On Set With Seven Veteran Actresses

“When we come together, it’s like we’re old friends. It’s like we’ve known each other forever. And it’s because we have all walked such a similar journey.” “I feel like I’m a part of a group. I feel a sisterhood. At the end of the day, I don’t think that you can get anywhere without connection, and especially in a business that we keep criticizing as being deprived of black narratives. So I have to feel a kinship, I really do.” “It’s been a real honor and a blessing to be able to work beside Angela Bassett, who is one of my favorites, Viola Davis, who’s one of my favorites. They’re my sisters, and they always make me feel welcome.” “I feel a kinship with other black women, because we understand it the same. We have a knowing about the struggle and about how hard it’s been for us.” “I know that whatever they did, they worked really hard to get that opportunity. In that sense, I feel very connected and very protective of my fellow black actresses.” “I could only imagine a time when it wasn’t this many of us, you know? How uncomfortable that could have been.” “We’re not monolithic. That’s the thing. There’s so many types within us. There are so many different energies.” “We’re all so unique in what we bring. It’s always been that way. Graduating from drama school and running into each other in the audition space, and once it’s over we may walk, you know, 30, 40, 50 blocks together in New York City just commiserating, talking, laughing, sharing.” “Oh growing up, you know, there weren’t many women of color when I started. That’s like 30 years ago. So I looked up to Dorothy Dandridge. I remember seeing ‘Carmen Jones’ when I was a kid, and just mesmerized by the movie— not only her beauty, but her talent. And to see myself reflected was huge.” “Pam Grier. I looked up to Debbie Allen. We didn’t have a lot. But any time that I saw a woman or young girl of color— any kind of representation of myself— I was drawn. If it were not for them, I would— I would have never been able to dream.” “Absolutely Ms. Tyson, Cicely Tyson. Rosalind Cash. Paula Kelly. Ruby Dee.” “Diana Sands. Lena Horne.” “Regina Hall and Sanaa Lathan.” “Gloria Foster. Mary Alice. Diahann Caroll. Diana Ross. To be able to see someone who looked like your mother, you know, or your sister, your auntie on that screen.” “You’re a little black girl with dark skin and a wide nose. You’re not cute, you’re not— you’re nothing. You’re invisible. That’s when you understand the importance of a role model. And when Ms. Tyson walked in, I could then reach beyond my circumstances and see something materialize that made me feel like it was possible. So now, her playing my mom on ‘How to Get Away with ‘Murder,’ the dream actually came true.” “Well, definitely Cicely Tyson. She was everything to me.” “Race never entered my mind when I decided I wanted to be an actress when I was five years old. It didn’t really occur to me that race had anything to do with the permission to be a storyteller in film and television until I came to Los Angeles. It’s the first time that I said, oh my god, it’s not that easy. But you find your way around and you just keep pedaling along until the world kind of makes a little bit of room for you to squeeze in and show people what you’ve got.” “I think I felt like I made it when I did a movie called ‘Jungle Fever.’ It was a movie that Spike Lee directed. And it was the first time I got to play a role that was outside of, I think, what I had been known for at that time. I was a beauty pageant queen. I played a model on my first television role.” [THEME – ‘LIVING DOLLS’] “Hey, baby, you’ve got the look. Take your headshot. This gave me a chance to really put my acting chops on display.” “My first television role was on a sitcom called ‘Smart Guy.’” “That’s right. When Yvette broke up with Todd, I waited well over three weeks before I went out with him.” “You went out with Todd?” “I would say my first breakout role was definitely Yvette from ‘Baby Boy.’” “I’m tired of you messing around on me, Jody.” “I wasn’t doin’ nothing, girl.” “Oh my god.” “My breakout role, I would say, was probably ‘Beloved.’” “I think one of my earliest breakout roles would have to be ‘Boyz n the Hood.’ That movie directed by the great John Singleton was a breakout in and of itself. There were a lot of actors in that movie who woke up the audience. And I happened to be a part of that.” “The breakout role, the role that I think I’ll never lose the respect for, was ‘The Josephine Baker Story.’ And for that I won an Emmy.” “My first role in theater, it was Death in ‘Everyman.’ I played Death. As far as the public is concerned, I guess it would be ‘Doubt.’ I was with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.” “Excuse me, but you don’t know enough about life to say a thing like that, sister.” “I know enough.” “I thought that that was it. It’s over, done. I made it.” “Well, compared to starting in the music business, my start in acting was hard. I didn’t realize how hard acting was going to be.” “You don’t even understand, my father doesn’t let me do nothing but gospel.” “Oh, man, that’s some old Little House on the Prairie type ways.” “It would have to be ‘Mudbound’ when everyone started to recognize. I mean, I got two Oscar nominations for the role of Florence in ‘Mudbound’. I always wanted to earn it. So if it took— if I had to get an acting coach, if I had to study harder, I wanted them to be proud of me. I want Queen Latifah to be proud of me. I want Taraji to be proud of me. I want Angela Bassett to be proud of me. So I worked hard for it. And they embraced me for working hard. They see my hard work.” “Now, in terms of the quality of roles out there, that’s what we have to work on.” “What I see Hollywood do is they we’ll feature one or two of us, and the rest of us are ignored like we don’t exist. It gives the illusion that we’re moving forward, but it’s really disempowering the collective.” “It’s so much more that we can do other than just being a slave. Whoever decides to give us these jobs, they need to look at us past being black actresses. Look at us as actresses.” “You have more actresses of color who are now producing. And that means that we’re now understanding that we have to be the change that we have to see.” “Shonda Rhimes helped to change everything. The black woman took charge and showed you, oh, black women have power.” “Things have definitely changed, thanks to streaming. I mean, if you’re in the business of making money, does money have a color? I mean, if I do a movie and I’m directing, I’m producing, I’m putting every walk of life in it, because I want all the money. It just makes sense, right?” “I’m really proud to be a part of our industry now, because we’re finally understanding that we are stronger together. And there doesn’t have to be one of us, but we can all go. One goes, we all go.” “You could put it, you know, on the outside, on others— more directors, more writers, more producers. But let’s bring it back to the actress. Be dynamic. Be special. Be eye-catching. Be alluring. Be you.” “It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of responsibility to do what Ms. Tyson did for me. And then it’s a lot of responsibility to just be true to you, to live your truth and your authenticity, especially in a town that is not necessarily about that. And that’s what it means to be a black actress.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

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