Actress Paula Jai Parker storyline on TVOne’s Hollywood Divas has left many of us with mouths agape? How could a seemingly successful actress who has starred in classics like Friday and Hustle & Flow be homeless and living out of an extended stay hotel room? The actress says her living situation and financial status are the result of being “blackballed” by people she thought were friends in Hollywood.
We recently sat down with Parker for an in-depth conversation to get a better understanding of her situation and why she feels her famous friends turned their backs on her.
You’ve repeatedly said you were blackballed in Hollywood. Can you give us a little bit more clarity about what you mean?
It’s very difficult to explain. Hollywood is very cliquish. Working is about having relationships. It’s more about who you know, who you don’t know, who you’re friends with, who you’re not friends with. Me being out of the loop kept me from being able to work. It left me being out of the circle. People use the example that I did Idlewild right after Hustle & Flow. But if you pay attention, I’ve been a working actress for over 20 years. After that particular movie, you didn’t see me very much. You can ask anyone on the Idlewild set as far as the executives go there were phone calls made concerning me and that movie.
When I look at your resume and your IMDB, after Idlewild, there’s a lot of activity. You still kept working. Are you saying maybe you were not on the big screen?
Right, I worked independently. I’ve always been a hustler. As far as I’m concerned my God is bigger than man. I’ve been blackballed at least three times in my career literally. Each time, I’ve continued to flourish. Because I don’t sit around and wait for somebody to call me up and say I’ve got a job for you. After Idlewild I had to start from scratch. I had to go to auditions with little girls that I’d never seen before if I expected to get back in the game. I had to do independent films that were paying me less $100 a day.
Would you do anything differently?
No, I would not. I wouldn’t because I’m happy, and I wasn’t happy before. Hollywood is a tough industry to navigate as a young woman. What I’m giving you guys on [Hollywood Divas] is a glimpse of what we go through. I think people like to look at the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood and create their own fantasy about who we are and how we did it, and how it goes down. But real life isn’t always that glamorous, and I’m just giving you my own truth. Whether you want to accept it or not is up to you. But I signed on to be a truth teller; to tell a couple of the little secrets because no one else is going to let you know.
You’ve worked with some pretty amazing people in your career. This period where you felt like you were being blackballed, did you keep in touch with your famous costars?
A lot of my friends and famous costars were very … I am going to say prejudiced against my situation. There were a lot of people that were very vocal about being concerned about my choices. No one bit their tongue. It pushed me farther away. I couldn’t pretend to be something that I’m not. I’ve always been real, and I’ve never been able to suffer foolishness. There weren’t very many people that I was able to stay in touch with because I felt uncomfortable. I felt because something was said slick or something was done as a joke but at my or my husband’s expense. I was constantly defending myself when he wasn’t around or constantly defending him when he was. It just isn’t worth it to me. I basically cut myself off from my old life to begin my new one.
A lot of people are in messy relationships in Hollywood. Your husband wasn’t beating you. He wasn’t a drug addict or anything… what made people that indifferent to him?
I don’t know. It’s so competitive that if someone can find a chink in your chain that’s loose, they will pull it out. What I’m saying is if I’m perceived as being the winner or the top banana, you want to expose any flaw that you perceive to bring me down to make yourself look better. I find that a lot with people in Hollywood if you’ve got any little flaw, they’ll pounce on it to belittle you in the public eye. I know that my husband was a PA when I met him. I know that my husband has a master’s degree, and I know that men make more money in this industry when given a fair chance than a woman could ever make. My objective was not to marry a PA. My objective was to marry a good man and grow with him and what’s mine is his and his is mine, for better or for worse
Now that you’ve put everything out in the open, have any of your Hollywood friends contacted you?
One person, yes. That person was on the outside looking in and reached out to me. They applauded my strength and told me to ‘Go girl!’ It really touched my heart because no one else has said anything.
Was your husband Forrest okay with making your issues with homelessness public?
Of course not. In this season of our lives this is what we were going through. There is no coincidence. I am not the only person going through homelessness … I am not the only person in America right now on unemployment. I am not the only person receiving benefits that Mr. Barack Obama made possible for us. As I stood in those food stamp lines and humbled myself and did what I had to do for my son … [she starts crying] I did it because I want other people to know that they are not alone. It’s a national issue. I genuinely believe that God wanted me to talk about it. I just have to have courage and know that it was the right thing. My husband trusted that. I really respect that because he is a private person. It was still an embarrassing situation for my whole family, not just my husband but my nieces, cousins, in-laws. The majority of our family found out on national television like the rest of the world. I genuinely believe that this is something I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be sharing the struggle because we’re all in the struggle.
Some people may say, ‘But Paula, you made a lot of money. What did you do with the money?’ Do you feel like you were wise financially?
I don’t feel like I made a lot of money. There are only about three percent of actors in the entertainment industry that are able to provide for themselves without getting a day job. People are under the assumption that actors make a whole grip. But from all of my career, the most money I made was on an ABC TV show. With that money I was able to buy a home. I bought a condo. After I bought the condo, we only did one season. That money was gone. I invested it. Actors—especially Black actresses—we don’t make that much money. The majority of the films that I’ve been in, even though they’ve been successful, they were independent film. Residual checks aren’t what they used to be. You can ask any actor. I’ve gotten a residual check back for $0.00, and they genuinely sent the check to me in the mail. Another fallacy about Hollywood is that we’re all out here living like stars. These cars that we drive aren’t ours. It’s all smoke and mirrors. A lot of these reality shows that you’re watching, the homes that they’re renting for the show, they aren’t going to be in after the show wraps. I’m strong enough and honest enough to tell you the real. Actors don’t make that much money. We really don’t.
What was it that kept you going in terms of your faith? How did you use your faith to work through this?
I’m a very proud person, and I was never the type of person to ask for a handout. I’ve always believed that God will not leave his children in the streets begging, and I always held on. Believe it or not, there was always enough. Just when it all ran out, there was always enough. Maybe not enough to keep me in my home, maybe not enough to keep my cars and things, but there was always enough. I believe God put me in this for a reason.
Hollywood Divas airs Wednesday’s at 10pm ET on TVOne.