by Lyndsey Beaulieu
It’s no secret that the writers of ‘Treme’ are known for blurring the lines between truth and fiction, often getting people to reenact their life stories. This week, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) loses one of his students to gun violence -- a story tragically rooted in reality. New Orleanians will recall this past May, when two 15-year-old students, a boyfriend and a girlfriend, were shot and killed three days apart. The young man, Brandon Adams, was shot and killed while leaving a neighborhood basketball court on a Friday night. His girlfriend, Christine Marcelin, who was with Brandon the night he was killed, was found dead from gunshot wounds the following Monday. Living in a city like New Orleans, these stories are a common theme on the nightly news. Christine and Brandon were good kids, eighth graders at KIPP Believe with aspirations of graduating high school and one day going to college. Camryn Jackson, the young actress who plays Batiste’s music student, Cherise, was friends with Brandon and Christine, whom she knew since they were in the 6th grade together. Camryn spoke at the candlelight vigil remembering her friends, and as difficult as it might have been, she did a good job recreating their story on ‘Treme.’
I spoke with Camryn recently, and was struck by how smart, poised and eloquent she was when talking about her connection to the story and what it was like portraying it on the show. “I was more nervous and scared in the real situation when I spoke at the vigil,” she says. “I had never felt what they felt and I wanted to say the right things.”
At the start of Season 4, the writers and producers approached Camryn about depicting Brandon and Christine’s story. “I thought putting it out there was better than being quiet about it. Christine Marcelin deserves to be seen as a real person, not just another death.”
Camryn’s heaviest acting scene this week is with Wendell Pierce. Like his character, Wendell took the time to teach Camryn in the scene, actor to actor. “He coached me through it, told me the scene had to be real and to think of something that makes me sad and use that emotion in the scene,” says Camryn. “That was easy to do because I lived it.”
That’s the troubling part for me -- that imagining something as horrific as the murder of two of your 15-year-old friends doesn’t require much imagination. Many young black kids in New Orleans won’t live to see their 18th birthday. If they do, there’s a strong chance they’ll know someone who won’t.