Emayatzy Corinealdi had no idea 2016 would be one of the biggest years of her career. Blame it on fate.
“It’s always exciting when things that you’ve done converge at the same time,” Corinealdi says. “It’s not something you plan for. You just do the work. It comes out when it comes out. This just really is an exciting moment of it all coming together.”
What came together was last April’s theatrical release of Miles Ahead, where she stars opposite Don Cheadle as Frances Taylor, the ex-wife and muse of Miles Davis, whom the film is inspired by. Corinealdi also appears in this month’s History channel remake of Roots, playing the iconic role of Belle—Kunta Kinte’s wife.
“My first question was, ‘I wonder why they would be remaking this?’ ” Corinealdi, 36, says about the classic. “It’s so timely. The fact that there’s a Black Lives Matter movement—it just speaks to the things that still persist after slavery.”
Early on, the Kentucky native built a solid résumé with a recurring role on The Young and the Restless and choice parts in a handful of TV movies. In 2012 the industry really took notice, thanks to her breakout performance as a dedicated wife in Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere.
“Once I learned Emi was an option to be our film’s leading lady, I let Ava know I felt Emi possessed the presence, the grace, the pain and the acting chops to be our only option,” costar Omari Hardwick says. “Obviously I was proven correct. A gifted sister she is.”
Corinealdi has no shortage of influential supporters. She counts Alfre Woodard as one of her mentors who helped her navigate the challenges of being Black in Hollywood. “It’s just -difficult. If there are five scripts you have in front of you, there may be one that has a female lead, but more than likely there probably isn’t one,” Corinealdi explains. “People want to see their own experiences. It’s one of the reasons it’s important that people see themselves reflected on television.”
By morphing into and reflecting -various characters, Corinealdi feels Black Girl Magic: “Being able to express yourself boldly and freely. Being uninhibited about doing that. I think there is a soul in us, and I think that is something we possess that is really different. There’s a way of exhibiting that, which comes naturally. That’s the magic.”
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