It’s a scary time to be a Black man or woman in America knocking on people’s doors.
“It’s always been crazy. Let’s be honest with ourselves,” says Idris Elba, whose latest film No Good Deed ironically features a brother knocking on a woman’s door for help after a car accident. “You know, Black men go through this. People go through this all day every day. And I think in recent times we’re seeing it in the media in a big way.”
Just last week in Detroit, Theodore Wafer—a White man—was sentenced to 17-32 years in prison for the second-degree murder of 19-year-old Renesha McBride. After crashing her car in a middle class, predominantly White neighborhood, McBride knocked on Wafer’s door at 4:30am looking for a help. Wafer, who later claimed he believed his home was about to be robbed, grabbed a shotgun and fatally shot McBride in the face through his screen door.
That tragic story echoes the 2013 death of Jonathan Ferrrell. After surviving a car accident, the 24-year-old, former Florida A&M football player banged on the nearest door pleading for help. The owner, a single woman home alone with her child, called 911 reporting that someone was trying to break down her door. When an officer arrived on scene, he approached Ferrell before shooting at him 12 times. Ten of those bullets mortally wounded Ferrell. (In January, Kerrick was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. This only came after a previous jury found him not guilty.)
“It’s kinda scary isn’t it?,” Elba says, pondering the reports. “It’s kinda scary what’s going on.”
The irony is that the character Idris plays in No Good Deed gives a twisted form of support to the “fears” some may face when a late night stranger comes knocking. But the timing of the movie’s release all seems like a coincidence. Still, the script was finished in 2011; filming began in 2012.
Yet like recent news events, No Good Deed is a horror. And Elba’s role is one we haven’t seen him play before: deranged serial killer. Handsome chiseled features and sarcastic wit hide the calculating rage of a sadistic murderer with an adrenaline-rushed need for vengeful blood. His welcoming smile and seemingly helpful personality allow Colin (Elba) to momentarily win the trust of Terry (Taraji P. Henson), who plays a lonely unsuspecting housewife home alone with her children.
Yes, it all sounds quite stereotypical like the ending is predictable. But it’s not. And for Elba, this tiny slice of art imitates the kind of real life decision he might make for himself when it comes to answering doors and letting in those he doesn’t know.
“I’m one of these people that would say, ‘OK, I don’t know who you are, but you look like you need some help.’ So I would probably try to help you out. That’s my nature,” says Elba, who serves as executive producers of No Good Deed along with Henson. “And truly in the past I’ve been burnt by that sort of thing before. I’ve tried to help people and they burnt me. But it’s a sad, sad time we can’t trust each other as much anymore.
But in the film, Taraji Henson’s unsuspecting character does naively trust Idris enough to let him in.”
“It’s entertainment. Let’s be honest,” says Elba. “We are trying to take people on a thrill ride and make a movie that is not the obvious choice which is comedy or romance. This is a psychological thriller that’s designed for adults to just go along and be like, ‘What the..?’ ”
In the end, some who see No Good Deed will be surprised. But behind the fluff of Hollywood fiction and a star-studded cast lies a timely reality that casually lurks during a few dark, familiar, minutes when Elba crashes his truck and approaches Taraji’s home looking for help. It all slightly mimics frightening realities of injustice that span the nation, when an African-American is placed in the vulnerable position of having to knock on someone’s door for help.
“We all have a position and we just have to understand that,” says Elba. “When it comes to raising my children, I definitely want to explain to them that not everybody’s going to love you. And therefore, you just have to keep your eyes open. That’s just very true. Whether you’re Black or White… keep their eyes open in this day and age.”
Raqiyah Mays is a seasoned writer, TV and radio personality. Her debut novel, The Man Curse, will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @RaqiyahMays.