AUP S2E3: Trials to Triumph


TRANSCRIBED: Albert Parnell

Completed 8/12/22

You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Cortney Wills [00:00:08] 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 catching up with Ashley Blaine Featherston-Jenkins. I can’t wait to sit down with Ashley, who is one of the sweetest people in Hollywood. She captured all of our hearts as Joelle on Netflix’s hit series Dear White People. And now that it’s coming to an end, she’s taken on a new task as podcast host over on OWN, where she hosts the incredibly moving series Trials to Triumphs. I wanted to find out what was behind the move to podcasting for this actress and content creator and hear about how her life has changed since tying the knot and where she still sees some holes when it comes to representing us in real stories. We’ll also talk about how Dear White People paved the way for her to really come into her own as an actress and how the end of that series brought her back to her roots as a content creator. Here we go. 

Cortney Wills [00:01:12] It’s been literally years, I think, since we were in the same room, and so much has happened since then. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:01:18] All of the things. 

Cortney Wills [00:01:20] All of the things have happened, are still happening. But a very happy thing is that you did get married and Dear White People ended, you know, a whole entire pandemic. And now a fabulous new podcast from you, which I think is right on time now. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:01:39] Oh, my gosh. My manager gave the suggestion that I start a podcast and I was like, Mike, that’s insane. One, what is it about? Two, who’s going to listen to my podcast? And he was like, one, figured out. Two, everybody. And I was like, Oh, okay. So he really honestly, I really have my manager, Mike Smith, to thank for charging me with the task. I don’t even want to say charging me with the task, but for really seeing my future, seeing what’s for me. To me, that’s really and truly what a manager is all about. Podcasting was not at all on my radar. And so but I love a challenge. And so I, you know, took some time to really figure out what I wanted the podcast to be about, what type of podcast I felt like I needed, but also the type of podcast that if I were to have one, I’d want to give the world. And that’s where Trials to Triumphs came from. Honestly, the name came to me before. You know, really the premise and I and I’m I’m that type of person names kind of even when I’m creating content names typically come to me first. But it came to me just because I am someone who’s very fascinated. I’m very fascinated with, but oddly inspired by the journey. I like knowing how people got to point from point A to point B and like, was there point Z in between. Like that to me is what life is all about. And the times in which I’ve gained the most inspiration have come from people sharing their trials to triumphs journeys with me, them truly not giving me the highlight reel, not giving me that, you know, the fluffy version of their lives, but truly saying, actually, this is what I went through. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:03:30] This is the breakthrough that I had. This is the moment that I had where everything changed for me. And I wanted to create a platform where I could bring loads of those stories to the masses. And that’s exactly what we have now with the Trials to Triumphs. And honestly, it is probably at this point in my career, the thing that I’m most proud of. Because to me, it’s everything, like I said, that I would want. But there’s so much heart. It’s all heart and it’s all real. It’s just a genuine place for inspiration, for joy, for transparency, and also just for people to gain tools in order to live their best lives and also just not feel alone. I think that’s the thing about the podcast, too, is that it’s humanizing, it’s real, it’s you’re able to connect with people that I think oftentimes we look at as being somewhat like in some stratosphere that we’re not part of, but we’re all in the same sphere, we’re all in it together. 

Cortney Wills [00:04:30] Yeah. And like didn’t if anything, didn’t the pandemic kind of show us that? I mean, that was like an instant humanization of everyone suddenly having to grapple with this very unfamiliar reality. Oh, yeah. You know, and whether it’s celebrities or regular people, I think that, you know, we’ve been alone now for a long time. And so not feeling alone is kind of more important than ever. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:04:57] Oh, yeah. I mean, I think that this goes for everybody, but especially Black women, because we are often times. Not seen in the fullness of who we are and not appreciated for the fullness and for everything that we are. And, you know, my career is dedicated to Black women. Black women are always my focus and at the forefront of my mind in everything that I do. And I always want to have a safe space for us to land and to feel seen and acknowledged and celebrated and loved. And I also feel like Trials to Triumphs is that, yeah. 

