Lashana Lynch is visibly tired of answering one question: What’s it like being the first Black 00 agent in a James Bond film? Even when asked on behalf of this audience of Black women—whom Lynch thanked wholeheartedly by saying, “You have truly lifted me up and you have paved the way,” during her acceptance speech at ESSENCE’s 2020 Black Women in Hollywood Awards—she lets out a deep sigh.
But then she follows with a glorious smile. “To be in the Bond franchise means I’m making shifts that should have shifted a long time ago,” she says in her West London lilt. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity, and I’m very grateful for the future.”
What she says next, though, is what she really wants to talk about. “To be able to not have this conversation,” she continues, clapping her hands between each word for emphasis—the universal Black girl code for I said what I said. “I want it to just be a normal thing. But the great thing is, we’re going to have the conversation so that the future generations won’t have this conversation. So that’s the work we’re putting in now.”
That work—which puts Lynch’s rich chocolate–hued skin front and center as a highly trained British secret agent up against James Bond in No Time to Die—is currently on pause, due to the film’s release date being pushed back in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some might see efforts to curb the spread of the virus as a case of bad luck for Hollywood, which has been crippled by such postponements and movie theater closures through early summer.
However, the Captain Marvel actress (who was interviewed by ESSENCE before NTTD’s date change) doesn’t believe in luck. Never has. “When you get an opportunity in life, whether it’s in this industry or not, people believe that you very literally fell from the sky,” says Lynch, 32.
“You haven’t been working hard for 10, 20 years doing it. You haven’t had moments of anxiety and feeling underappreciated, or not feeling like you’re enough, or having an opportunity that was the top, top thing in your career, only to have it swiped from under your feet. No one sees all that. So it’s important to drum into people’s heads that everything is built with a foundation—and my foundation was strong.”
In that same Black Women in Hollywood speech, the Jamaican-Brit brought her mother to tears while speaking about the home she had created for Lynch and her siblings as a single mom. “I grew up in a very traditional Jamaican household,” Lynch says.
“I remember being hyperaware of my Blackness from a very young age because of it. I recall being in ballet class and having a White teacher tell me to tuck in my backside, and I proceeded to explain why mine just doesn’t go in like the other girls’. So then I told my mom I wanted to leave.
At that young age, because of the Black women who raised me, I was able to confidently leave a space that didn’t celebrate who I was. And now here I am in this room, being able to celebrate my skin, my hair and my big backside in peace.”
It’s important to drum into people’s heads that everything is built with a foundation—and my foundation was strong.
There’s another Black woman to whom Lynch is thankful for helping her honor her beauty. That’s director Melina Matsoukas, who’s helming her next project, Y: The Last Man. During her audition, Lynch wore a pixie wig. Matsoukas affirmed the look, even though it wasn’t Lynch’s real hair.
When it came time to film the comic book-based series, however, the director convinced her star that a short-cropped do was a win. Lynch did have a brief moment of regret. “I didn’t have any fears cutting my hair,” she recalls, “but then the next morning I woke up and said, ‘I look like a boy—what’s happening?’ ” Lynch still cringes at the memory. But then her moment of clarity kicked in: What do I do with this new me? she thought.
“No one had introduced me to this me before, and I needed to teach myself about this new version of myself,” she says. “And when I got into that and learned about who I truly am, it shifted me into a space I hadn’t shifted into before.” Now that’s definitely something worth talking about.
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This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of ESSENCE magazine, available on newsstands now.