A King's Guide w/ Adetokumboh M'Cormack

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We’ve seen stories of kings told in many forms from the rise to fall, but there’s never been a story so gripping we could see how the family bond once existed had become the fragility for a country. The German King (directed by and starring Ade M’Cormack) takes these reigns of familial bonds, duty to one’s people, and the idea of legacy as King Rudolf Manga Bell, a Cameroonian king of the Duala people remembered for his rebellion against Kaiser Wilhelm II’s colonization at the start of World War I has his story unfold. Speaking with the director, he talks about how long he had this story to tell, the process of getting it made, and what he hopes future filmmakers can take away from it.  

Hello Mr. M’Cormack how are you doing, sir?

I’m good, thank you! How are you?

I’m great. I’m glad I was able to get ahold of you!

Yeah, I don’t think I could be on the phone while babysitting my nephew (laughs).

Oh, of course! African backgrounds. We all get it. (laughs)

You know!

How long have you been sitting on The German King as a story to tell the world?

I first had the idea in 2016. I just wasn’t seeing any positive images of Africans or Africa in films or in TV shows and I remember thinking I wanted to do something that represented the continent in a positive way, but I also realized it’s such a huge project and understood there was so much in getting the project off the ground. You have to find the right location, the right costumes, and I wanted to honor the memory of those who died during colonialism. I was very nervous to start the project because of it being an enormous task and I’m glad I finally did.

Did your previous work as an actor on Blood Diamond, Lost, NCIS, and Captain America: Winter Soldier provide insight to your work on the short film?

Definitely. I had the opportunity to work with several incredible directors, Ed Zwick on Blood Diamond and the Russo Bros. on Captain America, and I got to see how they could handle stories that were based on actual events and make it powerful, make it compelling, and leave the audience feeling like they learned something. I love watching my directors! Every time I’m back on set, I’m always studying the directors and studying the producers and seeing what they’re doing to create magic!

I remember Jeffrey Chernov (an executive producer on Battle: Los Angeles). I got to see how he could deal with a massive budget, locations all over Los Angeles, and I think that was my crash course in learning to be a director and producer while dealing with that subject matter.

What was the pivotal moment you realized now is the time to tell the story?

It was probably back in 2018. There was so much going on in society. First of all, things that had happened with people like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and I noticed there was a lack of respect for black people lives or people of color in general. Something in me was screaming “Tell a story that shows our lives need to matter and respected”. Once you show there is more that unites us than separates us and show the commonality that all we want is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, people will start respecting you for being a fellow human being. That’s where it came from.

The film was extraordinary and felt there was more to tell in the midst of the short film, what was it like researching for this story?

That was the hardest part because you look at what was happening in the early 1900s in the Congo with over 10 million under Leopold’s rule. Over 100,000 people had been killed. Genocide of African people. It was such an emotional thing, but I had to remember to honor their memories, but the story we worked out was about Rudolf and what he went through as well. It’s hard not to incorporate everyone’s story into one. It was a hard thing doing the research and seeing the effects of colonialism, the genocides, the concentration camps, and I know people don’t like using that word (laughs). It was very difficult to see the oppression and the subjugation under the African colonial rule, but it was good to know that I was telling that story and in some ways bringing justice.

I imagine you and the team took a gracious amount of time to bring this to light. Did you all speak cohesively about the subject matter and the like or was it between yourself and your producer, Raphael Corkhill?

I worked with a couple of these people before. I worked with Hannah Sturwold (editor of The German King) and she's just my go-to person about everything. She and I talked at length about how we wanted the pacing of the film, colors we wanted to use, locations, and then I created a look book. From there, I met with the rest of my core team, including Justin Janowitz (director of Photography for The German King) and he and I would discuss which colors to differentiate the locations. Cameroon had colors more gold and Germany was more blues, darker, and colder. We wanted to shoot Cameroon with natural light and candlelight and electricity for Germany. Next, I consulted my costume designer, Mahriama Suma, and she’s phenomenal. We have so many worlds in our film I wanted to use her clothes to showcase we are kings and queens and she made us feel like kings and queens. Of course, my production designer, Stephonika Kaye, she’s truly a genius. We made sure everything from the envelopes, the chairs, and set pieces were built from scratch just to make sure they were authentic and made you feel like you were in Germany or Cameroon in 1914.

As a fellow African, I confess this is inspiring to see stories of our people’s history become a part of Hollywood cinema. As this idea came together, what was the process you took or, to be specific, what struggles did you face whether it was directing, writing, or producing?

I met with a lot of people saying no and you can’t do this. When I hear no, I’m going to show you I can do this.

Honestly, the basic financing was tough because I think people don’t realize how expensive things can be. I’m thankful I had an Indiegogo campaign where people can contribute and having Pauley Perrette (NCIS) come on board and be a vision of the project as executive producer. We shot in Ohio in November and she had to make Ohio in the winter time look like summertime in Cameroon and in Germany. That was difficult when you would wake up and there is see snow on the floor. (laughs

Other things logistics-wise was one of our actors had missed his plane coming from Los Angeles and that’s when I had to put on my producer hat and really figure things out. Overall, everyone came together and helped make my vision and it made the project that much better.

The film’s message “Don’t let them erase who you are” stands strong as many Africans look forward, but sometimes forget to remember the past. How did that impact you when you were younger? Did your elders give you a similar message?

My mother would always tell me: Never forget who you are. She passed away around 10 years ago and, in some ways, this is my tribute to her. At the end of the day, I didn’t intentionally do this. I had a British upbringing and went to a private English school, but I don’t intentionally do this, but I didn’t feel like I had strong ties to being an African until later in life. I was ashamed of my name.

I went by Frederick for the longest time because I felt that my culture, my heritage was not as interesting. As I got older and started to embrace who I was, my color, language, and incredible history, I realized “Oh, wait a minute, we do come from kings and queens. We are a powerful, amazing and robust people”. I’m so happy I have embraced my heritage and am able to now show the world and a younger generation where they come from and who they are just to be proud of it. You can turn around and say I am worthy and that’s an important thing.  

What’s your biggest hope for the feature length version you’re currently developing? Is there a message you wish to send out to younger African audiences?

Imagine. I remember when I did my first film when I was 12 years old and many people would ask my father ‘What is your son doing?’ ‘Why are you letting your son be an actor?’ and my father just always supported me. Both my parents. They said if this is what he loves to do, then we will support him 100 percent. You don’t really see that among African parents. Growing up, I would watch movies like Braveheart and I would go “I want to be like William Wallace!”. (

I want to show the youth we don’t have to look outside our own continents to find heroes. The heroes are out there. There are many Rudolf Magna Bells who fought oppression. We do have people who are agents of change. We do have people that are self-sacrificing. Also, I want to show them it’s important to come up and speak out. You can use your voice to make a difference and I’m hoping this film shows them.

Fun Question: Which celebrity do you want to work with/work with again that you’d be able to beat in a game of chess?

(laughs) That’s a funny question. I would say Michelle Rodriguez (Fast and Furious franchise star, Battle: Los Angeles) and I will tell you why. When we worked together on Battle: Los Angeles, she was just always better than the rest of us. We’d have to wake up at 5 in the morning and she’d run that extra mile. She would be smarter than everyone. She was able to assemble and disassemble an M4 in 30 seconds, but I THINK, I think the one thing I could do better than her is beat her in chess!

Honestly, it was a great time speaking with you!

The German King is available online. M'Cormack currently is in the works toward a feature-length development and is being considered for a Oscar 2020 nomination. 

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