Cortney Wills [00:05:39] You know, on Acting Up, we are constantly talking to Black folks in Hollywood, Black women in Hollywood when it comes to their careers and when it comes to this particular industry and this particular game. Like what is the real what has your journey been? Of course, we’re all seeing you starring on this show or in this movie now, but what has that really been like? And I think for people who look at celebrities as people to aspire to, but who are also very, you know, envious or, gosh, I wish I could be so lucky or I wish I could have it so easy. You know, it’s not always that easy. And people you never really know what it is that they are struggling with. Can you tell me so far, working on your podcast, like what has been the most surprising kind of revelation for you from someone, maybe a trial you just couldn’t have expected or didn’t know, you know, or just were particularly moved by? 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:06:35] Oh, man. There’s so many, but I would definitely probably say Sonequa Martin-Green I, you know, Sonequa was our second episode. Sonequa is just, Oh, my gosh, she’s a dynamic woman. She really, really is. And I think she’s a great example of exactly what you’re asking about because, you know, we see her play these incredibly strong characters on TV. We see this beautiful family that she has that she’s created with her husband and her two children. But behind the scenes, pretty recently, she dealt with the death of both of her parents within a day of each other. And. I don’t even have the words. I remember her sharing it with me and just it felt like there was this fog that just, you know, went over my brain because I just could not believe that this woman suffered such heartbreak back to back. You know, her creators left the earthly plane within a day of each other and you know, her story of how her children kept her, lifted, her husband kept her lifted. Her work in some ways was a distraction, I thought was just an incredibly powerful, but also just. Relatable. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:08:03] The thing is like tragedy will strike or has hit all of us at some point. And to hear her talk about how she moved through it, but also how it’s it’s always changing. It’s never, she’s never, she’s never not grieving. She’s just grieving in a different ways at different stages of her life. And I thought that that was something I really needed to hear and that our listeners really needed to hear. Like to give ourselves grace for grieving, for being sad, for for going through really, really, really tough times in life and maybe not even knowing how to go through it, but just putting one foot in front of the other is enough. And how to identify those in your lives that you can lean on without judgment and with love and compassion and empathy. Yeah. She’s she she was already an amazing woman. But after really chatting with her and getting to know her, I couldn’t be any more inspired by her. 

Cortney Wills [00:09:15] Wow. For those of you who haven’t heard that episode, definitely tune in and check it out. Quite moving, like you said. And so I think inspirational but also. You know, when even when you hear something like, you know, rags to riches or trials to triumph, it’s gives off this impression that there is this destination that someone has finally hit like a finish line, that they have crossed and made it or gone through it or gotten over it. And that’s not always what. You know, living through tough times is, like you said, like she’s always grieving. It might not look the way that it did the day after the tragedy struck, but there’s not necessarily like this elusive point that some people get to and some people don’t. Right. It’s so much more about approach and I think that’s so applicable to so many things in our lives. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:10:12] Oh, yeah. The thing is that like. It’s going to look different for all of us. But I think what’s important about a platform like Trials, The Triumphs, is that you’ll hear how someone else went through it and you’ll then at least start looking inward and asking yourself questions about how you’re going through in order to get through it better. It’s not to do it the same way as somebody else, but it’s to open your mind, to expand your mind. You realize, okay, let me look at what I’m going through and how can I get through this the best way I can? For me. 

