Malakai Black is applauded for the strength of his character work as much as he is for his in-ring talent. The most moving performers in this art form often draw from their own experiences. The cult-like, occult character Black presents in All Elite Wrestling is no different.
He first tinkered with it as Tommy End on the independent circuits. That cult-like character morphed into Aleister Black in WWE NXT. In AEW, Black depicts a more ominous, borderline supernatural iteration of what Tommy End was.
"I'm big into tattoo culture. I'm very much into the alternative music scene. It's predominately black metal and hardcore," Black told CBS Sports. "I have a fascination with the occult because I grew up in a certain household that had some very disturbing and interesting things. So I know how to live these cult-like characters because I grew up with it. I understand this. This is part of myself that I can put into these characters. Within a year, two years from that it started taking off. It has to contain an essence of yourself.
"I do think that when you grow up, you start to understand a lot more of yourself. Especially your past traumas. You start to acknowledge and you start to overcome. And when you overcome them, you can draw from them. You know they don't fight against you. They work with you ... The older you get, the more you understand yourself."
Check out the full interview with Malakai Black below.
Black expressed hesitation in expanding on his childhood. He wanted to make it clear that many of the people involved in his early life have worked diligently to grow. It was important for Black to be mindful that opening up about the subject could impact others who have made strides in their own lives.
"Obviously, this is stuff that's being asked more, but the problem is a lot of these people are still alive and, a lot of them, they changed their ways. So I don't feel comfortable talking about it," Black said. "I don't want their hard work to be slapped in the face because I felt the need to talk about it on a platform. These people have worked really hard to not be in that position."
After some consideration, Black touched on how aspects of his family life influenced his interests and the character he portrays.
"Parts of my family grew up with a type of religion that wasn't common and it was a very 'end of the world' type religion," Black said. "It was a very doomsday, you're on this Earth so you're a sinner. It doesn't matter what you do. You're sent here on Earth and you will sweat and toil. There is no love. There is no affection. There was no nothing. There was just you [and] God working for your redemption. And, hopefully, by the end of that redemption, by the end of your life, you have redeemed yourself enough so that you've earned a spot in paradise.
"The '50s, '60s and '70s were such a pivotal time for a lot of people where the world started changing and opening up minds. New ideas would come in. A lot of my family was very conflicted in that ideology. It affected them in a negative way, in a way that they wanted to escape from it. So they did, but it did affect their personalities and it did affect their ways of perceiving the world because they didn't get it because they were sheltered for so long... That religion, even back then, had cult-like tendencies. A lot of things that happened in that church were very questionable."
His family's ties to that religion had a deep influence in molding them.
"It really had an impact on my childhood because, obviously, the people who raised me either still had ties to those religions or they were shaped by those religions," Black said. "I don't want to use the word brainwashed, but I want to use the word lost. Brainwashed is a very heavy set way, but if you don't know any better than what you're presented with as a child growing up, then it's very difficult to escape that formulaic way of indoctrination that you've been subjected to. Diving into that family history and diving into all these people and diving into a lot of those religions, cause it's a small branch, I think nowadays only there are only 100,000 people that follow it. It's pretty bleak. That really gave me an idea as to how these people think and how they view the world.
"I just basically took that and I kinda like grabbed a bunch of the stuff that I witnessed as a kid and the stories that I've heard and molded it into what originally started out as Tommy End. Because of that, I started reading about esoteric topics. I started getting a fascination for the occult because in a weird twisted way, they kind of tie hand-in-hand because one is such a bleak and, I mean in my eyes, almost like a commiserating way of living your life. They are very against anything that's other. So I started being fascinated by the other. What is the thing that you're opposing? And then kind of like slowly but surely you creep into these things. I just find it fascinating that there are so many religious systems in the world and what is perceived as and deemed OK, and what is seemed not OK. And why is it not OK? I just kind of spiraled into it. I always found it very interesting."
Black's fascination with the occult was further shaped by his grandfather, who supposedly had his own experiences with dark arts.
"My grandfather on my mother's side was actually a very devout Roman Catholic, but he was sent to Malaysia [when] he was 17, 18-years-old. He was just a kid from church and then he's being thrown into this society post-World War II," Black said. "He's subject to a different religion, a different type of religious system, different types of people because he's only ever seen the little town he was from in the Netherlands.
"He's at the end of the '40s and he's on this completely different side of the world, where everything seems different and is different. He saw so many things that made him not question his own religion, but it made him understand that there was more to the world than just what we are presented with by a church or by what mom or dad are seeing, or by what's happening in your street."
Black relayed the story of acts of black magic his grandfather allegedly witnessed in a Malaysian village.
"That was also something that had a great influence on me because my grandfather would tell me incredible stories about -- and this might sound bizarre -- but he would tell me stories about things that he witnessed with black magic in Malaysia," Black said. "There was a type of voodoo that they used was that was called Guna-Guna. He got involved with that in terms of he saw it happening around the camps. Things were strung up and soldiers were sick and they couldn't find what was going on and the villagers were like, 'Oh, he's being subjected to this voodoo.' That sparked my interest as well.
"As a kid growing up, I was exposed to a lot of maybe strange things, but it really shaped my mind into questioning everything and looking at the world differently than a lot of kids. It made for a very interesting childhood in a sense, you know what I mean? A lot of difficult moments and a lot of like growing up very, very, very difficult, very disconnected often. It was definitely not your run-of-the-mill childhood when it comes to that stuff."