Lolita Files, African-American author, screenwriter, and producer, is cool as fuck. She hustled in the corporate world for almost 10 years after college, then gained overnight success after sending her work to an agency on a whim, just because she had researched that they were John Grisham’s agent.
She’s now a New York Times Best-Selling author, and her book Child of God (for which Kanye once had the rights, Lolita has them back) is now in the curriculums of high schools and universities across the country. She’s the leading respected source on A&E’s upcoming docuseries Who Killed Tupac?, a must-see that will venture into rabbit holes the public has never even heard of before. And her book Once Upon A Time In Compton, with former Gang Unit Detectives, Timothy M. Brennan and Robert Ladd, documents Brennan and Ladd's years in the gang unit the rise of gangsta rap, gang wars, the L.A. riots, the murder investigations of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., and the fall of the Compton Police Department.
Not only is her work critically acclaimed and extremely influential, when you’re talking to her, she’s warm and engaging, making you want her as your best friend, and inspiring to the point that I still talk about Lolita to my boyfriend weeks after my conversation with her. Check out what she had to say, and get ready to take on the world.
How did you become interested in Tupac, Biggie, and Compton?
Well, I’ve always been a big fan of hip hop and consider myself a part of that culture. I loved Tupac when he came on the scene. He came out of Digital Underground with such a concern for the community of African Americans and our place in society, unabashed in his activism. So I was already interested, and then you cut to four-and-a-half years ago, I meet (former Gang Unit Detectives) Tim (Brennan) and Robert (Ladd), and they had actually worked on the cases of both his and Biggie’s murders. I sat down and heard their story, and it was bigger than Tupac and Biggie. They were front and center with the LA riots. They were major players in the fall of the Compton police department. One thing that was very important to me was I wanted to know what Compton was like, the Compton that they knew, so they introduced me to the people and the neighborhood.
With all of the headlines about police brutality and the U.S. having to confront the way that law enforcement addresses its citizens (especially people of color), what can we learn from Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd?
They had a great relationship with the citizens of Compton and the community. People trusted them, gang-bangers trusted them. They never lost their sense of humanity, even if they were on the other side of the law. When dealing with people, Tim and Robert had the mindset that somebody loves that person — they saw them as a human being. And it was very important to them, as far as improving policing, to know the people in the communities. They would visit people in prison that they had put away. They would help moms bail their kids out of jail. They never lost touch with the people.
A lot of people think that Suge Knight orchestrated Tupac’s killing, case closed, but recently Thaddeus Culpepper, Knight’s attorney, wrote that the label CEO has “known for many years that Reggie Wright Jr. and his ex-wife Sharitha were behind the murder of Tupac and attempted murder of Knight” to gain control of Death Row Records. What do you make of this?
I do have an opinion about the Suge thing, because we address it so much in the series, but I'm keeping quiet for now. This show is a six-parter, and we go so deeply down rabbit holes. We talk to people that have never been talked to before. We dig deep. We hit the streets. We hit the studios. Who Killed Tupac? is absolutely a must-see. It was one of the most intense things I’ve been involved in, research at a level I’ve never done, and there’s a danger to it. This is a case that hasn’t been solved in 21 years. But if it were Frank Sinatra, would it be unsolved? What’s the obstacle here? There’s a reason it’s unsolved, and there are people that don’t want it to be solved.
You sent some of your stories and 50 pages of Child of God to Garon-Brooke on a whim because you researched that it was the agency of John Grisham, the hottest writer at the time. They called the next day, which almost never happens, and within a week you had become their client. But although this happened superfast, you had held multiple “real-world” jobs before, and you didn’t get signed until you were 31. How was the experience of overnight success as a 31-year-old with a previously-traditional career?
When they called the next day, it freaked me out so bad. I was not prepared, and had technically lied in the cover story saying that I had written more stories than I had. But all through high school, I had these two great teachers that said, “You’re going to write the great American novel.” I knew I would be an author, but I wanted to go into the corporate world first and succeed as a woman. I would always tell them, though, “Don’t get too attached. I’m a writer, I’m going to blow this joint one day.” I had told so many people that I was going to be an author that when I got the call the next day, it was because I had spoken it into reality.
What do you mean you had spoken it into reality?
I firmly believe in speaking into reality the things you want. I got this philosophy from The Power of Positive Thinking, which is one of the books that really changed me overnight. Speaking something into reality is actualization through visualization — picture the thing, speak the thing. If you say it enough, it’s a subtle change that happens within you where you move toward that thing, whatever it is, and it moves toward you. And be prepared. Do the work. Be a reader, be a writer, study the craft, meet people, talk to people. Creatives can be introverts — I’m an introvert that comes across as an extrovert — but connect with people who are doing the things you want to do. Study the industry you want to be in. Study the things you want to do so when the opportunity presents itself — or you create it for yourself — you’re prepared.
What was it like to work with Kanye when he had the rights for Child of God?
Kanye had the rights for a while, and I remember we had like one phone call, and he was super passionate. He had these big ideas, and he wanted it to be big — He was very Kanye about it. I was shocked Child of God had even hit his radar, but he was so exuberant, and I was really floored by it. But, eventually, I got the rights back. I think I kind of want to spearhead it. And this book is bigger than me. I always say that it used me to get here, “She’ll do. I’ll pass through her.”
With the Black Lives Matter movement, the push for more black representation in the Oscars, Black Panther coming out with a mostly-black cast and crew, etc., how do you feel about the state of progress of representation for people of color and the social justice movement in general?
I’m happy to see that we are making good progress, and I’ve always been involved in seeing POC have more representation. In my book I would put my black characters in situations that people aren’t necessarily familiar seeing them in. It’s great to see that despite Hollywood having decided that this won’t work, the public shows that it can. Hollywood doesn’t have all of the answers. It’s important to have our faces and voices in all scenarios and all kinds of content. Seeing people who are like me impacted me very much creatively. Tara Mcmillon, Toni Morrison created a space for me. I grew up reading everything — when I read books about non-black characters, I didn’t have to look like them to connect with them, but the absence of people that look like us can have an impact because it fails to show that the human experience is the human experience. Reflecting the diversity of the world through representation in books, film, and media allows people to see that the human experience really is the human experience. I’ve also been working on projects with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. We need to keep pushing forward on all fronts.
Photo: Lolita Files by Bobby Quillard
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