist outside the box.”

For his part, Minhaj said his “insider, outsider relationship with America” as a Muslim Indian American plays to his advantage as he tackles current affairs on his Netflix series “Patriot Act,” giving him a global perspective on topics that he asserts U.S. media often treats with a narrower view.

“For me, with the show, the exciting thing is “Patriot Act” gets to exist in a space where there previously is a lot of white space,” said Minhaj.

“Literally – there’s two Jimmys in late night,” he quipped.

“And a James,” chimed in Khan.

The three-day, invitation-only CAA retreat – a combination of TED Talk-style panels and high-level networking against the luxuriously verdant backdrop of the Ojai Valley Inn – brought together about 200 industry execs, talent and politicos to focus on creating more diversity and inclusion in entertainment and beyond. The group included Obama-era national security advisor Susan Rice, actor and activist Riz Ahmed, playwright Young Jean Lee, and attorney and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, whose memoir “Just Mercy” is being adapted into a Warner Bros. Pictures film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

The group in attendance got a brief glimpse at the movie, based on Stevenson’s life as a lawyer fighting for social justice, which Ford Foundation president Darren Walker called “an extraordinary gift to the nation.” Stevenson, who spoke at length about the disproportionate incarceration rates among women and African Americans and the need to enact change, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Jordan, Foxx, Stevenson and “Just Mercy” director and writer Destin Daniel Cretton were present for a panel on the film. Cretton said the book opened his eyes to a subject that he didn’t think about very much.

“You feel it when Bryan speaks,” he said. “When Bryan walks off the stage, you should feel depressed, with the amount of terrible information he just poured on you. But this book did that and left me feeling so inspired and so connected to both the author of the book and the people (whose lives) he was sharing.”

Jordan, who said he was nervous about playing Stevenson on screen and “didn’t want to mess this up,” made a powerful impression on those on set during a key courtroom scene, said his co-star Foxx.

Foxx said he texted Jordan after they filmed the scene: “I know you’ll get this later, but the extras in the fourth row are weeping.”

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