Actor Jay Ellis Talks New Film, ‘Like Cotton Twines,” And African Traditions

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Actor Jay Ellis Prepares For Breakout Role in New Film, Like Cotton Twines

Leila Djansi’s new feature film Like Cotton Twines transports us to Ghana to examine the power of tradition, community, heritage, and even how Westerners react when faced head on with modern day slavery.  The film, staring actor Jay Ellis, which has been making the rounds at such major film festivals as the L.A. Film Festival, is readying for release this month.

Here’s the storyline: An eager American volunteer, Micah (Jay Ellis), heads off to teach in his mother’s homeland in Ghana. He becomes impressed with one of his students Tuigi (Ophelia Dzidzornu), who is a smart 14-year-old girl who enjoys her studies. The problem is that Tuigi’s family must pay for a fatal accident committed by her father. And under local religious customs, Tuigi must give up her education and be offered up as a Trokosi, a form of slavery. Yes, a sex slave. Micah is besides himself—does he battle against tribal culture and the state or accept tradition.

It was quite a role for Jay Ellis to tackle—not that he hasn’t been flexing his acting skills. Ellis, who was born in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1981, has been featured in shows such as “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” (2008), “Millionaire Matchmaker” (2008), “How To Look Good Naked” (2008), and on the new MTV series “Hired!” which premiered Spring 2010.

Jay started out as a model before entering acting. A military brat, who grew up as an only child traveling the globe—from Germany to the Philippines, began a modeling career with Mode Models International. In 2004, he was booked for his very first modeling gig for Air Jordan Brand after he met the shoe designer at a Nike event in Portland. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Jay went on to model for Ford Models, and being featured in ad campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch, Diesel, The Gap.

Parlé Mag interviews Jay about Like Cotton Twines, Ghana, Hollywood diversity and much more.

Parlé Mag:  How would you best describe your experience working on Like Cotton Twines?
Jay Ellis:  It was definitely an experience that I will never forget. Everyday there was something beautiful to take in. Whether it be fabric, food, tradition, school children singing, or the landscape. I’m grateful for every moment I had there. I feel like I learned so much about myself through learning so much about the Ghanaian culture.”

Jay Ellis
Jay Ellis in a scene from ‘Like Cotton Twines’ film

Parlé Mag:
 Tell me about your character, Micah Brown?
Jay Ellis:  Micah is a man in search of himself, in search of his ancestry and in search of humanity. After losing his mother and hearing her stories of visiting Ghana, he decides to teach English in a small Ghanaian village. While there he begins to fall in love with the culture and just as things are going well one of his students, Tuigi, is forced into slavery and becomes property of a shrine. Micah pushes to get the people around him to see Tuigi as a human with rights, a young girl that should be protected not exploited, and not just as property. Overtime Micah finds himself through his fight for Tuigi’s freedom and rights. Her persistence to take her G.R.E. exams, even though she is a slave, is inspiring to Micah and motivates him to continue to fight and make a change not only for Tuigi but for other slaves and servants.

Parlé Mag:  Had you visited Africa prior to this film?
Jay Ellis:  I have visited Africa. I got the opportunity to travel to South Africa for a week just before I started filming Like Cotton Twines on location in Ghana. We filmed for a little over three weeks in Ghana and got a chance to travel all over the country while filming. The experience was surreal. Almost spiritual.

The textures, colors, smells, food, landscapes… everything was unbelievably beautiful. The traditions and cultures are hundreds of years old and being able to witness it firsthand is like nothing I think I’ll ever be able to truly explain with words.

Parlé Mag:  What was the most surprising aspect of doing this film?
Jay Ellis:  From a material meets real world aspect it was finding out that Trokosi and similar practices are still happening to hundreds of thousands of women all over the world.

Parlé Mag:  Do you feel moviegoers are eager to see more diversity on the screen?
Jay Ellis:  I do. The proof is in the numbers. Statistically, films with diverse cast were among the best performing and most talked about films of 2015 and that trend is continuing this year. I think we all want to be able to relate or root for someone we identify with when we watch a film and having a diverse cast allows everyone to be represented and feel a part of the fantasy they are watching on screen.

Parlé Mag:   What’s up next for you?
Jay Ellis:  I’m currently filming a new series created by Issa Rae called “Insecure” for HBO. It’ll be premiere this coming fall.

Parlé Mag:  What do you enjoy the most about acting?
Jay Ellis:  I love finding a way to get into characters that are nothing like me. I love the challenge of thinking a character’s thoughts and walking in their shoes. But the best part is the moment someone walks up to you in the streets and tells you your work inspired them or made them change their perspective on something. I think that is the true power of film and TV.


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