Directing duo Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah became fast friends when they met at MTV and later business partners, co-founding Creative Control, a production and talent development company. ‘Coodie & Chike’ made their directorial debut with Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” video in late 2003. Since, they’ve worked with John Legend, Gil Scott Heron, Erykah Badu and many more.
Coodie, a prodigy of Chicago’s South Side, remembers a childhood when he couldn’t go anywhere because there were gangs, the Mickey Cobras and the Black Stone Rangers, and White racists at every corner. Chike, a native of New Orleans, moved to New York after graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to start a career in motion design and graphics.
In late 2012, ESPN 30 for 30 Series debuted their documentary Benji, which recalls the tragic act of violence against a talented basketball player, Ben Wilson, who was senselessly murdered in 1984 at age 17 on the streets of South Side, Chicago.
Coodie & Chike share their perspective….
Why is the documentary Benji important for the time we live in?
Coodie: I was in the seventh grade when Ben Wilson died. It was amazing because there was a time when you couldn’t go anywhere. In Chicago, it’s segregated. I couldn’t go three blocks this way because of the Black Stones and I couldn’t go that way because of the Mickey Cobras. I couldn’t go across the tracks because of the White people would try to kill me. So, I couldn’t go anywhere. But when Ben Wilson died in 1984, the gangs came to a truce and it was like I could move around anywhere. I was like you know what’s going on in Chicago, if we make this film maybe they would get the same feeling that we got back when Ben Wilson died and it will be a piece around Chicago. Wilson died as a result of a bump-into incident and both Wilson and Billy Moore [also a teen at the time he murdered Wilson] could have walked away but they didn’t. It was about not being a “punk” and the choice that Billy made changed his life. I wanted the kids to see that you got to make the right choices in life. You can’t let your anger and your temper get the best of you. You got to think before you act.
Chike: There are different cultures we want to impact in different ways when they watch the film. We have our culture and issues that we are dealing with. And, there is the message to other cultures on how we want them to perceive our culture to gain a better understanding. I feel in society today there is a lot of ignorance that exists. The things we don’t understand about each other leaves us hating each other and actually keep us from truly understanding one another, creating peace between cultures and evolving as one human race.
Professionally, we have elevated from the ranks of only producing music videos and progressed to feature films. We need to ask executive producers and directors in Hollywood to look at our projects we created and how well we’ve executed them. We are showing you we are capable of producing feature films and executing at a high level. We are going to do it regardless of whether there’s and investment in it and we are going to keep doing it until we do it ourselves. We just want people to see the potential that we have to actually reach our goals of doing feature films.
As creators and critical thinkers, what would you like to ask of the community so we can evolve as one human race?
Coodie: I am asking the community to think before you move and think before you act.
Chike: I am asking the community to pull together, look around each other and help each other out. I think the most important thing a community can do is realize that there’s strength in numbers and figure out a way to come together and help each other out so that everybody can be on top.