Wednesday, June 8, actor Jussie Smollett posted a picture to Twitter informing fans that he will play poet Langston Hughes in the coming Reginald Hudlin directed Thurgood Marshall biopic, Marshall. Open Road Films recently acquired U.S. rights to the film. It features Chadwick Boseman as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The film is being produced with the full support of Marshall’s estate, including Marshall’s son, John W. Marshall.
While it will take some time for the film to hit the big screen, fans were already awestruck by Smollett’s striking resemblance to the poet. He captioned the photo, “Had to go butt faced to be #LangstonHughes in #Marshall. Thank you @reghud for the opportunity. It’s been a dream.”
Many wonder if the actor and poet have more in common. See five things Jussie Smollett and Langston Hughes have in common below.
- What’s in a name? Jussie Smollett may have been born to play Langston Hughes. His middle name is Langston. The “Empire” actor’s full name is Jussie Langston Mikha Smollett. Interestingly, according to babycenter.com, Langston means “A Long, Narrow Town.” The name is noted as being #587 in baby naming popularity.
- Two middle names: As noted above, Smollett has two middle names. The same is true for Hughes, whose full name is James Mercer Langston Hughes. Hughes got his long list of names from his parents. His father’s name was James Nathaniel Hughes. His mother’s name was Carrie Mercer Langston.
- Out and proud: Both Smollett and Hughes are men who love men. In 2015, Jussie Smollett came out of the closet in a backstage interview with Ellen DeGeneres. He said, “There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in.” In line with the times, Hughes never came out concerning his sexualty; however, it is widely agreed upon by biographers and academics that he was gay. Many say he included gay code words in his poems.
- Black power. Both Smollett and Hughes are activists. Smollett has been quite outspoken about HIV/AIDS awareness. While campaigning for awareness earlier this year, he said, “We get attached to these hashtags and it becomes this social media fad … But it’s almost as if HIV/AIDS stopped being the thing to talk about before social media came around. We’ve gotta bring that back because we’re not done.” He’s also been active in the Black Lives Matter movement and an advocate for the LGBT community.Hughes’ history as an activist requires little introduction. The Harlem Renaissance poet is heralded for creating the very words African Americans used to describe the marginalization and disenfranchisement they faced in America during the early 1900s. His jazz poetry highlighted realistic images of the hardships people of color faced. Most noted is his poem “Harlem,” commonly referred to as “A Dream Deferred,” where he writes, “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore–/And then run?…”
- Perseverance: Both Hughes and Smollett are gritty Black men. Both men lived their lives during times when being Black and gay places them at the bottom of the social barrel in America. In addition to these obstacles, which included much criticism when he came out of the closet when “Empire” was the top rated show in America, Smollet lost his father, Joel Smollett Sr., who died after a battle with cancer the same day “Empire” premiered on television. Smollett shared the news on Instagram and wrote, “my family lost our king, but we gained a righteous angel.”Hughes was born in Missouri in 1902. Throughout his life, he traveled to Cuba and Mexico to escape the racism he faced in his home country. He found a way out through reading and writing. In his autobiography The Big Sea, he wrote, “I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books — where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.”