AUP EP. 46: The Belles of Bel-Air


Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 3/20/22

Cortney Wills: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio. And this week we’re sitting down with Coco Jones and Cassandra Freeman, two leading ladies of Peacock’s latest deliciously dramatic series, Bel Air. Hi Cassie, hey Coco. Bel Air for y’all that don’t know is good, good, it is really good. I think that it is so much more than I expected it to be, and this is a title I’ve been knowing about hearing about, you know, talking about kind of throughout your production. But I have to admit, like, I am very, very pleasantly surprised with the final product. [00:01:05][52.4]

Coco Jones: [00:01:06] Thank you. We’re pleasantly surprised with everybody’s feedback. [00:01:08][2.5]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:01:09] I am pleasantly relieved. Everybody’s feedback because I feel like if we didn’t get it right, it would have been a storm of horrible. So I’m just relieved. [00:01:21][11.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:01:22] I think people wanted it to not be this good. Like, I think people were ready to pounce. And episode one I got many, many months ago and then there was a long lag before I got maybe the next three. And after I watched the first one, I was like, I think I like this, but I was still up in the air. And now, like I said, I have seen eight. There were so many places where this could have gone wrong, and all that you all did was do it right. Like on every level, these characters are layered. The representation is off the chain like Geoffrey is fine as hell, who threw that curveball in there. There’s so much going on. [00:02:00][38.0]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:02:00] I think, yeah, I think, you know what? I think the creators, Morgan and the showrunners did a great job of trying to keep it modern and current, but also they really hit it on the nose on how to how do you allow some of these people evolve over this amount of time? And I think they I mean, Geoffrey is one of those characters where you’re like, Wow, what an evolution, because even I was just like, How do you reinvent this and bring back Geoffrey and have him feel like he’s a part of the culture? And they hit it right on the nose, right down to his type of accent and background is even just on the nose. You know [00:02:40][39.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:02:41] I am here for New Geoffrey, [00:02:42][0.9]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:02:43] And I know someone said, I want a shirt that says, “I need a Geoffrey in my life.” I’m like, Girl, don’t we all all need a Geoffrey in our life. [00:02:50][7.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:02:52] And I’m here for Aunt Viv. I’m here, I’m here for a new Hillary. I like, like you said, these characters have evolved, and I think that there’s enough of what we really wanted to see preserved about them and then so much newness that you all as a cast are bringing to these characters that we thought we knew and loved and now I think are getting to know differently and are getting to love differently. I want to start with Coco because girl, you are grown grown. For those who are thinking about Let it Shine, this is a little bit of an adjustment, I think, because you are all the way grown now. [00:03:30][37.5]

Coco Jones: [00:03:30] Oh yeah. This is nothing like beloved Roxy, and I appreciate her for all that she has done for me and my growth. But Hillary is actually a lot like who I am now. Very determined, very my way or the highway. I’m going to achieve what I want, what I see for myself. And honestly, it’s an honor to get to play such an iconic character with the looks that kill at all times. But yeah, Hillary is a huge, a huge change from what people know and love me as. It’s really refreshing to me personally, [00:04:00][29.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:04:01] And there’s depth in this Hillary that we never got from the first one. [00:04:05][3.6]

