Actress Diarra Kilpatrick Is One To Watch

DEK: ESSENCE exclusively speaks with Kilpatrick who’s starring in the upcoming Viola Davis-produced ABC web series, American Koko   BYLINE: Crystal Tate   BODY: Diarra Kilpatrick may not be a household name yet, but we have a feeling that the 33-year-old actress won’t need an introduction soon. Kilpatrick, who starred in her first play at [...]

DEK: ESSENCE exclusively speaks with Kilpatrick who’s starring in the upcoming Viola Davis-produced ABC web series, American Koko

 

BYLINE: Crystal Tate

 

BODY:

Diarra Kilpatrick may not be a household name yet, but we have a feeling that the 33-year-old actress won’t need an introduction soon. Kilpatrick, who starred in her first play at age 12 and graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has been acting for two decades in plays and guest starring on TV shows and movies, and even had a role in the 2015 film, Lila & Eve, which starred Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis. Kilpatrick and Davis have joined forces again as Davis’ production company, JuVee Productions (which she runs with husband Julius Tennon) is executive producing Kilpatrick’s web series, American Koko for ABC.

 

Kilpatrick initially launched American Koko on YouTube, and it won the American Black Film Festival’s Best Web Series Award in 2015. It also caught the eyes of Julius Tennon and the rest is history. ESSENCE spoke exclusively with Kilpatrick to learn more about the series and why she isn’t afraid to discuss race on the show. Keep reading for the lessons Kilpatrick has learned along her journey to the small screen.

 

  1. Follow your heart

“In television or film, I was going out a lot for nurses, prostitutes and sassy friends and every Black actress and really every actor of color has that story,” said Kilpatrick. “I was just interested in doing something that saw a Black woman at the center that went on a journey with her. My brother would always say to me, ‘Whatever you notice is wrong or missing or not there, then therein lies your assignment.’”

  1. Sometimes all you need is an idea—and a support system

When Kilpatrick came up with the idea for her web series, she admits that she didn’t have any money to actually make it happen. “I had a great support system,” explained Kilpatrick. “My boyfriend at the time and his sister who had just graduated from American Film Institute and got a degree in producing and some of my friends got together and decided to make this for fun.”

  1. Failure isn’t an option

One of the members at Kilpatrick’s church asked her: What would you do if you couldn’t fail? “I think that’s why I was like ‘All right I’m going to do this,’” said Kilpatrick. “I made becoming successful at it really easy because the only important marker of success or not was completion.” With the help of others, Kilpatrick did complete the web series and launched it on YouTube.

  1. Your network can take you to the next level

From her previous theater work and minor roles in indie movies and TV shows, Kilpatrick was fortunate to have a network of artists who she was able to promote her web series to. “I had done a play with Julius Tennon, who is Viola’s husband and runs JuVee Productions,” said Kilpatrick. “He was one of the people on that e-mail list and I think we had less than 100 views on YouTube when he called me and was like ‘Diarra, this is incredible! I want to work with you. I want to be a part of getting this out to people.’ From that moment, he and Viola and the team at JuVee have just been so generous and so great about helping get ‘America Koko’ on a larger platform, and championing not only me as an artist but what the web series has to say and the questions that the series is asking.”

  1. It’s important to take risks

When it comes to American Koko, Kilpatrick admits that the show is a bit edgier than most. “I’m having the conversation that we don’t normally have in public spaces,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s a little bit edgy. It’s taking a risk and talking about subject matters that might ordinarily make people uncomfortable. But I think we’re having so much fun with it that I hope people will enjoy it.”

  1. Comedy can help heal wounds

Kilpatrick describes American Koko as a “satire comedy about a woman named Akosua Millard who works for this fictional agency called Everyone’s A Little Racist agency and she solves race problems. By day she’s all about work and married to the job and then by night, she’s sort of making a mess of her love life.” Kilpatrick thinks the audience can expect a lot of laughs, and perhaps takes away a few lessons as well. “My hope is that by employing comedy, we can make it a little easier to even talk about these things and even look at them. Because the solution is not to just pretend like they are happening,” explained Kilpatrick. “But like with race talk and sex talk and stuff, I just think it’ll be a fun ride for everyone but especially for Black women because I think every Black woman is like afraid of coming off like an angry black woman. I think we kind of dig into that with ‘Koko’ and really what that moniker means. So I’m really excited for [viewers] to check it out!”

  1. No one can give you permission

“As far as what’s next, I love this! I love acting, I love writing, I love showing up on set and basically making art with my friends and people that I just love to be with,” said Kilpatrick. “So I hope to keep doing that. I hope we make another season or two of ‘American Koko’. I just finished shooting a pilot for Amazon, and I’m just going to keep creating. Once I realized no one can give you permission to do something, you either are creating or you’re not, I realized that that’s just what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life and hopefully the great people like ABC will continue to be on board and support that. But I’m just going to keep looking around the world and asking questions and expressing my feelings and the questions that I have through writing and acting.”

 

Kilpatrick is also writing and starring in the upcoming pilot The Climb for Amazon. Seasons one and two of American Koko premiere June 19 on ABC.com and the ABC app.

 

SUGGESTED LINK TO DIARRA’S WEDDING DIARY: https://www.essence.com/2015/07/08/bridal-bliss-diarra-and-miles%E2%80%99-california-wedding?iid=sr-link1

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