Cortney Wills [00:10:45] Yeah. You know, since I’ve met you. I’ve always thought that you were just super insightful. Like you always kind of reflect on your experiences in a way that unlike men, she really thought about. You know, she didn’t just live that experience. She really, like, thought about its effect. These seem very intentional, usually with the things that you say and the way that you kind of go about your career and your life. And I know that you’ve recently gotten married, which is a huge change. And, you know, this show that so many people fell in love with you on has come to an end. And so I wonder, those are two really big, I would think, triumphs, but also kind of a door open to some, you know, to some trials that you’ve never experienced. You’ve been an actor who wasn’t working yet, but now you’re an actor who had a huge, hugely successful role, huge following. And it’s like, what’s next? So I wonder, what is that like for you? Like this space that you’re holding now? Career wise? 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:11:49] Oh, man. Well, thank you, Cortney. I really appreciate you. Like like you said earlier, seeing me, I feel like you always have. And I really appreciate that. Oh, it’s been a crazy time. It’s been so crazy, actually. You know, I am. Okay. I’m going to try to figure out how to get into this. Like, basically, I feel like in this season of where Dear White People has come to an end, a show that changed my life. Really? I feel like. Introduced to me, even though I had done some things before. I feel like dear white people was really the place that people could mark. Like, this is where I really got to know Ashley and her talent and become a fan or a supporter of hers. And you know, with that ending, I always imagined that I would have this like really, really, really tough time with it. And oddly, I was really accepting of it and hopeful and excited for what would be next. And what’s been interesting about this time period. So it’s been about a year and a half since we stopped shooting, but it’s been almost a year since our last season debut, our fourth and final season. And what’s been interesting, though, is that in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve returned back to my roots, which is creating my own content. So like, you know, for me, my introduction into like, you know, the entertainment world was with my web series Hello Cupid, that me and Lena Waithe created and was on Black and Sexy TV ten years ago. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:13:33] So even in this kind of period of like, what’s my next what I like to call TV home? Because I’m a TV girl, I love TV. I could live on TV for the rest of my life. I love exploring characters over seasons and growing with the TV family. But what I’ve done in this time is, again, I just created content. This podcast is kind of again going back to my roots and saying, okay, I’m going to create something for myself. I’m going to collaborate with like minded individuals who want to get the vision, want to see me shine and soar and put something out into the world that is lasting and meaningful and. You know, in my head, I just saw myself being so busy, you know, being here and there on such a sad show. But I think that, you know, God has really been setting me up with this amazing platform that is trials and triumphs. Because the truth is, I always knew that coming off a dear white people, I couldn’t just go to anything. Dear white people was such a powerful. Oh, gosh. Just amazing show that. You know, I couldn’t go and be on something that was kind of vapid or meaningless, you know, or just, you know, kind of a show for shits and giggles, for lack of a better term. 

Cortney Wills [00:14:52] You can’t. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:14:52] It’s impossible. Well, it’s not impossible. It’s actually quite easy to do, but it wouldn’t really make sense. 

Cortney Wills [00:14:57] Right. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:14:59] And I mean I mean, it wouldn’t make sense as far as career trajectory, but also just as far as who I am as an artist and what and what type of what type of legacy I want to leave as far as my career. And so I always knew that it would be like I would have to be more specific. But then now adding Trials to Triumphs into the mix, it’s like, Oh, I really have to be intentional and specific about what’s next because I am, you know, creating this lane for myself where I am doing projects and portraying characters and creating content that really matters. And that is saying something, saying a lot of things actually. And so I say all that to say. Cortney I’m really excited for whatever that is. I’ve been so blessed to work on Run the World and Grand CRU and you know, work with these great, great shows and creators and actors. And it’s just been honestly, it’s been a blessing and a dream. I’ve had so much fun, but I’m really excited to see like where my next permanent home, well, you know, permanently for a few seasons will be. 

Cortney Wills [00:16:10] Yeah. Yeah. Have you been like I mean, what’s wifeing like? You’ve been cooking a lot, your cooking before your wife. Like, what happens when it becomes, you know, a thing? Like, how is that all going? 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:16:22] Love it. Oh, my gosh. Darroll, my husband, he said the other day, he’s like, you know, he calls me Bash. He’s like, you know, Bash, you’re always great at cooking. He’s like, but I love he’s like, I don’t know i feel like since we’ve got married you’ve like taken it up a notch. He really likes that. I, I never know either, but he never knows what we’re going to have for dinner. I just come up with that kind of on the spot. And he, I think, really enjoys that spontaneity. But being married is so much fun. I highly recommend it. Should you marry your best friend and someone you really, really love and respect and all of those things. But marriage is lit. Like it’s so much more amazing than I even imagined. You know, people say like, the number one question I find that people ask me is, “so did anything change after you got married?” And I’m like, Yeah, it did, 1,000%. It should. Like to me, it’s very odd to like commit your lives to one another under God and in the presence of all these people that love and adore you and like nothing changes like that does make any sense. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:17:26] So, you know, it’s not changes in the sense of like we’re completely different people. But I would say it’s changes in the sense of, there’s more of everything. So we loved each other a ton. We love each other even more. We had a whole bunch of fun. We have a tremendous amount of fun now. Like, it’s just it’s like everything’s a little bit sweeter, I would say. And the challenges that I think society says come with the marriage. I wouldn’t say that I’ve experienced. What I would say you experience or I’ve experienced in marriage is, the challenge or the charge to be a better Ashley because my marriage depends on it. It means something to my husband. That’ll mean something to my future children. You know it. It matters. You know what I mean? Like, I don’t. I don’t want to stay stagnant. I want to keep growing. I want to keep getting better. I want to I want to be bigger, better, bolder, all of those things, because I have a family now and that’s really important. 

