Rejection is something all actors face. With Black actresses, there’s another layer of exclusion they must navigate as they find their own opportunities in the spotlight. Erika Alexander knows this Hollywood shuffle all too well. On a recent episode of Yes, Girl! podcast, the actress—who’s currently appearing in Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga—shared how she found freedom in the system’s rejection and how she’s thwarting the privilege and racism still ruling Tinsel Town.
“Nobody likes to be rejected,” stated Alexander frankly. The award-winning actress described the terror she felt after being dropped by the agents a few years after her short but timeless run as everyone’s favorite attorney at law Maxine Shaw on Living Single.
“They literally sat in that room with those agents and said, “Who’s interested in… No, I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to drop her from our roster,” like nothing …It blindsided me, it never occurred to me that the thing that I thought I was the most gifted at, I don’t have a college degree, was no longer valuable in their space. Maybe that’s what frightened me. That’s the truth.You face a fear that you were never enough,” she continued.
Alexander expressed how being dropped by her representation hurt far more than routinely not receiving a call backs auditions. “You’re used to rejection. That’s not the point. You’re used to rejection and you get it, but you hope your representatives know who you are, the value.”
She continued: “It’s like saying that everything you did, the two NAACP Awards, all the great reviews you got, a year and a half of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, six plays at the public theater, the fact you can do comedy and drama, the fact that you show up on time. There is no story about you showing up drunk or not knowing your lines or being half prepared, meant nothing.”
But the actress found an advantage to being overlooked and undervalued by the system. She could use her voice consequence free. “People say, ‘Well, aren’t you afraid to see that sister, they are not going to give you jobs, they’re going to give you this.’ I’m like, ‘They’re not giving me jobs anyway.’ It is what it is. I’m going to keep it moving. I don’t think that’s the reason I’m not getting jobs because I’m outspoken. Nobody cares what I say. Nobody’s even listening to what I say. And the few people that are, they agree with me.”
Tony Puryear, her ex-husband and long-time creative partner was one of those people. She tapped into her “divine” and “resilient” nature and created her own opportunities with his professional support.
“I started to take the fact that I needed to be a creator much more seriously. I needed to discipline myself and focus my attention on things that were beyond a phone call or somebody who so-called, represented me, who was supposed to work for me. Color Farm Media was my way to start to address some of the systemic and infrastructure things that no longer needed to hold because they didn’t hold the power anymore,” she said proudly.
Her foremothers inspired her commitment to keep going.
“I stand on the shoulders, like we all do, of not only giants, but people who are like you. I haven’t earned the right to give up. If that’s the worst that they can do me, Fannie Lou Hamer would say, ‘What you got, girl? Get up.'”
Watch Erika Alexander continue getting up and getting it done on by streaming Wu-Tang: An American Saga on Hulu.