Coco Jones: [00:04:05] Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a lot more of her struggle being in an industry that doesn’t necessarily cater to her trying to be an influencer and, you know, taking off that curtain to what really it looks like behind the camera, which most of the time is not all that cute. And I think the tension between her and Aunt Viv and Cass, I think it’s all very honest and relatable because we all we’re all humans going through a similar human experience. Maybe it’s not social media, but there’s always, especially as a Black woman, there’s always additional obstacles that you didn’t sign up for. [00:04:39][33.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:04:40] Absolutely. And then Cassandra, your Aunt Viv number one, is a baddie like just straight across the board. So wonderful to look at. And I mean, from the clothes to the hair to just like, you know, her poise, she’s just so effortlessly fly. And then we add, you know, the components of you like that texture in your voice that just cannot be replicated and instantly, at least makes me and my friends who are critics like want to lean in. You know, everything you say as Viv is like, Yeah. And I wondered, like, what did it take for you to cultivate her? [00:05:18][38.1]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:05:19] You know, we’re lucky enough that we have a great creator in Morgan Cooper, who from day one, when I was approached for this project he received, we had an interview early on, that said. I mean, I really didn’t think I was right. I mean, you know, people who know me know I’m a clown, first of all. So. And and Janet Hubert and Daphne Maxwell are so imprinted on my subconscious. They’re like, damn near a tattoo on my brain. So it was hard to think how, how to come in and do this character in a way that would also make the culture feel like these characters have also progressed. But we’re not trying to erase the OG Aunt Viv. And I felt like it was like threading a needle. And, you know, I think they just they obviously saw something that I did not see. But the best thing was that Morgan said, “You know, we’re not here for you to try to replicate those shows. We’re here for you to create new shoes.” And so with that, it gave me freedom. He was like, ’cause he’s like, “You know, you can be as vivacious as you are and still think that people will buy that this is this.” And so that allowed me to sort of cut the umbilical cord of those two women and just lean into like, what do I know for sure about them? And what do I know for sure is that they are the heart and consciousness of this show. And the way you try to portray that for me through this body is, you know, deep listening. And if they can touch and feel they’re going to touch and feel they’re babies or men. And then also, the thing that I really wanted to submit in my version is that I didn’t want to erase where she’s from. I was like, We need to feel that the feeling in her is still present, even though she’s surrounded by this opulence. Because to me, that’s success is that you’re willing to hold on to who you are and still take new things along the way, not erase yourself. [00:07:19][120.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:07:20] You just said something that made me think about something I’ve been really struck with with this version, this, you know, iteration. In 2022, you can be an Aunt Viv that can be layered and didn’t forget where she came from, and it’s also extremely poised and also extremely talented and put together. But like that, representation of a Black family with wealth absolutely did not even exist when the original came out. Do you know what I mean? I remember the very first episode of Fresh Prince, and at the time I was a kid and I was actually kind of living a version of that. Like my dad, my family, we were the ones that moved to the burbs. You know, I had, you know, I was in a predominantly white neighborhood. Everyone else was still in Linwood and Compton, and we actually had one of my cousins come move in with us because he got jump on the way to school. And I remember then being like, Oh, that’s kind of like our family, but that’s about where it stopped. Whereas watching this you guys tapped into so many were very real issues that come with being Black and wealthy, that come with navigating, getting to where you’re going and not forgetting where you came from. And the fact is, no one ever wants to hear about like the poor little rich girl, right? Like, nobody cares about the strife or the struggles of the Black elite because we’ve never seen them, I don’t think depicted as as really human. Up until recently, and there’s a lot of projects that are actually kind of exploring that in different ways, but yours– [00:09:03][102.9]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:09:04] Were they’re not perfect in a time capsule because of the original that that was the thing that I felt claustrophobic about doing this and I thought, “Oh, she’s so perfect.” But then when I heard what they were trying to do, I said, Oh, then this is the right project, because Black women in media are represented as the symbol of strength. If you if you just, you know, do a little bit of history on like the image of Black people when you’re trying to sell something, we’re trying to sell strength. And so I’m sort of tired of that trope. But what I loved about the path and journey that that Vivian is on is that she’s still in her becoming mode. So how you see her at the beginning, she’s trying to be like this Michelle Obama thing she’s trying to help her husband and trying to keep her kids on track, but that’s not really who she is. She’s vulnerable. She can still be fragile. She cannot know and be unsure. And that all is feminine. And that’s all still Black woman. Like, we don’t have to be like the superpower of rolling our neck and knowing the answers to everything, but we can feel deeply, that’s for sure. [00:10:10][66.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:10:11] And the Blackness doesn’t have to be compromised by wealth. Like that’s not a given anymore. And I see that with with Coco’s character Hillary. Like, Yeah, she’s extremely privileged, but she’s not giving me like, she’s not giving me the same, I think, distance between her Blackness than the original character did. I mean, this family is still very much rooted between, you know, whether it’s the art on the walls or just the way that they talk to each other. Like it feels less apologetic than what I’ve seen when it comes to kind of keeping both things in there, the Blackness and the, you know, the quote unquote success. [00:10:53][42.2]

