AUP. Ep. 26 Being Seen: Anika Noni Rose


Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 11/8/21

Cortney Wills: [00:00:03] 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 speaking to the multitalented Anika Noni Rose, who is someone perfect for this podcast. Because, as you know, we love highlighting people who are pushing the culture forward onscreen and off, and Anika has done just that throughout her illustrious career. Anika Noni Rose, the Tony Award winning nine time image award nominee and overall legend, I mean, I can’t recall a project that Anika has been in that I didn’t love her performance in. I mean, Dreamgirls in 2006, her iconic, groundbreaking role as Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog for colored girls. She was so good in ‘Power’ it was incredible in ‘Them’, and her most recent role in ‘Maid’ is also worth noting on Broadway. She’s been in so many productions from The ThreePenny Opera to ‘Footloose’, ‘Carmen Jones’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, ‘Company’, ‘Hamilton’, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. She’s just incredible. And as if we needed any more proof that there’s nothing this woman can’t do. She is now coming in as the host of the third season of the Being Seen podcast. The award winning podcast is an in-depth exploration of our ability to change bias and perception using the power of storytelling. Previous seasons featured a handful of guests like Lena Whathe, Lee Daniels and Anika, along with a heavy hitting lineup of guests, will dove deep into the exploration of the Black female experience. There a series of 10 episodes exploring the different ways in which we inhabit space like power, freedom, desire and strength. The third season of Being Seen is hoping to spread awareness that Black women account for nearly 60 percent of new HIV cases among women. These conversations offer a chance to change and educate the population on the fact that Black women are being impacted by AIDS at a staggering rate. She’s also one of the stars of my favorite Christmas movie ‘Jingle Jangle’ that came out last year on Netflix and has quickly become a new Christmas classic. Today, we’re going to get into what we can expect from her as a host of this incredible podcast, and we’re going to find out a little bit about her journey through Hollywood. Hi, Anika. I’m so glad to have you today and so excited to welcome you to the world of podcasting. I think people who love listening to Acting Up will absolutely love listening to your new podcast. That’s going to take some of the conversations we’ve started, I think, and really elevate them and expand on them. Tell me why you wanted to do this podcast. [00:03:03][179.8]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:03:04] I wanted to do the podcast because it was a way to reach out to Black women themselves in a space that isn’t fictionalized, you know? And I think that very often we know the power of media, we know the power roles and role play and what fiction can do to allow people to see themselves and to see someone else in a space. Hopefully, if you’re doing a good job, people walk away, moved or changed. But there is also a really this is a really wonderful opportunity for me to reach out for two people and for people in the real life space, talking real line of words, real experiences, sharing some of my own. Hopefully, in a way that will allow people to see that their struggles are not their own, that their struggles are universal and people who appear to be at the top of their game and are, for all intents and purposes, professionally are still dealing with human real life struggles. And how do we address, attack, change, those things or change ourselves in ways that so that those things don’t affect us as deeply or as negatively as they can? Those are things that I’m really interested in, and those are the things that I want my followers new and old to engage on to engage in. Because I think, particularly in this time post George Floyd, a lot of us are realizing that, Oh, how are you? I’m fine. No, you’re not. You’re not fine. And the things that have been going on in our world affects not only our mental health, but also our physical health, because very often the things that are happening with our mental health will manifest themselves in our physical health before we even realize that we’re dealing with something internal. It’ll show itself almost on our bodies. It’ll show itself in our eating habits and our sleeping habits in our movement through the world. And these are all things that we are dealing with in this podcast. Health is a big deal in this podcast, physical and mental. We talk about HIV, which somebody would say, Oh, that’s that. That’s. Not an issue anymore, it is such an issue, such an issue, particularly for Black women in America, but all over the world. And the reason we don’t know it’s an issue is because it’s been ignored and it’s not talked about. The reason that it is an issue is because it’s been ignored and it’s not talked about. And so until we actually put words into the air so that we can share our conversation, none of these things will change because, A) either somebody doesn’t know it’s an issue. B) somebody may be embarrassed, uncomfortable, shamed for the issue that they are dealing with and feeling very alone in that space. Which is why I say it’s really important to know your issue is not. Not only are you not alone, you’re not special. So let’s make that real clear. Everybody is dealing with something and we try to talk about a lot of those somethings. [00:06:30][206.