Sisters Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen came through the day after Christmas with an epic IG Live. At ages 73 and 71, Rashad and Allen, both Howard alums, working women, mothers and grandmothers, have defied age and, most importantly, embody and define “Black Excellence.”
And this year they’ve been as busy as ever. Rashad, most beloved as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, changed it up a bit by playing villains in two films—Tyler Perry’s first Netflix film, A Fall From Grace, in January and the Blumhouse horror thriller Black Box in October—before settling into more familiar terrain with the HBO production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me, the new Christmas classic, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey and Pixar’s jazz-themed animated film Soul.
In addition to running the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), work that fuels the Shonda Rhimes-produced Netflix documentary, Dance Dreams, focused on her and the school’s annual holiday production, Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, Allen is Dr. Catherine Fox on Rhimes’ juggernaut series Grey’s Anatomy while also serving as executive producer and directing many episodes. If that weren’t enough, she also directed the Dolly Parton film, Christmas on the Square.
With a track record of excellence like this, it’s little wonder their IG Live (with brief appearances from their daughters, Condola Rashad and Vivian Nixon, and Allen’s two grandchildren) has attracted over 454,000 views on Allen’s IG and over 130,000 views on Rashad’s IG and counting. Speaking among themselves, as well as answering audience questions, the two icons, unknowingly dressed similarly in red silk, dropped numerous gems through all the love and laughter. A few memorable ones are captured below.
Take A Nap: Of course, the audience asked the flawless beauties for their secrets. Rashad admitted that genes play a huge role but suggested drinking lots of water and keeping your skin clean. In addition to exercise, Allen, referencing a Chinese doctor she visited through Rashad, advocated protecting your mental state. ‘Take nap 15-20 minutes a day,’ he advised. “That means lay down and let everything go,” she said.
How Rashad and Allen Became Great: Their mother, the Pulitzer Prize nominated poet Vivian Ayers Allen, who is now in her nineties and living in Los Angeles with Allen, played a pivotal role in their early development, especially as artists, the women memorably shared. One of the main reasons for that Allen shared is how she incorporated her children into her life, be it taking them to Mexico with her, sharing books from Rice University where she worked as assistant librarian or welcoming civil rights activity into their home.
“Take your children with you. Don’t leave them behind. Take them with you. No matter how difficult it is, take them with you because that’s how Phylicia and I have become who we are. Mama always took us with her, and we were part of her vision and her dream along the way,” Allen shared.
Allen explained that it was important “because it’s how you can make the world a better place. Look at us. We weren’t just by accident out here becoming who we are. We were destined and we were raised to go out here and do something. And do something with creativity and do something not just about ourselves.”
Teaching Is A Gift to The Teacher: Speaking of teaching Chadwick Boseman and Susan Kelechi Watson, with whom she guest stars as her mother on This Is Us, with Allen, Rashad said “I don’t feel that I’ve touched their lives so much as they have touched mine because teaching is a gift in which we receive wouldn’t you say? We receive so much from some of the students. I learn so many things. Because it isn’’t just the case that I walk into a class knowing what I want to say and knowing what I want to do. I don’t. It becomes a safe space for us to work and to explore.”
Allen, who announced her plans to open DADA Middle School, beginning with sixth graders, in the fall of 2021, chimed in that “the most important word is explore. As a teacher, for me, you find out what they need. You may go in with a destination of where you want them to get to, but you have to find out and discover together how to get them there, what is the best way for them to get there.”
Why They Don’t Regret Great Projects They Turned Down: On IG, the two were asked if they turned down projects they regretted. Although Rashad revealed that she turned down the 19889 film, Clara’s Heart, she and her sister admitted that it was a role that belonged to Whoopi Goldberg. “She was just like she is in everything she does—honest and true. You know that’s why we love her,” Rashad shared.
For Allen it was being unable to direct Ruby Bridges, which aired in 1988 and was handled by Euzhan Palcy, because she was committed to a DADA fundraiser in which she and James Ingram starred in a stage adaptation of her children’s book, Brothers of the Night. “I couldn’t forsake the children,” she said. “The real opportunity for me has been to stay with these kids and be there for them. And so that’s a commitment. It’s a life commitment.”
Leaning into the theme of her film, Soul, Rashad surmised that “Life’s moments are unfolding, and the greatest moment is right before us in the present. Not what we measure.”