DeWanda Wise talks importance of being surrounded by powerful Black women in Hollywood

'Having a project like this where you have literally four chocolate women in the same movie, who are not necessarily all related, is pretty f*cking dope and a miracle' the actress says

As the world anticipates her role in the 2022 feature film Jurassic World: Dominion, DeWanda Wise has a few projects in the can that she’s gearing up to release.

Ahead of the Universal Pictures production, Wise, who is best known for her leading role in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It Netflix adaptation, will be starring in comedy-drama film Fatherhood which will be released in April 2021. The movie, produced and co-starring Kevin Hart, follows the journey of a single father as he raises his daughter after the untimely passing of his wife following their daughter’s birth.

Fatherhood, which is based on the true accounts in Matthew Logelin’s Two Kisses For Maddy book, will also feature Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, Melody Hurd, Anthony Carrigan, Paul Weitz and Deborah Ayorinde as cast members.

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theGrio caught up with the Someone Great actress about her new role in the upcoming film, the significance of being surrounded by Black actresses in a project and the impact of positive Black narratives in film. Check out our conversation below.

TG: Talk to me about the upcoming film ‘Fatherhood’. What initially drew you to the project?

DW: I’ll tell you the combination of things that attracted me to ‘Fatherhood.’ One is obviously the script; always start with the script. Paul White’s directing, but he also wrote the latest version and revisions, and he wrote it specifically for Kevin. It’s a dramedy and it matches this very specific Paul White tone, which has the capacity of finding the humor in these unfathomably tragic moments in our lives. I read the script, I laughed, I wept. We met and usually directors ask how you work as an actor. I was describing my process a little bit and he was like, ‘I like being surprised’ and he’s not really a micromanaging kind of director, which is wonderful for me. 

DeWanda Wise is shown in a promotional photo. (Credit: The Lede Company)

TG: Tell me more specifically about your role as Lizzie, also known as Swan, alongside Kevin Hart. What can we expect to see?

DW: With Kevin, from my estimation, I’m super fascinated by the emotional life of comedians. I find them as a whole to be deeply vulnerable. Whether or not they want to express it in the way that a different artist, musician or actor might is besides the point. If you ever go back and watch a Richard Pryor performance, you could almost feel like he’s about to cry and Kevin has that. I feel like he has a very deep vulnerability and sensitivity. What’s interesting about this film is that he’s surrounded by a bunch of badass Black women like Alfre Woodard, Deborah and Melody is a beast. We were all just showing up in service and support of this story that grief will never not resonate, and it especially resonates right now.

My character, Swan, is a light. She represents healing, what it means to not just move through grief and tragedy but to be present in the process of it. Personally, that kind of healing energy and Black folk joy is just part of what I desperately need to see and feel right now. Usually I gravitate towards things that I’m hungry for. I just assumed that other people are too, but really it just comes from saying, ‘I wanna see that,’ so let me help bring it to life.

TG: As a Black female actress, what’s the importance to you of seeing yourself represented on screen while also being surrounded by incredible Black women castmates and crew members?

DW: I always think it’s interesting because I grew up in a world that was just rich with Blackness. It’s not passing strange for me to have and live in this experience in Hollywood with all my sisters, because a lot of us are not cordial, we’re legitimately close. It was a very natural progression from growing up in outer Baltimore with my aunts on my dad’s side, and being surrounded by a whole lot of free Black women. Moving through college and finding some of my closest friends, my for life friends, and entering into this industry. 

I was auditioning for a play on Broadway and I had never met Nicole Behari yet. We were meeting for the first time, she was right after me and I had a fake cigarette for this audition because I’m always doing the most. She literally took the cigarette from my mouth and said, ‘Thank you, I’m gonna use this. Wait for me. We’re gonna hang out afterwards.’

DeWanda Wise is shown in a promotional photo. (Credit: The Lede Company)

She goes, she auditions, we hang out and go to Sephora and just play around and look at makeup. That was the start of our Hollywood friendship. Just having started in this industry in 2005, it’s been a long time and I have witnessed moving through a project where if they cast me, the older Black woman they casted had to be fair. I’ve been through, witnessed and experienced how over the years those kinds of unspoken optics have started to change. 

Having a project like this where you have literally four chocolate women in the same movie, who are not necessarily all related, is pretty f*cking dope and a miracle. On a personal level, it’s not something that’s experientially foreign to me. It’s so much a part of who I am, how I live and I’m just thankful that probably among any type in Hollywood, we’re the closest.

TG: What’s the importance of displaying more non-monolithic experiences overall in Hollywood?

DW: I recognize there’s a hunger for it. I can’t qualify the importance. I feel like we talk about this so much, how representation matters and how people need to see themselves. It is always my hope that what we reflect we are living in real life. Hollywood is Hollywood, entertainment’s entertainment, stories are stories, but unless those things are really making an impact on your life. I’ve had folks watch She’s Gotta Have It and there’s a group of friends. I remember someone tweeted, and maybe I was still on Twitter and left a comment, but they were joking-not-joking and was like, ‘That’s so nice. I wish I had friends.’ For me, it means nothing unless what people are seeing and experiencing resonates. I’m not interested in telling stories that you can just watch when you’re washing your dishes. 

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If you see our film and you’re struck by the way that these women have essentially created a community, a safe space, a soft place to land for someone’s grief, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be that. I want to create that. I want to build that with the women in my life. That’s how I want my friend to be to me or that’s how I want to be for my friend.’ On a very specific level, I hope that something, some element of every story I tell can have some kind of practical implication and plant a seed or two into anybody’s mind who’s watching.

I’m never gonna not be a Black woman. I’m not ambiguous, there’s no way for me to pretend. I’m not so that representation will always be there. It’ll be there in everything I do. The more nuanced and tactile ramifications of that representation, that’s always something I’m interested in because there’s always something I’m doing. I’m always interested in something, whether that’s giving permission, a very lived-in joy, there’s always something I’m putting down and it’s always exciting when people pick up on it.

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