Mayor of Kingstown: Tobi Bamtefa on Trust, Corruption & Racism Themes

Tobi Bamtefa (Feel Good, Tin Star) is giving an electric performance as Deverin 'Bunny' Washington in Mayor of Kingstown, Academy Award nominee Taylor Sheridan's follow up to Paramount+'s smash drama Yellowstone. Mayor of Kingstown tackles themes of systemic racism, corruption, and inequality. The story follows the McLusky family, power brokers in Kingstown, Michigan where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry. Serving as a flawed system of checks and balances in this community forgotten by society is Jeremy Renner, as the titular mayor.  The 10-episode series provides a stark look at his attempt to bring order and justice to a town that has neither. 

Mayor of Kingstown: Tobi Bamtefa on Trust, Corruption & Racism Themes
Pictured: Tobi Bamtefa as Bunny of the Paramount+ series MAYOR OF KINGSTOWN. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller ViacomCBS ©2021 Paramount+, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

"Mayor of Kingstown" features themes of systematic racism, corruption, and inequality. Bamtefa shares his reaction to reading the script for the first time. 

Tobi Bamtefa: What particularly resonated was the depth of humanity with each character and how that humanity plays out on the page. When you look at the overview of it and you break it down, you're looking at people who are forced to live in very stressful, extraneous circumstances. Racism being one of them, but it was much deeper than that. You see the money, you see the emotional strength it takes to, first of all, create something like this and also to be able to tell it in a way that isn't contrived, or is didactic the right word? It's not really telling you this is the right way to be, it's not judgmental. These are human beings and this is what's happening where they live. The people we're watching are people who are very well aware of the circumstances that they're in, which sort of puts a whole different spin on it. It looks at everything from a very human perspective. My character, for example, looks at his position in the world. He looks at how he's treated in the world, he looks at his desires and what he wishes in the world. I get really emotional trying to explain it, but it's just that level of depth that is excavated with each character in the show that allows you to see the full effects of themes like racism, themes like mass incarceration, themes like sexual abuse, drug abuse, things like that. It gives you a very microscopic view of humans in these situations. But that's what I love about it, to be honest with you, that.

mayor of kingstown
Pictured: Jeremy Renner as Mike and Tobi Bamtefa as Bunny of the Paramount+ series MAYOR OF KINGSTOWN. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller ViacomCBS ©2021 Paramount+, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bamtefa also spoke about the trust between Mitch (Kyle Chandler) and Mike (Renner) McKlusky, his character Bunny, and how they work together in Kingstown.

TB: One of the things I understood from it is that when you're coming into this world, you are coming this way. It's an already established ecosystem. So Bunny, being in the position that he's in, it's a position that has certain benefits. It's also a position that has a lot of responsibility. That being said, the Mayor of Kingstown is also the guy who facilitates all that. In order for there to be peace in this world, there has to be some sort of mutual trust. It might be a very tenuous one in that you don't necessarily trust what's happening or you might not entirely trust what the other person is saying. There is always that risk of betrayal, but it's the ecosystem that they live in. You have to take people with a pinch of salt. So with the relationship between the two of them, Bunny and the Mayor of Kingston, I would say it's one of tenuous trust coated in respect. 

From small, quiet moments that really show the duality & layers of his character to the scenes where he & Renner are yelling in each other's faces with guns drawn, Bamtefa explains his approach:

TB: When it comes to this career, this job, when it comes to stories like this, there is no fence I won't climb. I love it. I love breaking down the script. I love juicing out a scene. I love all of that. So I don't find it difficult, I try to find what's the best way this works and try to find the meaning behind each word. I'm of the understanding that when people use words, they use particular words for a very particular reason. And sometimes that reason might be down to their understanding or their level of education or not. It could be to convey a particular emotion. That scene was actually one of my favorites because it's completely contrasted to what you would expect in this world. We're talking about what you would expect a black man who sells narcotics or pharmaceuticals, who is potentially quite violent. It's a complete contrast to what you would expect him to say. It's those kinds of moments that I really thoroughly relish.

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About Jimmy Leszczynski

Jimmy Leszczynski has been blurring the line between comics and reality at SDCC every year since 1994, and was a nerd long before Lewis, Gilbert, and the Tri Lamdas made it cool. Middle aged father of 2 that REFUSES to grow up, lifelong Bat-Fan, and he thinks he's pretty funny.
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