For his second chapter, basketball Hall of Famer Kevin “KG” Garnett is working to update the Blaxploitation genre for a new generation. Along with Village Roadshow Entertainment Group and iconic director/producer Oz Scott, Garnett, through his Content Cartel production company, has helped launch Black Noir Cinema airing on Tubi, which is evolving into a hub for Black film. And first up is Cinnamon starring Hailey Kilgore, perhaps best known as Jukebox on Power Book III: Raising Kanan, David Iacono from The Summer I Turned Pretty, Jeremie Harris from Fargo and The Get Down with film icon Pam Grier and the legendary Damon Wayans.

Written and directed by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. in his solo feature film debut, Cinnamon gets going when a gas station robbery and murder go down during Jodi Jackson’s watch. Both the missing money and homicide are connected to a crime family led by Mama, who is mute and wears all black. She is who Jodi’s boss Wally, who presumably owns the gas station, answers to. Violence is very much the language she and her trigger-happy son James speak. Their eagerness to get to the bottom of the crime puts Jodi, an aspiring singer, and her boyfriend Eddie very much in harm’s way.

Speaking in person at the plush Pendry Manhattan West the day after the film’s world premiere at Tribeca, with Wayans joining in via Zoom from Los Angeles, seventies icon Grier dishes that she signed up for Cinnamon for “the eloquence of the writing, the textures, the authenticity, the vibe, the beats, and the fact that they said Damon Wayans was going to be in it.”

“The characters just kind of jumped off the page,” explains Wayans. “And then when I talked with Bryian Montgomery, he had this really clear vision of what he wanted and what it was going to be. You know, you want to trust somebody like that. And then he said, ‘Pam Grier,’” he smiles, “and I was like, ‘yeah, okay, you had me at Pam Grier.’”

Playing Mama was a challenge Grier relishes. “You don't know if she's impaired, or that she doesn't speak because of trauma, or she was born not being able to speak, which is a great mystery for her to have,” shares the Jackie Brown star. “She's physically disabled; she's gone through a lot, and she wants to be not invisible.” Grier believes that the fear or the respect she elicits is how she achieves this.

Pam Grier as Mama. Image: Zac Popik/ FOX For Tubi.

Although Mama is a crime boss of sorts, Grier finds threads of many people she’s encountered in her life reflected through her. “I put together a composite of women I had seen, people I knew and met in the beauty shop, and at church," she says. "I came up with some inner core anger, something that would give her the strength, without spoiling the [film], to show some physicality that is scary, frightening.”

Wally speaks in a unique voice and thinks he is slick. Seeing a commercial from a car salesman in South Carolina, Wayans says, “helped me crystallize who this character was. That’s where I got the accent, the voice from.”

Because Mama helped raise Wally, he has a mix of love and fear for Mama “It scares me when someone doesn’t talk. You never know what they’re thinking,” Wayans explains. “They say if you’re missing one of your senses, your other senses are heightened.” And this, he implies, is how Wally views Mama.

For Wayans, Wally isn't much different from any of the other characters. “Everybody wants something that they shouldn’t have in this movie,” he explains. 

A bit of an oddball with a unique fashion sense that the In Living Color star explains is "a bit of a blast from the past. What he thinks is fly is not really fly; he’s country. When he dresses up, to him, this is it. He should be in the players’ ball."

Grier, however, does see his charm. “Wally was fine,” she chimes in. “He made a little money. He [looked] like new money, and his suit fit him like skin. He was all that. I love seeing Wally on screen.”

In contrast, Mama wears only black and for Grier, it’s a practical decision “to hide the dirt . . . she probably spills [things on herself] a lot, so it covers the stains.”

Both Grier and Wayans, whose careers span 55 and 40 years respectively, enjoyed collaborating with Montgomery and the younger cast.  “It's so refreshing to work with some new energy, especially the next generation,” Damon Wayans says. “They tell you what you mean to them, and it's like, I'm just here to be of service”

“I won’t forget the experience," Grier says. "It's been really phenomenal.”

Catch Cinnamon on Tubi.