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:06:32] HIV absolutely is still devastating, sno many families and so many Black women. And I feel like a lot of people think we’re done with it like they think we fixed it or, you know, it’s over and they see commercials like, Oh, now you can take pills to, you know, decrease your chances of getting it. And those commercials are largely targeted to you and focused on gay males taking these preventative, you know, new drugs. But what about the Black women that are disproportionately in 2021 still affected by this disease and with COVID with, like you said, in the wake of George Floyd, with so many issues facing us, it’s like, how do we get people to understand that they also still need to focus on this? This is still a clear and present danger to you in living your everyday life, you know, and sharing sexual experiences and just being a Black woman. This is still dangerous to you, and you need to find a way to protect yourself. [00:07:32][60.0]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:07:33] I’m glad that you said in living your everyday life because so many people sensationalize this is Oh, you have HIV in 2021. You’ve got to be a sex worker. It must be a trans woman. You’ve done something. You, you are promiscuous. None of those three things. Meaning that you are someone who is living with HIV. You can be living with HIV, having been married for 20 years, thinking you were in a monogamous relationship and wake up one morning and find out you are not. You can be a trans woman living your best life, doing nothing out of the ordinary, but living in being. And find out you have HIV because of something that was not in your control. You know, some people are sex workers and they are put in positions where HIV is part of their life afterwards. But it is really important to say that I’ve been talking to several health care people that very often it’s luck. It’s luck. You know, but the good thing is, when you say living there, living people, living their lives, living normal lives, that this this health care partner, which is one of the produce it’s on the show deep health care. Their focus has been on Black women in their studies, Black women and Black femmes specifically relating to HIV as they create drugs to make sure that people can have normal lifespans. That as a term that I learned recently, U equals U. If your levels in your blood are undetectable, then you are unable to infect someone, meaning that you can have a partnership with someone that is loving. That is in awful experience of the love spectrum without fear of infecting them or without them having fear of being infected because they are drugs now that will take your levels to below a count that is that is visible. These are all things to know that there is there is the possibility in 2021 of full, loving, rounded lives. It is not the death sentence that it used to be when it first came out. And therefore what we need to be working on is making sure that people have that information, making sure that people are able to, without shame, get treatment, receive drugs, know that there are programs to assist you in getting the drugs that you need so that you’re not mortgaging a house to get drugs. And we need to be talking about these things because if we don’t put air on them, they get rancid. We have to say things out loud so that people, young people, older people, that the amount of older Black women who are newly infected with HIV is tremendous and they don’t know that they are possibly at risk because why should they? They’ve reached an age where, OK, now they’ve gone through menopause. Life is different. They don’t have to worry about birth control. And here comes HIV. So these are things that we need to talk about out loud in a space where we can remove some of the stigma around it and we can allow people to live strong, grounded unfearful lives, which is really important. [00:11:02][209.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:11:03] Yes. You know, as you were talking, I kind of realize I was racking my brain to think about a TV show or a movie where I saw the plight of a Black woman with HIV. And I can’t think of any. I can’t think of any stories that center on that. I was thinking about Billy’s role in this final season of ‘Pose’ and his real life reveal that he has been living with HIV and how impactful that is. But once again, we’re talking about a gay man. Why do you think that you know, these stories haven’t been told on screen because they aren’t new. It’s not like all of the sudden it’s hitting Black women. You know, we’ve been a huge casualty of this war against HIV since the 80s. Why do you think no one’s tackled that on screen yet? And might you ever want to? [00:11:55][52.4]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:11:56] I mean, the big, clear, simple answer is that there’s a lack of care. You know, that’s really the bottom line is because it shouldn’t even have to be tackled in the movies for people to have this information. Movies aren’t, aren’t documentaries. Movies aren’td octors’ offices. Movies aren’t these things we should know these things because it should be in the air, in our lives, not on television, we should have this information. You would hope that it would be something that would be in a movie to because sometimes something fictionalized allows more people to gain access to it. But you have to have care before you see it. Somebody has to care. Somebody has to think, Oh, this is a worthy topic. Somebody has to be like, Oh, you know, you know what I heard? Well, let’s put that in the next episode of whatever. We we are never at the top of somebody