Cortney Wills [00:18:41] Has it occurred to you now that you are an actual married woman, how little representation there actually is of Black married people on TV? Like accurate, realistic marriages between Black people are age? where are they at? 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:18:57] One kajillion percent. Yeah, it’s. It’s insane. It’s. It’s really insane. It’s really sad. I’ve even noticed, too, like, people were so shocked that I hyphenated my name and I was like. I got married like I like I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t feel like I was giving anything up. I mean, I now had the longest name in Hollywood, but, you know, it’s kind of like I. I added to it because that’s what my life is now, and I’m very proud of it. It’s our family name now. You know, I people were so shocked by it. But I also think people are somewhat shocked when people are also like into it, like, okay, she’s making a choice. And I’m like, yeah, like it’s all good. But yeah, I definitely want to see. But here’s the thing, Cortney. I feel like this has always been my challenge. I’m always fighting to just find myself on TV. I don’t understand it. Like that’s where Hello Cupid came from at the time in the early 2000s, or early 2010s. I’m sorry. Who was the young 22, 23 year old Black girl figuring it out on TV. It wasn’t there. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:20:18] So I had to come up with it because I was trying to audition for things that were not really for me or they were for someone that was white or not Black, or I wasn’t in the age range, whatever it was. And so I was like, Well, I want to work, so I’m going to have to create, create a platform. We’re going to create a platform for ourselves because this is just not, you know, where it’s at. You know, it was in those days that Lena, you know, at the time, I think, was thinking about twenties. Obviously, we were in our twenties at the time. Twenties now on screen. But even then I don’t think people weren’t checking for Black girls in their twenties for whatever reason. And now I feel like it’s the same Black women in our thirties trying to figure it out. Like, I want more of that Black women that are married, Black women that have families like it is, there is a large void and honestly, I would love to. That would be great to play a character that is as multifaceted as multi-hyphenate aid as most, if not all, of the Black women in my life. 

Cortney Wills [00:21:23] Yes. Yes. I mean, we talk about representation so much in these strides that we’re making and like all of these changes in Hollywood. But the most basic thing, like chicks pondering marriage or children or navigating work and wanting a family, or am I going to change my name? Or should I have this child? Like those are very, you would think that we would have gotten there by now. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:21:49] And I will say that was the beauty of working on the Run the World, because. 

Cortney Wills [00:21:55] Black girls have jobs and friends. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:21:57] Everything you just said Cortney they’res exploring on that show. And it was very refreshing to be a part of, I have to say. It really, really was. 

Cortney Wills [00:22:08] Yeah, that is a great show. I mean, there’s a handful and they are poking out. But I feel like when I find myself in a new kind of point in my life, I realize like, shit, I don’t know what to do because I haven’t seen it on TV. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:22:22] It’s weird. All we want to do is sit down, turn on the TV and see ourselves. 

Cortney Wills [00:22:26] Yeah. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:22:27] So, yeah. 

Cortney Wills [00:22:28] Ashley, what have you been watching? 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:22:30] Oh, my gosh. So the thing about me is that I’m obsessed with television. I watched so much television. We watched some on television. Darroll and I both. Like we literally every night we say we have dinner and we say, “what’s the agenda?” And the agenda means what shows are we going to have time to watch? Because we have to create an agenda for it, because if not, we would be up until 7 a.m.. Yeah, but okay. What am I watching? What are we watching? Okay. Succession. I love Succession, I’m waiting them to come back. Ozark. We love Ozark. I loved The Drop Out. I thought that was great on Hulu 

Cortney Wills [00:23:15] The Dropped Out was so good. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:23:17] Amanda? 

Cortney Wills [00:23:17] That was good. Like, yeah,. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:23:21] You know what I like about her? She she’s real subtle with it. Everything she’s in, she’s amazing. But she just does the work and fades and just goes off and lives her life, Does some amazing work, goes on back to live her life that I really bang with her. So I watched that. 

Cortney Wills [00:23:39] That was really good. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:23:40] We’re watching The Staircase right now on HBOMax. 

