Aja Naomi King on the Power of Black Actresses: 'They Taught Me Not to Limit Myself'

For Hollywood newcomer, Aja Naomi King, Black actresses in Hollywood have been more than just a face on the screen; they were an invitation to dream bigger.

ESSENCE.COM Apr, 07, 2016
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So tell me what about being a black woman in Hollywood. What is means? What's the good? What's the bad? Growing up I feel lucky that I got to watch a lot of amazing woman in Hollywood like Viola Davis, Alfre Woodard and Gabrielle Union and What it taught me was to not limit myself and not limit the idea of who or what I could be. And because I got to watch these women play these kinds of roles I was able to allow myself to dream big. And being able to walk into this industry without having any kind of I guess I'm just gonna be some white girls best friend in a project. It allowed me to really fight for things that you weren't necessarily supposed to be cast as an African American. And having that mind set I think for a lot of people is half the battle. Just understanding what you are capable of and then convincing others to understand that as well. How do you feel about this conversation you know the Oscars so white conversation that people having? [LAUGH] I'm saddened that we're having this conversation two years in a row. [LAUGH] That is, that is disturbing and it says a lot about our industry right now. I mean I think tv is doing a great job at You know, really take, like going leaps and bounds above, even theater included. Really find a way to make sure they're telling not just Black stories, but Asian stories, Latin stories, which is really important because we all need to see ourselves reflected back at us and I was super happy when Viola won the Emmy and that she was the first. And I was on the show with her that got to part of making history, but there was also a part of me that was really sad that it was 2015 and we're still dealing with firsts. Yeah, and the Emmy's, my gosh. Right? We've had such amazing Black women roles in television.>> yeah yeah, exactly.>> over the years.>> And I just I can't say it enough, I'm really excited for the day when there are no more firsts When everyone's on an equal playing field.>>Shonda said I don't write, I write what I see. Like I write my life.>>exactly>>Multicultural, there's stanky, there's righteous, there's poor, there's rich.>>And I love that Shonda, you know she says she doesn't like the word diversity because diversity has become this dirty work now you know because Cuz I feel like people don't understand diversity, what it means is everyone, all-inclusive, not just people of color. But I love that she says normalizing. It's like, this is normal. Like, this isn't, since diversity has now become some word to mean other, like accepting the other Let me pick a different word that you can understand. Normal. This is normal. Yeah, for you. [LAUGH] So [UNKNOWN], tell me about some iconic women who you feel like they were the reason you do what you do. Can you name me like a few? I mean, I remember [LAUGH] being young and I loved I used to love watching AMC and all those just old movies and stuff and you never see black people of course in any of them. And then one day, I saw Dorothy Tangerich. And it was like whoa, who is this? Why don't I know who this is? I knew who Betty Davis was and I knew who Doris Day was why didn't I know who Dorothy Dandridge was? And he she was this Stunning woman and it opened up this whole other world for me of not only actors but musicians like Billie Holiday. And it was like, wow, like here are all these women, you know, who were praised at the time, but still had to walk through kitchens and back doors to be. Honored. And I get so inspired by those people because they had to believe, I'm gonna swallow this vitriol and this bile now so that things will be better in the future. Thank you so much for your time. Yes, of course. You almost made me, I was like [COUGH] [MUSIC]