care list. Not ever. We’re not even at the top of our own care list. Be perfectly honest. And that has to change. It must change. We have to change it for ourselves and our own lives and our own homes. And it has to change in the world socially because Black women are at the forefront of so much change, but Black women are counted on to be the change bearers. Black women are the primary reason we got a new president who thinks about us. Sometimes, you know, Black women were the primary voting bloc in the election that didn’t do this country any good in an effort to change that narrative. So it would be really great if the world, the health system, our society could care about Black women with the same type of passion and strength that Black women care about the world. Yes, because we’re not superheroes. We are women who work every day. We are women who raise children on our own. We are women who raise children with families. We are women who keep families together. We are women who raise other children. We are somebody’s child. We are a lot of things, but we are not superheroes. So, yeah, there has to be care somewhere. Has to be empathy somewhere. And you know, it’s lacking. [00:14:21][144.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:14:22] Yes. Absolutely it is. I think it’s so fantastic when you know, I think that you’re very respected actor. I know that for me, you won’t remember this. But when you did Dreamgirls, that was one of my very early junkets. It was a big deal. You know, Beyonce was there, you were there, JHud was there and I was young and you were kind like, you were a much more kind than I think a lot of people in your position were to me at that time. And I always kind of remembered that. And as I’ve been able to follow your career into, you know, as it grew into bigger and more impactful roles, I mean, God, like you are Tiana in my house, period, my daughter here is your voice. And you know, she lights up because it’s it’s kind of become the fabric, you know, part of the fabric of her childhood. And I know that so many roles that you’ve played have had such an impact. And I wondered if there was a point in your career where you kind of decided to be intentional about the kind of roles that you were taking on and that the impact that they might have? Or did you set out from the beginning, you know, with those intentions? [00:15:31][68.7]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:15:32] First of all, thank you. Thank you for sharing that with me. I don’t remember that I’m, you know, I don’t remember meeting you and which sucks. But that means even more to me, because that means that it was just me in my own space and being myself. And I’m grateful to hear that, you know, I hope that when I finish my journey that more people have stories like that that is my great hope. So I thank you for sharing that with me. I feel like from the beginning, I want to do roles that I can be proud of. I want to do roles that would make my grandmother proud. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to play a jukebox because I’m a play jukebox. [00:16:21][49.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:16:23] Going to play the hell out of jukebox. [00:16:23][0.8]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:16:26] You know, that person exists in life as well, and that is the story that needs to be told as well. And there are lessons to be learned in there, and I’m not always trying to be a teacher when I’m acting. Sometimes I’m just trying to have some fun. But I do believe that if we’re going to show humanity, we have to show all of humanity. But there are ways in which stories are told that do not align with me and do not align with my spirit. And when I run up on that script, I was asked to audition for something a couple of years ago, and the premise of it was that Black people were in control of the world and we were subjugating white people and the whole thing was topsy turvy and I would have been cute money. I sent my agent an email and I said, Thank you for bringing this to my attention. The people who are interested in seeing me, but I can’t do this. I said in this time period with what is going on in our world right now, this is dangerous and it’s ugly to me. And it doesn’t work for what I hope for our world. And it’s untrue. And there are already people I don’t think everything has to be true, but there are already people running around thinking that that’s their reality. Yeah, you know. Yeah. And there’s enough crazy thinking this is their reality without me feeding into that crazy because that’s what I felt like that was going to do in that time period. Now for somebody else. It’s fine and it’s a job and it’s a worthy job. But for me, in the time period that that came about, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that and right in my spirit. And also, that has never been the case in the world. It doesn’t haven’t been right. So I felt it was a dangerous space to be in, even though we knew we weren’t telling. We weren’t making a documentary we weren’t telling, you know? But for somebody that was going to be a trigger, and I feel like too many of those triggers have been pulled in the past, I don’t know, six years. Yeah. Two human triggers. And I walked away from the audition. Even I just I can’t. I’m not even putting this on tape. Thank you for thinking of me. And that’s how I tried to move through the world. And you will always find a role that somebody be. But why did you do? Yeah, yeah. I don’t think you should have. How dare you do that too? That’s my choice. It’s my role is my journey. If you don’t like, didn’t speak to you sorry. But I did it for a reason. It spoke to me in some way. And I know that whatever I’ve done. Be it very grown up or for children that I can say, Hey, grandma who’s not here anymore. Look at this thing I did. I can do that. Because I’m always trying to move with integrity. I’m trying to do that. Somebody may think I’ve missed the mark at some point. OK, but that’s what I’m trying to do. [00:19:36][189.