Despite growing up in Birmingham, AL, with vivid memories of his mother and aunts making the annual trek to Essence Festival over the past 25 years, this year presented Ryan Jamaal Swain his very first Essence experience. And while the breakout Pose star has had the red carpet rolled out for him throughout the weekend, he still found plenty of time to be a fan.
“Knowing this was a family reunion of sorts for Black people, Black excellence and Black opulence, and Black people doing their thing and making a difference, I didn’t feel like I was there yet,” Swain told Essence. “But this year, knowing that it’s the 25th Anniversary and that we are breaking new ground in regards to what being Black in America means, I felt it was the best time to come. I think it’s good that Pose is happening at the same time and we get to usher in a new level of understanding for all type of Black people.”
For Swain, who grew up with the Essence brand ever-present in his “grandmother’s kitchen,” attending the Festival as a VIP weekend has been surreal. But it hasn’t stopped him from fanning out at least a few times, attending Estelle’s Reggae x Afrobeats Jam Session (Swain’s father’s family is from the French-Caribbean island of Martinique); networking with Dapper Dan and the Gucci team; and supporting co-star Indya Moore’s Beauty Carnival chat on Breaking Hollywood’s Beauty Barriers.
“I’m always gonna be a fan. There’s this thing called symbolic annihilation: when you don’t see yourself represented in the world that you wanna be in, you feel that you’re not important. And so what Essence does so beautifully is that it shows us that we have a place and we can do it on a global level and we don’t have to sacrifice our integrity or anything. But we can be truly us, truly Black and still be completely global and completely American.”