Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Jah From All Day And A Night Looks So Familiar

The Netflix original film All Day and a Night is already winning over critics with its gritty, authentic portrayal of how life went all wrong for Jahkor, an aspiring rapper who finds himself in prison for murder. The film certainly sports a sterling pedigree: It's the sophomore feature (after 2011's Amber Lake) from Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote Black Panther with Ryan Coogler. Among its principal cast are Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Us, Watchmen) and Jeffrey Wright (Hold the Dark, Westworld), a pair of masterful actors who bring every ounce of their gravitas to their respective roles.

If there's one factor that elevates All Day and a Night to out-and-out greatness, though, it's the young man at its center, whose face you have probably seen before. His name is Ashton Sanders, and if you're among the viewers who have been utterly blown away by the depth and complexity of his performance, then it's a name you're going to want to remember. He hasn't been in show business for too terribly long, but he's already amassed a resume full of thoughtful, acclaimed projects that showcase his preternatural talent. Here's why Jah from All Day and a Night looks so familiar.

Ashton Sanders' career got off to a hot start

Sanders jumped directly into features early on in his career. After making an appearance in the short film Making Possibilities in 2012, his next gig — the very next year — was in the feature film The Retrieval, the second effort from August Evening writer-director Chris Eska. The flick is a period piece set during the U.S. Civil War in which Sanders portrayed Will, a boy sent north to nab a wanted man by his gang of bounty hunters. While the film failed to score a wide release, it made a splash on the festival circuit, garnering positive reviews and praise for Sanders' performance.

It took no time at all for Sanders to be cast in a major Hollywood picture, and while his role was a small one, it would be a harbinger of things to come from the actor, who has displayed an affinity for characters who identify strongly with hip-hop culture. In 2015, he appeared as an unnamed character (listed in the credits as "Kid") in the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, which gave him the opportunity to work with veteran director F. Gary Gray, not to mention talented actors like Corey Hawkins, Lakeith Stanfield, and Paul Giamatti.

Sanders' next appearance was in a 2016 episode of the short-lived Refinery 29 miniseries The Skinny, and while that endeavor decidedly failed to set the world on fire, it wouldn't be long before the actor would score a role that would raise his profile significantly, and allow him to demonstrate the full range of his talent.

Ashton Sanders' second feature won the Oscar for Best Picture

That role was in Moonlight, the Barry Jenkins-directed drama that reshaped the conversation around what it means to be gay and black in America. The film's protagonist, Chiron, is portrayed by three different actors at three different ages; the teen version of Chiron was played by Sanders, and the actor didn't find it too much of a stretch to fill the shoes of a bullied teen with an absentee parent. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly in 2016, Sanders said, "Being bullied and dealing with a parent addicted to drugs, I went through that my entire life. [Being offered the role in Moonlight] was like God telling me, you need to do this. No one else can play this part but you."

The young star went on to admit that having to draw on his past experiences for the role presented its share of challenges. "There wasn't a day on set when I didn't feel uncomfortable," he said. "I had to relive these experiences that I've buried in the back of my mind all my life. That was hard." Hard though it might have been, the result was an honest, naturalistic performance that immediately announced the unheralded star as a major talent. Moonlight was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and won Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Sanders' co-star, the phenomenally gifted Mahershala Ali.

The feature roles kept coming for Ashton Sanders

It should come as no surprise that, after Moonlight's Oscar triumph, casting directors for major productions sat up and took notice of Sanders' talents. The actor slowed down for a couple of years, appearing only in a pair of short films and a Chloe x Halle music video for "The Kids are Alright" before scoring his next feature role in 2018's Dead Women Walking, a little-seen film that powerfully dramatizes the last days of several female death row inmates.

That film might not have attracted as many eyeballs as it should have, but Sanders' next couple gigs saw him starring opposite a couple of absolute legends in high-profile films. First, he appeared in The Equalizer 2 as Miles Whittaker, a troubled young man who enlists the help of retired Marine and "equalizer" Robert McCall. In it, Sanders shared the screen with the great Denzel Washington, who he says mentored him on set. "[Washington] just told me to really trust myself and follow my instincts and the relationship that [we] had developed with the characters, to focus on that and play in that world," Sanders told Entertainment Weekly at that time. "Denzel and I, we both worked really well off each other, and there was a definite mentor relationship."

The following year, Sanders starred opposite John Goodman in the sci-fi drama Captive State, and he also picked up the lead role in his first-ever TV series, the HBO drama Native Son. The TV gig must have agreed with Sanders because, later that same year, he accepted another role in a television series, one that saw him transition from starring opposite legends to portraying one.

Ashton Sanders stars as a rap icon on Wu-Tang: An American Saga

That series is the Hulu original Wu-Tang: An American Saga, which details the formation and rise of the iconic Staten Island rap crew the Wu-Tang Clan. Fans know that the Wu-Tang are full of larger-than-life personalities, perhaps none more so than the man who brought them all together: Bobby Diggs, also known as RZA, the group's mastermind and producer. Diggs, himself, hand-picked Sanders to portray him in the series, which Sanders called, "overwhelming, but... an honor" in a conversation with Essence.

The actor went on to describe how, even though the rise of the Wu-Tang was before his time, he was fascinated by how Diggs had managed to corral so many disparate personalities toward a common goal."It was interesting to find out how RZA was really like the curator of the group," he said. "Like you see in the show, these guys kind of come from the same place but, are totally different people. He was like the bridge, [who] cultivated all of this through passion, through hope, through never giving up. His story is a story of passion and how their circumstances didn't define them; it made them stronger and made him stronger."

With every role he takes, Sanders only seems to be growing stronger, as he continues to use his experiences and the guidance of his co-stars and collaborators to further develop his skill. We have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of the young star in the near future, and we can't wait to see what the future holds for him.