Coco Jones: [00:10:54] I think Morgan Cooper, our director and creator, did a great job of setting the tone of like, yes, we come from this upper echelon area code. But it doesn’t matter where your upbringing is, you still have the problems and the plight of being Black in America and being a family that wants to love each other through all the obstacles that you can’t buy your way out of life, you know, so really, it’s it’s just about showing Black excellence from a different point of view and making it seem more relatable. And honestly, I do think that seeing this representation will open more minds to the different ways that Black people can be portrayed on TV. Like it doesn’t. It’s not always a struggle, but there is always struggle. And I think that’s kind of like the thing that everyone can relate to all the viewers can relate to, and they kind of forget that we come from this upper echelon, you know, type of area because we still have these burdens, we have to carry on our back. [00:11:47][53.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:11:48] Yeah, well, I think the writing on the show, you know, I feel like sometimes, you know, the stuff that we do like, it’s like a three out of five, you know, like three things are really great and then, oh, I wish they would have like carried it over the finish line with the writing or with the lighting or with everything. This show checks every box for me, but where it really shows up to me is the writing. Any conflict, whether it’s between Will and Carlton or Coco and her mom or dad, or the dynamic between Hillary and Jazz, all of those things. Or Vivian and, you know, Aunt Viv and her sister Vy, Will’s mom. Like, we get both sides of those emotions of those experiences, whether it’s a conflict, it’s not skewed. I was watching episode eight, listeners you won’t have gotten there quite yet, but. I’ve never seen anything that really captures the experience, the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with being privileged and Black at the same time that I’m getting that same representation of what it feels like to be maybe the one that was left behind. I’ve never gotten those two perspectives at the same time as adequately and accurately as I have in this show. And I think that that’s I think that that’s necessary and I think that it’s useful because. There are a lot more of us finding certain levels of success where we’re the first ones, you know, and there’s not necessarily a road map for that. We’re finally getting to a place where there have been road maps for that. But what does it actually look like? What does it actually look like to get to Bel Air and then be made to feel like you need to apologize for that success, right? Like sometimes a lot of the arguments that we are having or the the places that we’re hitting an impasse in our communities, sometimes it’s leveling down between not necessarily Black and white or dark-skinned and light-skinned, but like the haves and the have nots. And I think that that’s so divisive, if that’s all that we see. [00:13:59][130.4]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:14:00] Episode eight is when my sister when Vy comes to Town. Mm hmm. Yeah, yeah. First of all, April Parker Jones is an incredible actress. She brings such depth and just that subtle nuance of I love our scenes because there that those backhanded compliment those niceties that the kids are just like, what is happening? And then the way it all comes to a head. And that scene after Will give his present. I just I was so impressed with that script when I read it. I cried when I read it. And yet when we performed that scene of that explosion, I remember thinking I didn’t even think that’s what was going to come out that day, but I thought I was. I look forward to people seeing it because I’m sure people are going to talk about it because I think it’s going to hit a chord of like, it’s not so much of the anger, but the sadness and the survivors remorse that Vivian might have, the guilt that she might have for not being there, maybe for the mom or the way she would be. And also, April’s so frustrated with herself, maybe not climbing as much as she could have climbed, and she could still climb. And that’s the funny thing about it. Like, nobody’s life is over with yet. And Vivian in this show is all is still trying to figure out which way should she go and the writing, even to me when it relates to the husband and wife in episode seven, what happens in the hotel room? And they have those subtle conversations of compromise that we have. We’ve been married for a long time and you don’t even realize that you just compromise. We just all agreed to not look under the carpet anymore. And that line, which she says to him, “You know, I don’t need you to save me tonight. I needed you to save me 15 years ago,” I was like wooph there’s going to be a testament out here, there’s a lot of people. But I know for a fact in that writer’s room, the men in that room told really great stories about what it was like to be married to their wives and how some of their wives gave up, like dancing careers where they were like on the road with Beyonce. Or, you know, the men in the room actually gave a lot to that script as much as the women and I. I only know this because I was so surprised that they gave Aunt Viv this much to do in this season because again, I thought, you know, if you watch the TV show Aunt Viv was crispy, meaning like everything was done and done there was nothing. They never really explored much of her backstory. You had the dancing thing that happened and you have when the sisters visit, but you never felt like there was this whole world behind her. And I think the writers were, I think we’ve spent enough time in the culture focusing on grown men I think it’s time to look at grown women. And so they went out of their way to create a lot of these storylines for Vivian. [00:16:55][175.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:16:55] And it was very obvious that people in that writer’s room were telling the truth because as a married woman, I was like, Oh oh, and we’re telling the we’re telling the truth truth on this show. And it was really refreshing to see, Yes, I felt so seen. [00:17:08][12.4]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:17:09] Girl, right? Right. Some of these conversations got back into my own bedroom, my own husband. I was like, Listen we’re going to have a radical truth moment. Can we talk about something? Yes I know. [00:17:18][9.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:19] So good. Coco, I also think that your character is bringing out like kind of confronting some things like you said that so many young women now so many young Black women are confronting. And I’m, you know, I’m specifically talking about the whole, you know, there is, I think, a huge push. Everyone thinks they can be their own boss, like going to school and getting a job almost seems like a. Like, I guess if you can’t, like, create anything else or become Instagram famous or like invent an app, you know this expectation of being an entrepreneur and like a superhero from a young age, I think is really probably prevalent for young folks. And what also got to me was. And I think it was placed on on Viv as well. But. It’s hard enough for Black women to get the credit that they deserve under any circumstances, for anything that they do professionally, personally. But when you come from privilege or when you do better, maybe than your peers or your family members, there is always, I think, you know, I think that’s where imposter syndrome comes from, like the did I really earn this? Do I really deserve it? We see Hillary not always being taken seriously. You know, with her business dreams and with her efforts, and Viv doesn’t think she’s, you know, focused enough or working hard enough. And then we see Vy, you know, tell Viv, you didn’t climb any mountains, you were carried. I wondered what went in like, what were your thoughts on that part of Hillary’s journey because I think that her character is kind of combating that and winning like it looks like she’s it looks like this character is doing work every episode in some way on herself. [00:18:58][99.7]

