"Black women we are the first targets. We can be labeled as divas or people want to instantly think we're the bad ones or something like that, or we get attacked first...People love to think that we're not human." –@VanessaMorgan https://t.co/ogyQxuSXbJ— Teen Vogue (@TeenVogue) September 25, 2020
Teen Vogue spoke to four Black actresses from the CW -- Riverdale's Vanessa Morgan, Riverdale's Asha Bromfield, The Flash's Candice Patton, and Black Lightning's Nafessa Williams -- to further give them a platform to talk about their respective experiences in the industry and what they hope to see in the future after speaking out this past summer (as well as earlier) about systemic racism.
On defending Riverdale co-star Ashleigh Murray on Twitter when someone accused her of being a diva: “Black women we are the first targets. We can be labeled as divas or people want to instantly think we're the bad ones or something like that, or we get attacked first. And I think that comes through the media, how we've been portrayed over years and years — especially when that came to Ashleigh and I...People love to jump to conclusions. People love to think that we're not human and we're not seeing what people are writing. And even though what they're writing is so false and so untrue, it's like it hurts. You know?”
On bonding with other Black actresses of CW/WB shows: “Honestly, during this whole quarantine, I've become so close with — you can call it the sisterhood of The CW — with my fellow Black actresses, and even the other women on Warner Brothers. We talk almost every day on group chat. It's having that community of people that I can relate to, be like, 'OK, that's not just me? It's happening to you, too?'
On changes being made on Riverdale after calling out her marginalization: “After I vocalized my concerns a lot has changed. A lot of people are going to be super happy. I hope I'm a role model to little Black girls out there because my character is definitely going to have an amazing storyline this season, and I'm super happy about it. I'm super happy that my show listened and I'm hoping a lot of other shows will follow suit for other actresses and other minorities that are feeling the same way.”
On the past/current treatment of black characters in media: “I've been in this business for over ten years now,” the 25-year-old says. “Black characters [are] being used as these shoulders to cry on, as like, some form of a support system to assist a white character on their journey, and I think that can be really toxic because there's so much more to Black people. Our existence is just as much a vital fabric of this universe in the same way that other people are. When you start from that point and you start to realize our humanity matters, then you start to see that it's dangerous to perpetuate this idea that we are just there to support white people through their woes. These ideas of what it looks like to be Black, what it looked like to be Latino, what it looks like to be Asian — we're fed this idea. Then you give a white person a script and you're like, ‘OK, go write about it.’ It's so hard for them to break out about mental conditioning.”
On what motivates her: “I often think about little Asha and the things that she didn't think was possible for herself, or the things that maybe she did think was possible at a really young age, but then was stunned by what the world tells you is possible. I just think it's so important for people to understand that if you have a dream, if you have a story, share it, do it, go for it. And that truly is what motivates me.”
She also wrote a YA novel, Hurricane Summer, coming out May 2021. It's a coming of age story about a girl visiting her estranged father in Jamaica in the middle of category five Hurricane Gustov.
On the current protest movement: “It makes me very sad because [George Floyd] lost his life. Let's not forget that. There are a lot of positive things that are coming out of this instance in our society, but let's remember, a man had to lose his life for that to happen. It's the worst kind of martyrdom. There's a part of me that's relieved that it's happening, but at the same time, I still feel sick to my stomach that it took this Black man losing his life for people to wake up.”
On limiting social media engagement with fans: “I engage less with my fans, which makes me sad because I want to, but I also want to protect my mental health. I did realize very early on that they were very vocal about their support for me. It means a lot because I was experiencing, at that time, not a lot of support.”
On speaking out more: “I saw these actors and actresses and people in the business kind expressing what they went through. I think it was kind of a cathartic experience for a lot of people to not feel afraid anymore, to start talking about the trauma that they've experienced. That's something I find very interesting that we, as Black people, are finally finding the courage and the strength to speak out without fear of being fired, or whatever the previous punishment we imagined in our head would be. I think that's a really good space for us to be in, to feel encouraged to speak about ourselves so that things can actually change.”
On her open letter to E! calling for equality in the industry: “If we're going to fight for this country, if we can give our lives over to this country, then we should be treated fairly. We're really beyond sick and tired of asking to be seen and to be seen fairly and treated equally. That's what it is, as a whole, in Hollywood. What I said in my letter [is that change] starts at the top. It starts with the decision-makers. It starts at the studios. It starts with the networks and it even trickles down to the agents, and the managers, and representation. We're not asking to just be there just to be there, but we're actually qualified.”
On what steps can be taken beyond performative messages: “I think a way of protecting your employees is representing diversity. I think that's really, really important. And allowing people to walk truthfully, whether it be wearing their hair a certain way or making sure they're represented in each boardroom or meeting so that they can have input. And to me, protection is diversity. Protection is an equal-level playing field.”