For six seasons, Amin Joseph’s Uncle Jerome, affectionately known as Unc, was a light for Snowfall fans. Drug empire building aside, Jerome’s relationship with his nephew Franklin was a one-time family goal until it wasn’t, especially as him loving Louie got very complicated. Because of what he represented to so many, Unc’s death hit hard in episode 6. Then Joseph pulled at our heartstrings again, behind the camera directing episode 8, which had us on edge as we wondered if Franklin had finally met his demise.
As Snowfall heads into its tenth and final episode of a stellar six-season run, Joseph was gracious enough to answer a few burning questions about his role, on-and-off screen in the show the late John Singleton created, and its legacy.
EBONY: Why did Unc have to die?
Amin Joseph: Why did Unc have to die? That's a great question. To me the question is the answer. Why did Unc have to die? That means we care. That means it felt like a full body person portrayal of somebody that we would care about almost like a family member. And that's what we often say, when people pass, we go, ‘Why? Why them? Why that person?’ I'm happy that our audience can actually ask that question.
Was John Singleton on your mind as you directed episode 8 of the final season of his show?
We lost the late great John Singleton in season 3, so there's a circle of truth around me to get this right. And all of that was there. And I wasn't afraid to let my company and let the crew and the cast know exactly what we're doing this for and what we want to get out of this—he was at the forefront of my mind. I talk to John Singleton like an ancestor. I asked John Singleton for the answers, for the codes, for the intention, and the strength of coming in and completing and finishing his story. I’m just very intentional about this story and what it meant to him and what it meant to the other performers that have been with us for the last 7 years. John was with me every day, in every way. He was with me waking up out of my sleep with a new idea. It's all a part of the creative communication that we had even when he was here.
Can you explain Jerome and Louie’s relationship in the beginning and at the time of his death?
I know definitely from Angela's point of view of Louie, Louie was in a relationship where she wasn't living to her optimal and she was looked over and had to fight for her own autonomy; she had to fight for her own voice. For Jerome, the way the writing shifted was a challenge from how I originally conceived the character and the way that the world changed around Jerome. With that ebb and flow each season, I would take that at face value and just try to make sense of how he would be moving in this world, why he would perhaps be more docile than he was before, what would make him rise to anger at one point and not have that same reaction at another point. It was all part of the challenge of being a support system. Once Louie’s character started taking the reins of being the boss in the cocaine distributing business, it really took a pivot for me to make sure that I was a support system to her, very similar to how I was a support system to my nephew when he first started; and along with that, then it started to develop who I really was and the PTSD that I was dealing with and what would make me whole, what would give me autonomy of my own situation, rather than being tethered to the ambitions of other characters.
Talk about building Jerome’s bond with Franklin.
There's always been a paternal relationship there. Everyone knows that Alton wasn't around in the beginning of the series, and then you learn through exposition that he wasn't around when Franklin was younger as well because of substance abuse and things of that nature. He's an uncle, he's a patriarch in a sense to the Saint family. I just tried to latch on to that gregarious nature of someone that loves you that's not your dad. To be an uncle is a beautiful thing. In the best relationships we see an undying love. We see a person that'll die for you that isn't your parent. You see someone that is a mentor and someone that hopefully can impart wisdom. And I think that's what Unc was. I think Unc needed his nephew as much as his nephew needed him. I think it's a soul tie. I tried to infuse all of that into a character that was still a drug dealer and still probably a felon and still all of these labels that we could put on someone to dehumanize them.
How did Franklin and Unc get off track?
I feel like there was a great deal of love and admiration for Unc with his nephew, but I do think that his nephew had an ambition and a quest for power and respect that Jerome didn't have the same odor for. Louie had that same thing as well to me. Louie and Franklin mirror each other in a lot of ways, and Unc did not have that. He needs much simpler of a life. And I think that ultimately, it is that quest for power at all costs that separated him from his wife and his nephew. I feel that at the end he was really a man without a country, without a family, without any understanding of being caught in between. And the only person that probably understood him and could love him simply for who he was, was probably his sister.
What’s Snowfall’s legacy?
Because we're not finished yet, I think we have to wait to end this chapter and then we can look at it in its totality. But this is a story of how crack began, and we can all admit, even without us getting to the end, that this is a cautionary tale. This is not the glory of Cocaine Cowboys here. This is what happened to a community being destroyed. This is what happened to families. This is what happened to the people in the community that had to pick up the pieces and nurse people through their addictions, through incarceration. It’s really bleak what happened. This is a sad time for our nation and definitely for our communities.
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.