Coco Jones: [00:18:59] I mean, I think that’s what makes Hillary so grounded and relatable is because the things that she’s striving to attain can’t be purchased. I mean, you can’t be carried to the top of an engagement list on a social media platform. You have to earn those numbers and earn those credentials. You can’t purchase it, especially in a time, in a day and age where everyone can read inauthentic content so quickly. You have to be creative and you have to be a strategist, and those things take a lot of failures before you get that success. And of course, on top of that, her being a dark skinned Black woman, it just it just adds opposition and difficulty to things that she’s qualified and talented enough to to deserve. So I think that’s why you root for Hillary, and she feels so close to you because take her storyline and fill in the blank with whatever career, whatever field you’re passionate about. It’s just like you can’t buy your dream job like these things take work and consistency and effort. And I think that’s that’s what makes her story so relatable. Yeah. [00:20:04][65.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:20:06] What did you all do as a cast to achieve this level of chemistry that I’m seeing because this show is not all about Will. I totally agree with Cassandra, like every character seems to be really developed and have a lot of layers. I’m invested in all of them, but also just the casual family moments feel very, very authentic, and I know that had to take some work from all of you. [00:20:29][22.9]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:20:30] I said from the first day I’ve met a lot of the cast, I can’t remember Coco, were you there that day at the pool? They shot the scene at the pool, not at our house pool. [00:20:42][11.3]

Coco Jones: [00:20:42] I wasn’t at the pool scene no, with Carlton and Jabbar Ali? [00:20:46][3.5]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:20:47] I don’t know why so many people were there. You weren’t there and I wasn’t in that scene either. But anyway, they made me come up to the show, the producers that day. Anyway, I’m up there and I’m standing in the circle looking at a bunch of the cast members. Oh, so that makes sense. So Carlton, and Lisa and folks were there and all of a sudden, I hear “Aunt Viv!” And Jabbar comes almost knocked me down to give me a hug. And it felt like family from day one. I also think like a show like this. Because of that, the iconicness of it all, if you will. We, I think, automatically also felt like we just joined a fraternity sorority and we all just felt like, “Okay, we’re in this together. Let’s hold hands.” And so we were all deeply interested in each other. I know after the first read through on Zoom, I was still out of the country and we were on the Zoom, and at the end I was just so blown away by the level of depth everyone had on a read through on a Zoom that I wrote as many people as I could find on social media just to be like, I’m just so honored to share the same room and breath. And you know, I’m the old me and Uncle Phil, the oldest people here, and I felt like that across the board. So I feel like maybe there’s a lot of. Just the rapport comes from that we all really respect each other and all mutually in awe of each other. If you come on our set, you will hear someone say, Oh my God, you look so amazing. Listen, I just saw that scene yesterday, like, it’s nothing but love on love on our set. Don’t you think Coco? [00:22:25][97.1]