Cortney Wills [00:23:42] I can’t watch it. I’m like, I know it’s good. I just I just can’t. Like, how many times did she fall? Like, the first one, I just, you know, like, it’s just. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:23:52] Yeah,. 

Cortney Wills [00:23:52] Maybe later. Like, sometimes you’re a little trauma out, and I’m just not one. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:23:56] I gotcha. Okay, it’s very good. So whenever you come around to it, it’ll be there. That’s fantastic. One of my favorite shows right now is Severance on Apple TV. On Apple TV plus. Oh, my gosh. Severance is so. It’s one of the best shows on TV. 

Cortney Wills [00:24:12] Really? What do you like about it? Tell me what you like about it. That’s on my list. I haven’t gotten to it, but it’s on my list.

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:24:17] Severance is a master class in everything’s a masterclass in directing and acting and lighting and set design and writing in costume design. I mean, everything is brilliant and so intentional, but I also just like that it’s interesting. It’s kind of like a. A far out depiction of what I think we all think about every day, which is. What if we could really separate work and home? Like what if, especially now when we do everything at home, right? Like. 

Cortney Wills [00:25:03] Yes. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:25:03] What if we could have a work life that could never seep into our personal life and a personal life that could never seep into our work life? And I think it’s something that maybe a lot of us have thought about in our subconscious that no is just impossible. And so what’s cool about the show is that it explores that. Explores actually these people are doing that. And what are the consequences and what are the benefits from that? 

Cortney Wills [00:25:27] I’m in. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:25:27] Yeah, no, Severance is fantastic. Ben Stiller is like the most brilliant director to ever live. And I’m like, Who knew? 

Cortney Wills [00:25:36] Yeah. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:25:36] Was I under a rock? And I missed that. I mean, he’s fantastic. I love Barry on HBOMax.  I love all the things I really, really do. 

Cortney Wills [00:25:47] That’s a good watch lists. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:25:48] Yeah, I’m pretty good. Yeah. 

Cortney Wills [00:25:51] You know I judge people based on what they watch. Do you guys ever get into this, like, true crime stuff or these, like, you know, these, like, white people mess docu-series?

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:26:03] It’s my favorite. Yeah, I’m obsessed. 

Cortney Wills [00:26:06] Like, Tender Swindler. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:26:09] One of my favorite podcasts is my favorite murder. That’s on my favorite podcast. I’m just really fascinated with like True Crime. I think that in a different life, I could have maybe been like a psychologist or studied psychology. The brain is so interesting. What makes people take what makes people snap? 

Cortney Wills [00:26:34] Yes. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:26:34] I’m fascinated. 

Cortney Wills [00:26:35] Now at this stage in your career with the platform that you do have, what is like a tangible, what continues to be like, I guess, something that you’re fighting for or moving toward or approaching your career with? You know, with x kind of mindset now because you can?

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:27:02] I think the mindset for me is like always being unapologetically Black. Like, Blackity, Black, Black, Black. Whatever that means for you. And whatever that means for me. And I think that as you grow older and change and grow, that might change, too. But. For me. The core of it is always connected to my ancestors. It’s always connected to the women who shaped me and raised me and as always, connected to the journey. You know, I think the other cool thing about, you know, Trials to Triumphs is that I feel like. In a lot of ways, it describes the journey of Black folks. You know, we have been through. Any trial imaginable. We’ve been through it. Yet we’re still consistently triumphant. And that is. I think just a blessing to be able to view my life as such and to view the journey of our people as such. So that’s always my charge is to just be unapologetically the beautiful, amazing, talented, smart, ambitious Black woman that I am always and nobody stopping that. 

Cortney Wills [00:28:40] Well said, my dear. Thank you so much for joining me today. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:28:44] Thank you, Cortney. 

Cortney Wills [00:28:44] Always such a pleasure to see you and talk to you. So excited about this amazing new podcast and all of the things that are next for you. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins [00:28:51] Thank you. Thank you so much. I always love talking to you, so let’s do it again soon. 

Cortney Wills [00:29:00] Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode of Acting Up. Download theGrio app to listen to acting up and other great podcasts. See you soon. 

[00:29:14] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Maiysha Kai [00:29:19] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrio’s Writing Black podcast hosted by me, Maiysha Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember, that’s Writing Black, every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.