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:36] Do you feel, you know, we are always talking about this changing landscape of Hollywood and, you know, networks and movie studios making moves to, you know, increase diversity and inclusion and equality behind the scenes in front of the scenes, more VIPs that are Black, more writers and directors that are Black more diverse casting efforts like do you feel that yet as an actor who was part of Hollywood, you know, before George Floyd and and now after, do you feel like you know your paycheck is starting to reflect what your white counterparts paychecks would be if they were, you know, if they were you, if they were cast in these roles? Or are you still, you know, looking at the watch? [00:20:23][46.6]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:20:24] I hate to talk money, but but I will say that I’ve done a lot of things I’ve done. I’ve made several firsts. I have won some awards. I’ve spoken in lots of different dialects, I do think that were I not a Black woman that my paycheck would have changed dramatically some time ago. Am I suffering in the scale of is somebody else making less than me? Sure. But are people making a lot more than I am? I’ll tell you this. I did a show on Broadway with a Tony and great show. That show was revived a couple of years later, a couple of years later, not eight, not 10, 15 or 20. A couple of years later, and the white actress who played the role that I played, I found out, made $30,000 a week on Broadway. That was not even a conversation when I was doing that role. And our show ran and was critically acclaimed. It was I wouldn’t have, even when even occurred to me to say, Yeah, make sure you ask them for 30 grand. Tell them I’m not doing it for anything. I’m like twenty nine nine nine. I’m not doing it, you know? So there’s still disparities. Yes, but things better. Yes. But I think that you know what has to happen is that people have to be making change from a space of awareness and desire, not from the space of not wanting to be shamed or fear of being called racist. I think that change has to happen behind the scenes behind the camera in a way that says, we appreciate the work that you do. We appreciate the eye that you have. People need to be brought up and trained and zoomed in to positions like other folks are because they show promise and they shouldn’t just be on Black shows. They should be on everybody’s show because everybody’s showing up on our shows. There should never be a day that I walk into a trailer to get my face and hair done and don’t see a Black person in the chair, a qualified Black person, a qualified Black person. And these are things that we’re still fighting for. There are a lot of things that we’re fighting for. There’s even things that we’re we’re fighting for within our own community, the way movies are cast and the way we are so often ignored. There’s a there’s a big fight, there’s a big struggle still to be had and it’s exhausting. But it’s necessary like you get tired of every year. People are like, So do you think we stop? What do you think? Yeah, yeah. What do you think has to be done? Why don’t you ask the people who can do something what they think has to be done and then ask them to make a plan and then ask them to talk to you about the plan so that you know that something is being implemented? Why are you asking me the same question over and over? You know, you have an idea about how things have changed? Yes, you see a lot more Black faces. How long will that last? In what space will we be in? How will we be represented? Is what you’re seeing quality work? Are you pulling things that you’re like? This is amazing. Let’s bring it. Or are you pulling things and saying, this is Black? Are you making sure that the executives in your company are qualified and artful, thoughtful individuals? Are you making sure that the people behind the camera lightning brown faces know how light works on our faces? There are so many, many, many, many, many, many, many things. So no, we aren’t finished. More importantly, they aren’t finished. [00:24:40][256.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:41] I love that Anika, I could talk to you forever. I have so much more for you right now, but I have got to let you go. I cannot wait to tune in to hear more of your insights on your podcast, and I hope that all of my listeners will join me when that kicks off. So thank you so much for being a guest and thank you for being, I think, really such a light in this industry for me and for so many people. You said you wanted to do work that you can be proud of, and I could tell you that I know that I am proud of the work that you have done and in so many other people are as well. [00:25:11][29.9]

Anika Noni Rose: [00:25:11] Thank you. I really appreciate you. [00:25:13][1.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:25:13] Thank you. Bye-Bye. Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you’d like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to Acting Up is brought to you by the Grio and executive produced by Cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and Acting Up, check us out on Instagram @Acting Up.Pod. [00:25:13][0.0]