Reel Black List: Pemon Rami, Chicago film legend

Pemon Rami

Pemon Rami

Meet the man
who has worked with
Cab Calloway, Chaka Khan,
Angela Bassett, John Belushi,
Aretha Franklin,
James Earl Jones,
Sammy Davis Jr., and more

Pemon Rami is an international film producer, theatre director, arts administrator, historian, lecturer, and consultant who wields one of the most impressive film pedigrees in Chicago and beyond.

The features and TV programs that have relied on Rami’s casting direction expertise include Blues Brothers, Mahogany, Cooley High, The Spook Who Sat By The Door, Welcome To Success (the Marva Collins Story), and One In A Million.

Rami began his career in 1968 as Associate Director of the South Side Center for the Performing Arts. In 1971, he became director of the Kuumba Workshop, and from 1973 to 1979, he was Artistic / Managing Director of the Lamont Zeno Theatre. In 1987, Rami co-founded Mixed Media Productions, a company that produced independent theatrical, video, multi-image, and film projects.

Along the way, he served as Managing / Artistic Director for the Phoenix Black Theatre Troupe and General Manager for Marla Gibbs Crossroads National Education and Entertainment Complex in Los Angeles.

From 2011 to 2016, Mr. Rami was director of education and public programs for the DuSable Museum of African American History, and he co-executive produced Stories From The Soul, a weekly television series for the Black Family channel.

In 2012, Pemon produced the Warner Brothers Home Video feature film Of Boys and Men, starring Angela Bassett, Robert Townsend, and Victoria Rowell.

In 2016, he produced 93 Days a feature film starring Bimbo Akintola and Danny Glover shot in Lagos, Nigeria.

Based on actual events, 93 Days tells the story of the men and women who risked their lives to save the citizens of Nigeria — and people around the world — from the consequences of the outbreak of the highly dreaded Ebola Virus Disease.

Among the honours bestowed upon Mr. Rami are the Black Harvest Film Festival’s Deloris Jordan Award, the Chicago Defender’s 50 Men of Excellence Award, and City Council Proclamations from Detroit and Los Angeles.

93 Days | TRAILER


What was your first break? My first break in television was when I was cast in the PBS soap opera Bird of the Iron in 1969. My film break came when I received a phone call from author of the novel The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Sam Greenlee who offered me the opportunity to play the role of Shorty Duncan which he informed me he wrote with me in mind. This role led me to meeting Issac Hayes who had seen the film and referred me to Motown / Berry Gordy to provide Chicago casting for Mahogany. In addition, I was cast for a role in the film.

Worst thing that ever happened to you to remind you that you are Black? When I was a child, my father often took our little league baseball team, “The Rockets,” to Comiskey Park to see the Sox as well as Negro league teams play. I still remember the games played by the Indianapolis Clowns, the baseball version of the Harlem Globe Trotters, at Comiskey. Our baseball caps where red with a large white R in the middle. Boy, was I proud to wear that uniform every time we went to see a game. In the summer of 1959, while the White Sox were playing for the World Series, I was turning nine. One Saturday afternoon, my father took a small group of us (all eight- or nine-years-old) to the game. Following a White Sox exciting win, he decided to take us to the small park that was located west of the Comiskey Park in the Bridgeport community where then-Mayor Richard J. Daley lived. As usual, we had on our uniforms and with our baseball gloves and we played catch, ran bases, and hit balls while imagining we were the White Sox. A crowd of white adults and teenagers began to gather around the park. At first, we thought they were just watching us play, until they began to jeer, calling us niggers and demanding that we get out of their park and back to the ghetto! More people from the neighborhood began coming out of their houses to join in with bats and bricks! My father gathered us into a tight huddle as they began throwing at us, and we began to run for the safety of Stateway Gardens Housing development, where we lived across the Dan Ryan freeway from the ball park! We ran, ran for our lives, as the hatred followed. We barely escaped without harm but as an eight-year-old, I wondered what we had done to them that was so bad? As I reflect back on 1959, it amazes me that to this day Chicago remains one of the most racially segregated cities in America!

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are Black? I am reminded daily that I’m Black and I don’t see that as a negative. I am reminded by the rhythm of our people, the spirit of our ancestors, and the promise of our children. I have been blessed to be feature on a number of magazine covers and highlighted in numerous books and articles however, driving through Lagos, Nigeria and seeing my name on a large billboard was pure joy.

Work you are most proud of? I am most proud of the mentoring I have done over the years of hundreds of teenagers and young adults which at last count was over 800. I am also proud of the classic feature films I had the opportunity to be involved with including: The Spook Who Sat By The Door, The Blues Brothers, Cooley High, Mahogany, and Uptown Saturday Night. I am also grateful to have been nominated for an African Academy Award and the African People’s Choice Award for the feature film I produced in Nigeria titled, 93 Days. I am also proud to have worked with: Angela Bassett, John Belushi, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., James Earl Jones, Chaka Khan, Danny Glover, Cicely Tyson, Gladys Knight, Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Stevie Wonder, Steven Spielberg, Robert Townsend, Chance the Rapper, James Brown, Gale Sayers, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas and Nancy Wilson to name a few.

How has the business changed since you broke in? When I began in the industry in the late 60’s there were very little opportunities for African Americans in film or television and, as such, few African Americans had film experience. There were limited facilities for training outside of formal institutions and many of the instructors had limited actual experience with making films.

Trapped on an island, what essentials must you have? My laptop and a SLR camera.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? If I had the opportunity to talk to my past self I would say stay on the same path but focus more on developing financial resources! I would also tell myself to document everything and date it including the year! As I review historic records a lot of the material have dates but not the year.

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? I would have a one on one with the Honorable Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914. The UNIA is the largest organized mass movement in black history. By 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members. August 1, 1920, the International Convention of the UNIA was held with delegates from all over the world attending, 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden to hear Garvey speak. The UNIA also held its second international convention in 1921 where Garvey attracted more than 50,000 people to the event and in his cause. Mr. Garvey was able to organize a mass movement in the 1920’s without the assistance of social media or TV coverage. I would really like to talk to him about how he accomplished such a feat!

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