Coco Jones: [00:22:25] Yeah, I was listening to you. Like, I said it better myself. I think we’re all so in sync with the overall goal, which is to make history in a way. And so we’re just playing off of each other, that passion and that genuine like desire to succeed and make this something impactful just bleeds into everyone. And so you, of course, if you’re thrown into this situation with people who have the same goals and desires and are really talented, you just naturally bond because we are all really so similar. And we’re also I think nobody has like any airs about them. Everybody’s just trying to like, prove themselves, Morgan as well. Like, it’s just about making sure that we do our best work. And I think that’s what makes us so in sync and so connected. [00:23:13][48.0]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:23:14] Yeah. If I just add, it’s something about when you work with good human beings. You know, Morgan Cooper is like Yoda or something like he is– the well in which he comes from is just so deep and pure. And I like to believe that vibration meets vibration. So he tried to find other people who had that same resonance. And so I feel like no matter who I act with on this show, their eyes are so open their hearts and souls are so open and I don’t know where it’s going to go. And they don’t either. No one’s interested in trying to control that either. [00:23:48][34.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:23:50] Coco, your scene obviously as Hillary with Ashley. Ashley tells you that she’s got a crush. [00:23:56][6.1]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:23:57] Oh, I love that moment. Oh man, it made me cry! [00:23:59][2.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:02] Boo hoo crying. But also again, with like the effortlessness. It was like, Guess what, in 2022 for everyone still trying to figure this out. That is how it’s done. Like, do that when this comes to your door, your family, if you don’t know now, you know, did that feel like that when you read it and when you did it? Because I. I have some kids that I absolutely will be watching that scene with and letting them see me see it and letting them know that I want them to see it, do you know what I’m saying? Like that felt like a moment in in Black families, in Black television. (Yeah,) that felt like something done extremely right and very important. [00:24:47][44.8]

Coco Jones: [00:24:48] Yeah, I definitely felt the gravity of that scene. I think because being in a Black family, you know how much we sweep under the rug, you know how much we feel has to be hidden just because there’s there’s most of the time going to be some judgment there that makes you feel like you ain’t got nobody but you. And you have a whole family. So I wanted to portray that scene in a light that I I actually would have with my siblings, or if it was my younger sister, I’m the oldest, so I run it over there at my family and I know how hard it was for me not having an older sibling and not being sure who I could trust with my tea. So I wanted to portray that scene in a way that had no judgmental heirs about it. And really, it’s just about acceptance. Honestly, if if families can just understand each other and strive to accept each other, there’d be so much more support and so much more healing. So really, for me, I definitely knew how much weight the storyline would carry. I wanted to show the reaction that I hope is the normal is the new normal. I feel like it’s healthy and healing. [00:25:54][65.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:25:55] I did, too. I mean, I really, really, really loved that scene. I could talk to you all forever, but I have to let you go soon. But I mean, are you all consoling your costars? Everybody hates Carlton, nobody is f**cking with Carlton Banks. [00:26:07][12.6]

