by Zenobia Abudu-Abrams and Cayla Lamar, VOX ATL Teen Staff
Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay’s new limited series on Netflix, “Colin in Black & White,” has taken the streaming charts by storm. The show is a direct insight into how Colin Kaepernick became the football player and activist we know today. This series covers everything from growing up in a white household to the microaggressions Kaepernick faced. Earlier this month on a Zoom call, VOX ATL got the opportunity to sit down with Jaden Michael, the Gen Z actor who portrayed a young Kaepernick!
Only 18 years old, Jaden Michael is living proof of the places hard work and dedication can take you. Jaden is a native New Yorker, born in 2003 to a Dominican mother and African American father. No stranger to the screen, Jaden has been acting since he was 6 years old and is quite notably known for his roles in “Vampires vs. the Bronx” and the film “Wonderstruck.” As a high school senior, Jaden works hard to balance his school life while maintaining a flourishing acting career, making it clear that he can accomplish anything with dedication and focus.
In our interview, Jaden discussed his process and the various research he did to prepare for his role. Jaden wanted to mimic Kaepernick in any way possible to bring this role to life. Jaden shared with us how he used archival footage of Colin Kaepernick to understand the ways in which the star grew up over time. In an interview on”The Drew Barrymore Show,” Jaden revealed how he strategically changed his posture by hunching or straightening his shoulders to depict a different age. Jaden also used a dialect coach to better recreate Colin “finding his voice” throughout his younger years.
However, not all parts of Jaden’s preparation could be taught from a coach or found in footage. When asked about his most difficult challenge in preparing to play the young Kaepernick, Jaden shared with VOX ATL a short anecdote relating to the scene in which he’s pulled over by the police. Jaden told us he wanted this moment to be as “authentic and real” as possible. He spoke with a friend of his mother’s who shared an experience of being brutally attacked by a group of intoxicated police officers for no reason, and with no repercussions for the attackers. “He still has the scars to this day,” he told us. Jaden says that this difficult story helped him truly understand the “shock and horror of being confronted by the police in that way” and helped him do the scene justice.
He also spoke about adapting to different shooting styles depending on who was directing a specific episode of “Colin in Black & White” (directors on the series included Ava DuVernay, Robert Townsend and Kenny Leon): “Every time you work with another creator, everyone has their own style and finesse that they add to each project. As an actor, you have to learn how to adapt to different styles, especially as a lead on a project. It was a challenge on ‘Colin’ because almost every episode was directed by a different director.”
Although he prepared a lot for this role, Jaden spoke about growing up as a biracial teen in America and how he could already relate to a lot of Kaepernick’s experiences. He recalled a time when he was first starting out and he auditioned for a role. His competition was a young white boy who jumped on tables and screamed to the top of his lungs. Recalled Jaden: “He then went on to get the role, and I blamed myself for a long time. But as time goes on and you mature, you realize that maybe it wasn’t my fault.” Jaden says he related this experience to the second episode of “Colin in Black & White” when high schooler Kaepernick gets denied the chance to play on the varsity team football, even though he was more than capable.
Though his role as young Colin is a major milestone in his career, it’s not his first time shooting with Netflix. He had a role in the 1970s-set show “The Get Down” and “Vampires vs. The Bronx.” “In ‘The Get Down,’ I wasn’t the lead and it was a much bigger production and also there was no COVID,” he said laughing. “[Executive producer and director] Baz Luhrmann had a very fast-paced but perfectionist directing style and Ava’s a more objective-driven director.”
Still a senior in high school, Jaden balances his acting career with a heavy load of AP classes, ACT prep, and college applications to the Ivy League universities of his dreams. Jaden is currently applying to Harvard, Yale, and Juilliard, and is passionate about studying law in the future. When asked how he manages it all, Jaden shares, “Balancing what you’re passionate about with school is difficult but it is definitely possible. I actually got some good news from Harvard today! I got an interview for my application process, which is super cool.” Sometimes, he says, he has “no life” but understands the importance of dedication and focus in making his dreams come true and creating a real impact.
Whether he’s portraying roles in “The Get Down,” “Colin in Black and White,” and more, Jaden makes it clear that his passion lies in telling empowering stories for communities and individuals just like him. His most recent project is the new TV series, “Harlan Coben’s “Shelter,” streaming on Amazon, in which he plays the lead.
Based on the roles Jaden Michael has centered his career around so far, we can expect to see him on screen creating even more representation for young people of color in the future.