Desreta Jackson is best known for playing the young version of Celie Johnson opposite Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-nominate drama, The Color Purple.
The film hit theaters December 18, 1985, to critical acclaim.
Now, in an interview with theGrio, Jackson opens up about her career-defining role as Celie and celebrates the 30th anniversary of the film.
Jackson and her pregnant mother moved to L.A. from the West Indies when she was 9 years old. Her mother couldn’t find work, so for a year, they were homeless, living in the Skid Row section of downtown Los Angeles.
Jackson eventually enrolled in elementary school, started acting class, and after only a few weeks landed a role in The Color Purple.
“At the time I didn’t even know who Steven Spielberg was, I had never heard of Oprah or seen her show. Whoopi Goldberg was on the rise, but I didn’t know who anybody was,” Jackson recalls. “They were just good people who were co-workers.”
She remembers Oprah acting as her on-set mother, providing guidance throughout the filming process.
“I was the only kid on the set, but Oprah was very loving and embracing. She was kind of like a mother on set. During the whole taping, I never got to really meet Whoopi. But Oprah was definitely always around. Even after The Color Purple she was still around in my life.”
Jackson says after The Color Purple, she attempted to find work in Hollywood as an actress but encountered colorism because of her dark skin.
“To be very honest, I had to leave Hollywood because as a young child, it didn’t seem to flourish [in] my mind very well. Coming here from the islands, I didn’t even know that I was dark-skinned; there wasn’t a color issue in my head,” Jackson says. “I always thought I was beautiful. It wasn’t until I got in Hollywood that I started understanding there were dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks and there were roles for this character and roles for that character based on a color. I left Hollywood, and in the process of leaving it, it helped develop myself into a woman.”
These days, Jackson is the CEO of her own hair care line, BlackSilk Products which she was inspired to launch in an effort to style her daughter’s hair without the use of harsh artificial chemicals.
Jackson is set to release her first book, The Black Hair Conspiracy: A Guide to Grow and Care for Natural Hair, in February, 2016.
Additionally, Jackson has teamed up with Dark Girls director Bill Duke to executive produce and appear in a movie about the life of African-American slave Nat Turner, starring Keith David, Mike Epps, Eric Roberts, Kym Whitley and Todd Bridges.
Follow theGrio.com’s Entertainment Editor Chris Witherspoon on Twitter @WitherspoonC.