Coco Jones: [00:26:07] lol. But you know what’s so funny, Ali? He is such a he’s such a piece of work. He takes all of that hate, and he just finds the most hilarious ways to react. I’m like, “Dang, like, I wish that’s how I was with opposition,” because somebody say something crazy about me, I’m like “Your blocked.” But he, like, feeds into what he thinks. It’s hilarious. And honestly, he sees the positive in the people hating on him because people who hate they really care. That’s a really strong emotion to feel towards somebody. Do you know what I mean? And so I think he just takes all of it and he spins it, and there’s so much more in a storyline. That’s why people just need to tune in. But honestly, the hate is going to keep people tuning in and then they all feel bad. [00:26:49][41.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:26:50] I feel bad. Like, I like, Yeah, I’m I do not hate Carlton. I understand Carlton, but people hate them some Carlton Banks right now. [00:26:59][8.8]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:26:59] You know what? I love that people hate Carlton Banks because it says more about how we don’t even give people a chance. Carlton’s a part of our collective family. And so somewhere deep down, people know he’s going to have to end up being a good guy. Aren’t you interested in his backstory? (Yes. Yes.) Ali? Look, he could teach a self-help class on how to love yourself because homeboy loves himself. The first time I met Ali, I was like, “You are a king.” Like, and he was. And then he told me the backstory of his name, where he’s from, and I was like, Yeah, that resonates. And I said, it makes perfect sense. Your calls and it makes perfect sense that God saw fit, that he was girls. And because to your point, you know, another actor could have gotten this and it could have really shaken them to a core. I remember my friend when he did Charles, what is it? Christopher Darden of the OJ Simpson movie that they did. And there was so many Black men who did not want to audition or accept that role because they didn’t want they didn’t have the skin for the type of hate they knew that was going to be thrown their way. And Sterling Brown is a true actor, a true artist, and he was like, “You know, I’m taking this on so people can understand the depth of this man’s character.” And that’s the same place where Ali comes from. He does it for the art, and but he also knows he’s will win it and of the day because he knows how that story lines goes. So yeah, you got to talk to Ali. He’s one of a kind. [00:28:19][79.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:28:20] Yes. Last question for both of you and Coco, you’ve addressed colourism early in your career, but I want to know for both of you in 2020 to playing, you know, you’re on a huge show that premiered after the Super Bowl that had a lot of anticipation. And you are the leads like the beautiful, desirable, stylish, you know, looking like beautiful women in real life that we all know and love aspirational. Did those roles exist for you like they do now at the beginning of your career? And what, if anything, is the most tangible shift amid all of this, you know, quote unquote progress, or at least our collective endeavor toward progress there? [00:29:05][45.1]

