Spotlight: An Interview with Actress Andrea Lewis, Founder of JungleWild Productions

home_andrea_lewisIn Honor of Women’s History Month, Whispers of Womanism is launching  a new category entitled “Black Business and Entrepreneurship” honoring black women in business!

To kick things off I interviewed Degrassi Alum and creator/writer of web series Black Actress, Andrea Lewis. In our convo she discusses inspiration, naming leading lady ‘Kori Bailey,’ and creating her own lane through her production company Jungle Wild Productions!

1. Describe “Black Actress” in three words.  andrea-lewis-black-actress-620x493

A: Truthful. Funny. Colorful.

• How did you come up with the idea?

A: I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else.     img_8636

2. As a brown girl myself, I am very inspired by the beautiful brown leading ladies of

Black Actress ( Allison Edwards-Crewe, Suzannah Gugsa). It seems as if traditional and

even many contemporary portrayals feature blacks who are a hue that is easily racially

ambiguous or those who are very sun kissed. Was it your intention to feature the often

overlooked dynamic of “brown-ness” within blackness?   

A: Yes it was my intention to show the diversity of brown skin. I wanted to make sure that when I watched this show I was able to see every type of black girl with different complexions, heights, body types and hair types, because it all matters and we’re all so unique.

3. In a way, your web series epitomizes many of the attributes of black series that we have come to love, one being featuring your own music on the series. How important was it for your viewers to see you as a writer ,/creator actress and singer? 

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A: It was very important for me, that I expressed all of my talents in this show. That’s why I created it, because I have so many ideas and goals for myself and I wasn’t going to be boxed into just one thing. I can sing, act, write, produce and create so that’s what I’m going to do!

“I can’t leave you alone” cooes in the background of Episode 2 of “Black Actress.” It

has also become one of the most requested songs by viewers! What do you think it is

about this song that made it perfect for the series? What about this song do you think

is so captivating for listeners?                music_andrea_lewis

A: I think it’s simply a good song lol. I didn’t make it for Black Actress, I made it for my album but it just happened to fit in the scene perfectly and I was really glad that viewers responded to it so well.

4. One of the features that attracts me to “Black Actress” is that its protagonist doesn’t fit

into any of the traditional stereotypes of black women. How important was it for you to

demonstrate the diversity in black femininity through Kori?

A: This was very important to me. Being a black girl is important but it’s not all that she is and that’s why it was so important for me to focus on Black women and show how diverse and universal we are. We have dreams, insecurities, best friends, boyfriends, passions etc just like everyone else. So when you see me, definitely celebrate my blackness because it’s beautiful but don’t make it my limit.

• Also, Kori Bailey and I have something in common (laughs). We have the same last

name! How did you come up with ‘Kori Bailey?’

A: The name came to me in a dream lol.    bastill

5. In the abundance of black female leading ladies, there remains an absence in the

twenty something void. What do you think is unique about the journey of a black twenty-something?

A: I wish there was a black twenty something story on TV, hopefully Black Actress will fill that void. I think as a young woman in my twenties, I’m always looking for a character that is living a similar experience to me and my friends. Someone who represents the black millennial woman and the trials and tribulations that we deal with today. The projects that I’m creating focus on that voice.

6. Confidence is an asset to any and everyone, but why is self love and fearlessness especially valuable to the black woman/actress?   

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A: The entertainment industry is hard, there’s a lot of rejection and negativity so the only way you’ll make it through is by having a strong foundation and that all starts with self love. Self love will help you with anything because you’ll become fearless and confident in everything you do. I try my best to speak about Self Love as much as possible
because I believe in it and I know first hand how having a strong sense of who you are and love for who you are can help you greatly in this industry.  

7. Perhaps one of your most resounding episodes was Episode 2, Season 2 which

discusses the pressure of black actresses to “look the part.” To do so, one of Kori’s

colleagues dons a silky wig. I noticed that the actresses all don their natural hair in a

variety of styles. It is a very powerful choice for the lead black actress to don her natural

hair. Was this a conscious choice? What do you hope the impact of such a portrayal will

be?

A: As an actress I wear my hair natural because, it’s who I am and I struggled in my early twenties with Andrea-Lewis-7finding “the right look” for auditions. I was constantly in a battle with my hair, until I booked a job that liked me the way I came in. The producers chose to do a screen test where they looked at my hair straight and curly, up and down and chose what they felt suited the character best. After that experience, I finally felt okay with wearing my hair they way I feel comfortable because at the end of the day, my hair is versatile and I can do it anyway for the character. But like Aisha Hinds says in Episode 2, “it’s all about the work”, my hair is just hair and I’m gonna wear it the way I think it’s suits me best, which is natural. I thought it was important to talk about hair as a black actres because it’s a conversation that comes up a lot but at the end of the day you have to do what makes you comfortable and confident. You only get one shot in the audition room and worrying about having “the right hair” is the last thing to focus on. Wear a wig if you feel good, or go natural or make it straight, whatever will make you confident in you. Just as long as you’re not doing it to fit into a box of an unrealistic beauty standard.

8. It is also imperative to note that in addition to creating the series, you also write the

episodes. Many of my readers are also fellow writers. What is your writing process like?

