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All About the McKenzies: Black Web Series for Youth and Media

Covent Garden, United Kingdom, May 24, 2013 --( Sitting opposite 26 year old Samuell Benta, clad in a bright-orange cardi and baggy jeans, he leans off the edge of his chair at the Bush Theatre Café, the grind of wearing several hats shows on his face.

Hailing from North West London, Benta has lived more than nine lives. He is the creator of the hit web dramedy, All About the McKenzies (AAK) with over 3.1 million YouTube views, an LA Web Festival Award in 2012 and 18 thousand Twitter followers. He also models in his spare time, he was the ‘face’ of FootLocker’s Spring Campaign earlier this year. Kudos.

“People go 'I’ve never been to film school,' 'I’ve never been drama school,' but yet, I’m getting attention like I have.” So how did this North West Londoner become his own brand?

After seeing his actor cousin star in Hollyoaks, Benta demanded, “How comes I’m seeing you on screen not me?” and started hunting for opportunities in the Yellow Pages, looking for local acting workshops. Eventually he found an acting studio that just happened to double-up as an agency. After two years with The Harris Agency he found himself on the South Wimbledon set of the Bill where he felt the buzz of being on a national series.

Since then, he’s gone on to star in a variety of projects, as Donnie in Eastenders: E20, Ray Treat in Silent Witness and he fulfilled every 90′s child’s wish, becoming Will Aston, the Black Power Ranger in the Disney/ABC series Power Rangers Operation Overdrive.

However, his path into the media-arts was not so smooth. Benta laughs when describing his time at Copeland Community School in Wembley, London, saying: “I was young and stupid.”

So what made him stick to the dramatic-arts merry-go-round? Atypical to most Damascus-Road stories, Benta cites literature as his remedy: “My transformation year was when I was about 21 years old. I just started reading literature that opened my mind to nature, universal laws and it just changed the way I started seeing life.”

One book in particular impacted him more than most, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, was recommended to him by a friend.

“I had just got back from doing Power Rangers in New Zealand and I was depressed because I wasn’t getting a lot of acting work after that,” he said, “I didn’t know where I was going.”

This state of disarray even provoked Benta to consider joining the army: “I had actually done the training and everything,” he recounts, “I got to the stage of contract and stuff and something told me, “No, don’t do it.” And I’m glad I didn’t.”

Adding to the pressure was personal relationship issues. Samuell voiced the concerns that seem specific to black actors, saying: “Anytime I went up for auditions they were always stereotype roles and I refused to do those kind of roles because even though its acting…I think is false in terms of who we are and where we come from.”

The black male gangster, bad-boy is what Benta considers to be stereotypical.

His Power Ranger past seems to have given him an invincible attitude in real life, his grand aim for creative projects is to “raise the consciousness level of humanity” which he feels is a reasonable goal, given the authoritative role of the media on society. He is headstrong, set to counter what he sees as the negative portrayals of the black community on screen, like Top Boy: “The only reason it seems real is because that’s all that’s portrayed and if you want to get scientific about it, what you consistently repeat, it becomes hypnotic.” According to Benta this creates a vicious circle which reinforces a certain reality.

Consequently, he consciously chose to centre the script for AAK on a black family, he reasoned that: “With a lot of black families there’s not really families, it’s more single parents nowadays, which is on the rise and I thought, 'Right, I need to get that family unit back'.”

Benta filmed the first series over 5 days, with short web-friendly episodes, released weekly, which made the series eligible for the L.A. Web Festival. The series was filmed with a minimal cast of 7, some of them hungry media graduates recruited off the back of their showreel Benta found online.

As with many Web series, the principle family of All About the McKenzies is comprised of 7 actors with varied to zero level of experience, for instance, the grandad, played by Jason Pennycooke is a choreographer in real life, with a CV that includes Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls and Ria, who plays the eldest daughter Charlene, has done some theatre.

The second series of All About the McKenzies can be seen here:

Twitter: @AATMcKenzies
Contact Information
Samuell Benta
020 7470 8711

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