Don’t let her warm smile and hearty laugh fool you. Alfre Woodard is always thinking, and often those thoughts include you. In her new film, “American Violet,” the veteran actress plays Alma Roberts, whose innocent daughter gets mistakenly jailed in a drug raid and decides to fight the system in rural Texas. Based on a true story, the film follows Woodard, who sets out to help inform the masses of the innocents behind bars. The veteran actress gets personal on the importance of the film, the realities of being Black in Hollywood and her message to Black women.
ESSENCE.COM: This is an amazing and heartwrenching story. How were you touched by it?
ALFRE WOODARD: I know Texas women. I know the ones who are in the projects and the ones who burn thousand dollar bills and everyone in between. Stories of injustice like this are still going on right this minute, from small towns to big cities like Los Angeles. I was aware of the drug war and its devastation to hundreds of thousands of American lives. I have tried for several years to get another story on Texas injustice made with my husband so I am very excited to do this story. This film is dynamic and has laughs just like life, along with the absolute horror of what people do to one another. There is no shortage of stories they could have told to bring out this point on injustice.
ESSENCE.COM: It’s great to see Black women in the lead for a change. After more than 20 years in the business, what changes have you seen on Hollywood’s treatment of Black actresses?
WOODARD: I can tell you something inspirational or I can tell you the truth. The progress that has happened, has happened because more people are coming of age to be in a position to show new images. Yet, systematically it is as closed and creatively unintelligent on the decision of who to put in the center of the frame, as it has ever been. Those of us who are rising up do so because we’re survivors like my character, Alma. You do see more women of color and Black women getting to be the cute people. But it’s one extreme or the other. You’re either bootylicious or incredibly poignant. We want the middle of the frame, not the edges. It’s always easy to stick us in as extras. When we can be in things that don’t make money or just be mediocre and still get the next gig, that’s when progress is made. You don’t base it on the people who are exceptional, but on the average person.
ESSENCE.COM: Great point. You’ve been happily married for more than 25 years and have played so many roles as a mother to Black women. What message would you want to share with us?
WOODARD: My mother and father always said to us to never judge people by what they look like and what they have. You judge them by how they treat you and other people around them. The only currency is knowledge, so stay open to learning new people and new things. Young people today make the decision on who gets to bed them on who can keep me in all the trinkets they want. Most people are afraid of love because we don’t view ourselves as lovable. Love is sensual and tactile. It only is orgasmic if it’s spiritual as well. Spirit has no color, gender, religious affiliation or any of that. If you want love, you have to be open for all that.