Photo Credit: ABC/Christopher Willard
For almost three decades, Tyler James Williams has been creating memorable roles that have become a staple in most households. Young Tyler had been working in the industry for over five years but it wasn’t until the Chris Rock-inspired family comedy, Everybody Hates Chris, that he would become a recognizable face for years to come.
With a strong acting style, many have wondered why he hasn’t been seen in more roles. “It's because there's not enough work for me. For me, I'm not here to be the prettiest thing. I'm not here to be the funniest thing. I'm here to represent you. I'm that dude from down the block. I'm that dude, you met at church, I'm your brother, I'm your cousin or that boyfriend, eventually, your husband and somebody you fall in love with. I need to represent real Black people. We need to show them that their lives are romantic, pretty, and worth living." And believing in each and every one of the characters he plays on television and film is a big part of why representation is important to Tyler.
Tyler has once again graced our TV screens in one of this season's hottest and freshest new comedies out. In Abbott Elementary, he plays the role of Gregory Eddie, a substitute teacher assigned to a Philadelphia elementary school. The series was created by Quinta Brunson who also stars in the sitcom as Janine Teagues, a second-grade teacher. In this role, Tyler’s character is getting adjusted to a position he has to take when the principal position he really wanted was given to a less qualified candidate played by comedian Janelle James.
Quinta and Tyler are friends in real life and because of their relationship, when Quinta was creating Gregory, she used qualities from Tyler that he didn't even know he possessed until he developed the character. “I’m usually typically pretty reserved, fairly introverted and I think people see my work and they think I’m something other than what I actually am in my day-to-day. But when I choose to connect with people, I can really break outside of that shell and go beyond myself,” says Tyler.
Photo Credit: ABC/Ser Baffo
Abbott Elementary is not just a show for families to watch on a weekly basis, but a show that connects the community to a platform that shares their story. Once the first few episodes of the show maintained positive ratings, Quinta Brunson decided to direct the marketing and publicity funds right to the teachers in the inner city. This allows everyone, including Tyler, to now realize that this show is bigger than they could have imagined. He provided a vision that we don’t normally see in the school system and hopefully, it inspires Black men and young Black men to become educators.
Sadly according to the Stanford Graduate School of Education only 2% of America's teachers are Black men. With a statistic like this, we need to understand how this has an effect on our children and communities as a whole. James shares why he feels it's important to have more Black men teachers. "As young Black kids, we need to see Black men be a part of the nurturing, and rearing of the next generation actively. I think there's been this narrative that we have not been able to control that Black men are indebted to that or are not a part of that process. There are Black men every day struggling to provide for and be in the lives of their kids. I think another way we can do that is to show them in the educational system. I think that two percent is tragic. It's not that we don't have anything to contribute. It's not like we're not needed. We absolutely are."
Over his career, he was blessed to work with some of the industry's greatest actresses including Tichina Arnold in Everybody Hates Chris, Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and now Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Through these connections, he learned plenty about the industry but one thing he stands firm on is the importance of supporting Black women. "I think for the longest it was ‘behind every strong Black man is a strong Black woman.’ But my career has been ‘behind every strong Black woman is a strong Black man.’ I can bring a lot of strength to a project because of the work that I've done previously. If I can use that strength and muscle to help amplify the voices of Black women and just support them in that process, then it's ideal for me. I learned that all Black women needed somebody to stand behind them and say, 'I got you.’ I found more fulfillment in being a supporting actor in that way. I'll be a supporting actor any day if I'm supporting a Black woman who knows what she's doing," says Tyler.
Kudos to Tyler for not only being entertaining but also being a champion for representation through art. “Abbott Elementary” has been renewed for season 2 but you can watch season 1 on Hulu.
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