- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mekhi Phifer has been a part of the “Divergent” series since the first film bowed in 2014. He returns to the dystopian sci-fi universe Friday in “The Divergent Series: Allegiant — Part 1.”

But for all its spaceships and outer space magic, the 41-year-old actor believes that what makes the series so accessible is being grounded in possibility.

“I love anything that really pushes the envelope as far as where it takes your mind,” Mr. Phifer, a longtime fan of sci-fi and a native of New York, told The Washington Times. “When it’s well written and brings you into a world that possibly could be, I think that’s the most entertaining for me — to see something that could actually take place and causes you to think.”

Based on the highly successful young adult novels, the films have collectively grossed over a half-billion dollars, with no signs of slowing down, with the final entry set to hit theaters next year.

“They keep pushing the envelope as far as the progression of everything and the evolution of it all,” Mr. Phifer said of the films that also star Naomi Watts and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.

In addition to his work on the “Divergent” series, Mr. Phifer is a veteran of over 50 films and TV shows, including “8 Mile,” “ER” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.” One of his upcoming projects is a remake of “Roots,” the 1977 miniseries based on Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The story examines America’s past as soon through the history of a black family. The new version also stars Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker and Anna Paquin.

Mr. Phifer hopes the new series will teach young people about the sins of slavery and its attendant part in America’s history.

“I grew up watching ‘Roots,’ and sort of getting a history lesson but being entertained as well,” Mr. Phifer recalls of the multiple Emmy-winner ‘70s series. “I think it’s an important thing, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Hollywood was stirred this winter when Spike Lee and Will Smith boycotted the Oscars over its lack of minority acting nominees. While praising host Chris Rock’s MC performance, Mr. Phifer believes that it remains incumbent upon the entertainment industry to be more inclusive and tell the stories of all of America’s peoples.

“As far as I know from a black and African-American experience, we have so many stories and things that we don’t get to do. And usually when it comes to the Oscars, the only times we’re recognized is for playing a slave, or downtrodden or [an] unsavory [character] like Denzel [Washington] in ‘Training Day,’” Mr. Phifer said. “As soon as [Mr. Washington plays] this terrible, bad cop, all of a sudden he wins an Oscar.”

The positive aspect of the “Divergent” series, he says, is that all cultures and skin colors are represented on screen.

“It’s a multicultural experience and it includes everyone,” he said.

Mr. Phifer has ambitions to direct more films, and he would one day like to play a superhero — not for ego, he says, but rather to please his children.

In the meantime, he hopes moviegoers will brave the unseasonable winter warm weather to enjoy “Allegiant — Part 1” this weekend.

“I think the series speaks for itself,” Mr. Phifer said. “I hope people come and check it out and [are] entertained by it.”

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