You may recognize her from Jordan Peele’s Us or as the voice behind young Nala in the 2019 remake of The Lion King. Now, 15-year-old Shahadi Wright Joseph is starring alongside Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Melody Hurd and Alison Pill in Little Marvin’s Them: Covenant, a thriller anthology series premiering Amazon Prime April 9.
Taking place during The Great Migration, Them follows the Emory family as they move from the south to Compton, CA, to create a better life for their family. Young Ruby, played by Wright Joseph, and her mother, father and younger sister each experience the Jim Crow south differently from segregation at school to microaggressions at work while living in a cult-like neighborhood.
In the midst of filming the series, Wright Joseph revealed that she’s been taking time during quarantine to work on her own writing skills and has even been working on a few projects of her own. The young star is passionate about actors of her generation not waiting around for work to be given to them. “When we have time and in between projects, I feel like we should be making our own and really set an example for other people who want to create their own projects as well, she tells ESSENCE. “With this industry, a lot of people are not just going to hand us projects all the time and it can be really, really discouraging.”
Here, Wright Joseph speaks with us about her role as Ruby in Little Marvin’s Them: Covenant, its relevance to today’s experience in Black America and how her role has helped her grow as a young actress in Hollywood.
Tell us about your role as Ruby in Them: Covenant. What attracted you to this project?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: When I auditioned for Them: Covenant, I heard that it was for an anthology series and I immediately got excited because I started thinking about American Horror Story and stuff around that genre. I found out more about the plot and how it was going to be taking place in the 1950’s and supposed to be a horror series about the Jim Crow Era; I thought that was so interesting. That’s exactly why I start getting into projects like that. I feel like it’s something that I would love to watch, so it’s most definitely something that I would love to work on.
What did you love most about playing Ruby and being a part of the series?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: My favorite part would be getting the script every single week because the story has so many changes, characters and storylines and it’s kind of hard to follow sometimes. It was almost like whenever you would get a new chapter of a really good book. I was always excited and a little bit nervous to see what Ruby was up to in the next week, but it was kind of a crazy process getting to read it because there’s a lot of scary stuff.
How did you mentally get into character?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: I never experienced that level of racism before, but the most of the cast was Black. We could all take from some kind of experience to help us with our performance. With Deborah [Ayorinde] actually being from the UK as well with Deborah and us being from all of these different places, we all have different versions of the same experience. That most definitely helped us get into our characters. We would all start getting into character maybe like a half hour before shooting to really get into our roles as the Emory family.
How is the storyline of Them: Covenant relevant in today’s society?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: While reading the script for Them, you can tell how a lot of these horrific experiences with the supernatural element to it relate to a lot of the microaggressions and the racism that we face today. Little Marvin brought it to life in a very creative way, which I applaud him for. A lot of these things that he has shown on the screen take place from some of his experiences and all of ours and you can really see it come to life. I think that that’s how we created this amazing performance as well.
How has being a part of Them: Covenant helped you grow as an actress?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: It’s one of those projects where the character is going to be completely different from who you are and experience things that you have never experienced before. Tapping into that as an actor just helps me grow on a whole ‘nother level. I mean, especially with Us having to go through all of those crazy experiences from Them just transferring onto different projects. I really appreciate projects like these because I feel like each time that I do another, I keep growing another level.
How do you think young Black actors and actresses are helping bring multidimensional Black stories back to the screen?
WRIGHT JOSEPH: I feel like that’s such a big part of what Gen Z creators are doing today. I feel like it’s been very long overdue. We need more representation in media and in our films for people to see us on screen. When I was younger, I never really got to really see myself on screen and I feel like it affects people in ways that we don’t even realize. I really love how Gen Z is, I would say, more aware of the effects that film, music, TV and children’s books have on us today.