Jay Young, right, the owner of Jay’s Barbecue, shares a moment with Isaiah Washington inside of the West Side restaurant on Dec. 13. | Shanel Romain

The actor Isaiah Washington was in Chicago last week to promote his new film “Corsicana,” which he co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in. The famous actor is well-known for his straight-postured confidence and the competent characters he plays on films and shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Crooklyn.”

What’s less known about the actor is that he grew up in North Houston, a place not much different from the West Side. Washington let that be known during a visit to Jay’s Barbecue, 5604 W. Division St., on Dec. 14. Washington’s publicist, West Side native Veronica “Vee” Harrison, introduced the actor to the popular restaurant.

“It was important for me to see where Vee grew up,” he said. “The trippy thing is this community is like where I grew up. If I look out that window, this is North Houston. I see it, I know, I survived it.

LaShonda Lacklane, middle, spots Washington inside of Jay’s. Washington’s publicist is West Side native Vee Harrison, right. | Shanel Romain

“I don’t have a problem moving in and out of it because I recognize it,” Washington said. “And I’m here because I want to empower those to show that it’s possible to change your existence and circumstances. It’s possible. I became an actor because of “She’s Gotta Have It” [Spike Lee’s 1986 film]. I saw all of these beautiful brown, melanated people and I said to myself ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I want people to feel good about being black.”

Washington brings that exuberance for Black life to “Corsicana,” a film that depicts Bass Reeves — a man who was formerly enslaved before becoming a U.S. marshal and a important figure in 1800s Oklahoma — as he tracks down a ruthless gang in Corsicana, Texas.

“When you see Bass Reeves, you don’t necessarily see a Black man, you see a man who is empowered,” Washington said. “There’s a difference and he’s not assassinated at the end of the movie. He’s helping people under federal law. This is man who arrested 3,000 criminals and most of them were white or less melanated.”

Washington said he became enthralled by Reeves after having a conversation about a woman who had been trying to produce the film.

The actor Isaiah Washington stopped by Jay’s Barbecue in Austin on Dec. 13 to talk about his new film, “Corsicana,” about the legendary Black U.S. marshal Bass Reeves. | Shanel Romain

“She got caught in a situation where she had a director who had been spending her money for four months,” Washington said. “She thought she could trust the producers to get her content done the way she wanted it done. By the time she found out that none of that was happening, I showed up in Corsicana and wanted to have a conversation about how we can change the narrative because the Bass Reeves [the producers] had in their movie was not based on my research and is not in alignment with who he was.”

Washington said he volunteered to direct the film “because I didn’t want people to lose their jobs” and he had already been in Corsicana for five days and done a month’s worth of research.

“So, I was already pregnant with Bass Reeves,” he said. “I probably got a total of 48 hours sleep in 21 days of shooting. I don’t remember much of it. I just felt like I was anointed by God to tell this story, to tell the truth. They had no choice but to let me tell the truth because they would’ve lost everything.” 

“Corsicana” premiered Dec. 14 at the Showplace Icon Theatre.

CONTACT: shanel@growingcommunitymedia.org