In 2016, straight out of Carnegie Mellon drama school, Chanté Adams landed the lead in the Netflix biopic Roxanne Roxanne—and a starring role in the nouveau Black Love classic The Photograph shortly thereafter. Now, fresh off of being directed by Denzel Washington in A Journal for Jordan and sharing a Broadway stage with Phylicia Rashad, Adams has secured yet another leading part, this time on a Prime Original series.
Her big, bright smile and inquisitive eyes alone, framed today by stylishly oversized tortoiseshell glasses, would make Adams a shoo-in for the stereotypical pretty Black sidekick role that many a young Hollywood ingenue has had to take to get her start or stay afloat. But this actress has had the unique fortune of being cast in hearty, emotional roles that show the depth and range of Black women’s experiences.
As we chat, Adams is on the brink of wrapping her first-ever Broadway role in Skeleton Crew, where she portrays an ambitious, pregnant factory worker from her beloved hometown of Detroit. Booking back-to-back films, and not having acted in any plays since she graduated from college, Adams was admittedly a bit rusty with live performing. Coming to the world’s biggest theater stage in such grand fashion—while representing the city that birthed her, no less—was a bit of a nerve-rattler for the actress.
“The best way to describe it is like a muscle that you haven’t worked in a long time,” this year’s Black Woman in Hollywood honoree says of returning to the stage after six years. “People will be like, ‘Oh, it’s just like riding a bike.’ But what they don’t tell you is, you could still fall off.”
As she studied her script and dove into rehearsals, flexing her theater muscle back to full strength, Adams recognized the parallels between herself and her character, Shanita. “I am Shanita. Shanita is from my city. She’s a girl that I know, she’s a girl I went to high school with,” she says of her initial perception. “The only difference between me and Shanita is that I was presented with opportunities that I took hold of, and that allowed me to flourish in my career and do what I loved.”
Upon digging deeper into the role, however, Adams added a bit more nuance to her perspective. “I’m thinking from my point of view, because I ‘got out’ right?” she explains. “But Shanita is exactly where she’s supposed to be—living her dream. Her dream is to work at the factory, to be the best worker that she can possibly be and to spread light to the people around her. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.”
Never one to be pigeonholed, Adams is always on the hunt for a different type of opportunity—something she’s never done before that shows a Black woman’s full humanity. “Every role teaches me something different and something new,” she muses. Though she’d never have predicted how coveted an actress she’d become while in acting class at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, the 27-year-old’s starlet status is pure kismet.
Skeleton Crew itself is a play about Detroiters—set in the Motor City, and written and produced by Detroit-native Dominique Morisseaua. Adams has previously noted that she attended the same high school as Morisseau, but their connection runs deeper than sharing an alma mater. In fact, it was Morisseau’s role in Adams’ story that led directly to Adams’ role in her play.
“I keep saying it’s a full-circle moment. That’s really the only way to describe it,” Adams says of starring in the 2018 MacArthur Fellow’s latest work. She credits a serendipitous 2012 class trip to New York—organized by Marilyn McCormick, the high school drama teacher who groomed both Adams and Morisseau—with tripping the switch in her teenage mind that life as an actress was the avenue for her.
“On that trip, Dominique organized a little sit-down gathering, and she brought some of her friends. And those friends included people like Michelle Wilson and Katori Hall, and all of her peers in the Black theater community, Black women specifically,” Adams recalls. In a three-hour talk session, she heard stories from women who looked just like her—living their dreams, thriving in careers in the arts, being successful in the city that famously claims if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
“After that meeting, I knew. Dominique knew that little Black girls from her high school needed to hear and see that this was all possible. And that’s what that meeting did for me,” Adams says.
“Chante and I are just a part of a culture and a community that’s bigger than the both of us. That’s why we have the impact on each other—because she’s also had an impact on me,” Morisseau says, recalling the time she spoke to Adams’ high school drama class in 2011. During the talk, the playwright mentioned running an online campaign to raise money to get to London to oversee her first international play; before she could finish her speech, Adams and her friends had taken up a cash collection to donate to Morisseau’s cause.
Adams’ encounter with Morisseau is one of several personal experiences she’s had with Black women who’ve eagerly provided her with mentorship and inspiration as she journeys through Hollywood. On her first-ever film set for Roxanne, Roxanne, she met fellow 2022 BWIH honoree Nia Long. Long played her mother in the film—and instantly became something of a surrogate mother to the young actress on her first big job.
“Nia saw this young Black woman who had just graduated college and knew nothing about being in front of a camera, and she immediately, with no hesitation, took me under her wing—offering advice on navigating representation, giving me her car for two weeks when I was visiting L.A. and needed to take meetings and I couldn’t afford a rental,” Adams recalls. “But the most meaningful thing she did was just to make herself available, and to stand up for me when I was too scared to stand up for myself.”
When it comes to her feelings about Adams, Long says, “I’m very protective of her.” Recalling how bubbly Adams was when introducing herself for the first time on set, Long adds, “What I saw in that moment was an artist who was excited about the beginning of her career. And it made me think of myself. And it made me try to share with her everything that I know—the mistakes, the good stuff, the funky stuff—in those quiet moments on set. Because no one gives you a handbook. No one tells you what you’re up against.”
With guidance from legends and a drive to tell the overlooked stories of Black women, Adams is thriving as she looks forward to what’s next. Later this year, she’ll star as WWII-era women’s baseball player Maxine “Max” Chapman in Prime Video’s upcoming comedy series A League of Their Own. Though comedy is a new hat for Adams to don—and she admits that baseball is far from her strong suit—she’s excited to take on both challenges, for the sake of telling the often-forgotten stories of Black women who broke ground in professional sports.
“There were Black women there that tried to get on those teams and couldn’t. And where did their stories go?” she asks. “To this day, there are only three women who have played professional baseball on a major-league level—and those three women are Black, but we don’t know their names. That is who Max is representing.”
Standing on the shoulders of those who came before her, Adams’ ultimate desire is to be a vessel of untold stories and unconsidered perspectives—and to shed light on what’s been left in the dark about Black women and our experiences. Though she doesn’t particularly like to be put in a box, there’s one classification she has no problem accepting: “If I’m going to be labeled as anything, I want it to be as transformational.”
Fashion in order of appearance:
Dress: Hanifa Pink Brocade Organza Dress, price upon request, hanifa.co; Earrings: Alexis Bittar Solanales Crystal Lake Earrings $325, alexisbittar.com; Shoes: Jimmy Choo Azia 110 $850, jimmychoo.com.
Dress: Loewe Metal Plate Denim Jacket $8,500, loewe.com; Earrings & Ring: Alexis Bittar $175, $245, alexisbittar.com; Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti Klizia Leather Sandal $850, giuseppezanotti.com.
Writer: Rivea Ruff @bougiebadazz
Photographer: JD Barnes @jdthecombo
Hair: Ursula Stephen @ursulastephen for Living Proof @aframe_agency
Makeup: Keita Moore @kilprity for The Only Agency @theonly.agency
Stylist: Scot Louie @scotlouie for the @thewallgroup
Stylist Assistant: Adrienne Anderson @treatment28
Fashion Market Editor: Marissa Pelly @marissa_pelly
Manicurist: Aja Walton @ajackdannie for Essie at See Management
Set Stylist: Caroline Colston for Halley Resources Inc @halleyresources
Video: Jean Paul London @jeanlondondia
Editor: Antoinette Morris @mzlatreBWIH