Coco Jones: [00:29:05] For me, I would say roles. I started off as a child actor, so roles for me were really about being the most smiley, the most enthusiastic, the most eye catching. And honestly, I do feel like there were a lot of opportunities for young Black women, but they didn’t clarify that they met a certain shade. So I think for me, I got. I got a hard look at myself as I was coming of age because I would do the same scenes as these other Black girls, but because I didn’t look like them, I wouldn’t get the role. I think for me it’s definitely changed and gotten better and also the opportunities that I did get, like they had a huge trajectory for me. So I’m not necessarily upset because Let it Shine put me on and and I feel like that role in a sense, was made for me. Like, yes, there was a lot of colorism that I couldn’t escape, but the roles that I did end up getting were like for me. So for me, I wish I would have just accepted that and trusted that as my life and my story. And of course, as I’ve gotten older, I think the hardest part was going from child actor to like young adult actor because my body look twenty three and I’m 16, so I didn’t know where I really fit and Black women can be so overly sexualized. So it just was hard to like, what am I even auditioning for? Because there’s certain things I’m just not going to be able to do because I’m literally 17, not even 18 yet. And then, you know, there’s a whole different world when you’re 18, I think it’s definitely gotten better. Like the Issa Rays of the world are what make it better be. The Black scripts are what make it better for the Black actresses and Kerry Washington, she executive produced a show that I was born and she told me like, just making them see you. The more, the more that they see you, the more they’ll remember you and gravitate towards you and bring you up for things. These casting directors, these people have power, and then the more you have power, the more you can create opportunities for people who look like you. And that’s definitely what I’m starting to see in the entertainment industry. [00:31:05][119.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:31:05] I love that, Cassandra. How about you? Like, has there been a tangible shift from your perspective when it comes to colorism, but also, you know, just just being authentically Black on screen and that being enough and celebrated and, you know, marketable? [00:31:23][17.4]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:31:24] I mean, obviously, there’s been a middle of a Black renaissance right now. So and it’s not like how it was in the 90s where it was like them. Six people were doing all the movies. It’s like you’re seeing so many different types of people getting opportunities now. But you know, I always said when I first started, like there was only one Black girl who was like under 15 like I, there weren’t. That was never a trajectory. Like, I was never like, Oh, what Coco has is so like unimaginable because there was only one when I was growing up, and that’s about it. And if she was my complexion like that, I mean, maybe it’s Keke Palmer, but I mean, Kiki’s probably even younger than I am. So during my time, I don’t remember like the girl who looked like me at that age, so it never occurred to me that I should be an actress at a young age. I always thought I would be an actress when I was in my thirties and forties, because that’s what I saw all the time. But my career definitely took an upswing after Michelle Obama came into the public spotlight when Michelle Obama. And this is why TV and film is so important. Well, Michelle Obama showed up. People started writing roles for leading Black women that really never existed before, and we could be smart and sexy and interesting, all at one time. I said after Michelle Obama came out, there were so many scandals that were being written and Scandal’s the one that actually stuck on the wall and stayed. So for sure things have changed. I mean, when I first came out to Hollywood, my first agent basically said to me, white guy in L.A., he said, You know, because your complexion he’s like, listen, don’t even do your makeup like you need to walk out the door, go straight those auditions and you’d be what those people need you to be. He’s like, You’ll never be a lead. The funny thing is about one’s destiny is if it’s really your destiny. Even when people say craziness to you, for some reason, it doesn’t stick. So when he said that, it’s almost like I move my head to the side because I was like, Oh, he’s not talking about me, like, Hollywood literally needs me. Like, This is why I’m here. I’m here of service to the culture, and I feel like what our show does, and what Black imagery does in general is that it helps broaden people’s perspective on what is true about Black people. And I’ve traveled all over the world to Hong Kong, whatever else and people really think that we really are just people of hip hop who cast and say the N-word every other word. They have no idea. And that’s because America’s biggest export is its entertainment. So to think that we can be on a big show like this, that’s international and show people that this exists. Well, that might change things around the world because I truly believe there’d be no Obama if there wasn’t a Sidney Poitier and a Denzel Washington. You’ve got to educate people, of the type of people that exist out here. They won’t have you over for dinner. They will have you on your TV screens. And from there, they might change the way they think. [00:34:23][179.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:34:26] And there is the mission statement for Acting Up, courtesy of Cassandra, a.k.a. the new Aunt Viv, like, hell, yeah, absolutely like this stuff that we do that we think is all fun and games and entertainment and doesn’t matter matters so very much to the way that we see ourselves and the way that other people see us like. Absolutely. I could not agree [00:34:49][23.7]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:34:50] with you more. You know, we create the culture. If you mute all the Black people, there would be no more culture in this country. I firmly believe that. So if that’s true, what happens if we take full responsibility for the imagery and the sounds that come out, it changes the world. And for people who try to go to sleep at the wheel, that’s why we keep crashing. Like we’re supposed to be intentional, especially since we don’t have all the power, especially when they’re trying to erase the history books. This is real, so they won’t let us teach it. Then you need to let us preach it on the TV screen. [00:35:20][30.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:35:22] Amen. Hallelujah, ladies, thank you so much for joining me today on Acting Up, and thank you for just going all in on these roles like this is a show. This is a, you know, in the time of a million reboots that, you know, maybe no one asked for or needed, this one is absolutely the show I did not know we needed, but we indeed did need it. I’m so glad it’s here. I think it’s really brilliant. [00:35:47][25.1]

Cassandra Freeman: [00:35:48] Thank you so much, Cortney. [00:35:49][0.7]

Coco Jones: [00:35:50] Your show is awesome, and we really appreciate it. [00:35:53][3.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:35:54] Thank you so much, ladies. You take care. I hope I see you soon. Before we go, I just want to remind all of you listeners that we have way too much free content over here at theGrio. Stream, a world with free entertainment, lifestyle and news, content free movies, free shows and so many free channels. Find us on all your devices wherever you use the internet on our new mobile app Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and over the air network. We even have a Black podcast network coming soon. Download theGrio now it’s free. theGrio Black culture amplified. Thanks so much for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcasts and share it with someone you know. Please email all questions, comments and concerns to podcasts@theGrio.com. Acting Up is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by Cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me in Acting Up. Check us out on Instagram @Acting Up.Pod. [00:35:54][0.0]


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