What advice do you have for writers who are advocates for an under-served

demographic? al

A: There’s a popular saying, “write what you know” and I truly believe in this advice. Be inspired by your own life and the people around you and then go and tell the story that inspires you the most. As a person of color I am inspired by my friends and family and they happen to look like me so as a writer I have an obligation to write about women and people of color because our stories are not told enough and creating these stories fulfills me. My process for writing is constant, I have a million voice notes on my phone of ideas and I’m constantly people watching and listening to conversations for inspiration for dialogue. Observing real life, and also living my life helps me to write and makes my process much more enjoyable.      andrea-lewis-pic

9. In demonstrating the trials and triumphs of the black actress were you concerned

about how your message would be received?

A: No not all. I was very confident in the story and the relevance of black actresses and women so I knew that people would be intrigued. As well I’ve been pursuing entertainment my whole life and I know that the story I am telling is valid and accurate.

10. So far “Black Actress” featured cameos from fellow Canadian Melanie Fiona, Youtube sensation Francesca Ramsey, The Fabulous Shameless Maya and actor and

New York Native Tristan Wilde. Who is someone that you would like to feature on the

show?               mbj

A: There’s endless cameos I’d like to see happen on the show, to name a few: Zendaya Coleman, Keke Palmer, Michael B Jordan, J Cole, Lena Dunham and there’s a lot more people I can think of that would make a very fun addition to the cast.   KekePalmer

11. Romeo Stein is Kori’s suave and articulate love interest, played by Rob Vincent.

From his swag to his chiseled features, he emerges as a rolling stone turned Mr. Right.

Despite his pretty packaging, fans learn quickly that Romeo is more than a pretty face- he is also a math tutor. How important was it that the black male lead be as diverse in portrayal as the black women?    

cast_Rob_Vincent

A: It was very important for me to have a diverse and positive representation of people of color on screen whether it was the males or females. I applied the same care for “Kori” to all of the characters because they all matter and represent something for everyone. I love black men so I want to show them the way I see them and that is complex, strong, positive and intriguing.

12. “Black Actress” features the comical input of Kori’s agent who remarks: “ I am fifty

percent sure that your big break is right around the corner.” In so many ways we are all

waiting on our big break, but you made your own in starting your own production

company. Can you comment on the significance of literally forging your own path? What

does it mean to be your own big break?   AndreaLewis2-835x600-000000

A: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit so I knew from a young age that I was going to create my own lane, it was just a matter of when. Creating my own lane was important for me to do because there’s no one like me and if I want the chance to show the world what I can do than I have to create the space that I want to live in.

13. In an effort to combat the diversity issue in Hollywood you created your own

production company. Tell us about Jungle Wild. How did you come up with the title and

how does this correlate with its mission?

A: One of the definitions of “Wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life, I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the Wild Nature of this business aka the jungle and making it my own, without any restraints.

14. What can we expect from Jungle Wild in the future?  photo-original

A: 2015 is a big year for Jungle Wild Productions, we have 3 news shows coming out and we are working on our first feature film. All of our content focuses on diversity and the story of millennials. I truly believe in the team of people that I’m working with and it’s a very exciting time for what we have in store.***


For more information on Andrea, Black Actress and Jungle Wild Productions check out missandrealewis.com

A huge Thank You to Miss Andrea Lewis for providing Whispers of Womanism our first interview!

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Black Actress: A Positive Reflection of the Twenty-Something Black Woman

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Web series Black Actress emerges as the answers to the twenty something’s silent request for representation. Executive Produced by esteemed black actresses Essence Atkins (Smart Guy, Are We There Yet?) and Tatyana Ali (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Black Actress addresses Hollywood’s overt yet unstated issue with color.

As the creator and star of the show, Degrassi Alum Andrea Lewis captures the complexities of being black, female and aiming for the stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame and beyond.

Meet the Cast

Black Actress follows protagonist Kori Bailey’s journey through her acting career, friendships and romance. Each episode begins with a short but profound testimony from familiar faces such as (but not limited to) Tatyani Ali (Ashley from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Garcelle Beauvais (Fancy from The Jaime Foxx Show), Naturi Naughton (Notorious), and Jenifer Lewis (Think Like a Man). Offering testimony to the trials and triumphs of being black and female in Hollywood, these actresses shine light into Kori’s journey of self discovery. blackactressta

Set in New York City Black Actress captures the intimate ambiance of the big city and after a single episode the characters become people you care about. From the best friend who’s s comic and a confidant (Izzy, Allison Edwards-Crewe), to the boy you like but can’t let in (Romeo Stein played by Rob Vincent), to the comedic friend who shares your ambitions (Alica played by Suzannah Gugsa) Black Actress discards old tropes and creates a new images that reflects young black reality as opposed to westernized black fantasy.    p.txt

Andrea Lewis as Kori Bailey: With a crown full of curls, a gentle spirit and worldly ambition- Kori is the leading lady of Black Actress. Unlike the portrayals that come before her, Kori is not a heroine for the masses. Rather, Kori represents the cause and cure for her problems and with good company beside her, she shows that while the road to success is lonely, she is never alone.

Izzy: Kori’s best friend and confident, Izzy is as outgoing as she is wise. Izzy is there in Kori’s hour of need with an open heart and sound advice. In season 1 episode 4, Izzy proves wise beyond her years addressing Kori’s issues with the line “You make up your mind about how things are supposed to be and when it isn’t you lose all hope.” These words transcend the series and speak to any and every black woman who has inaudibly questioned her own worth.

Izzy also resoundingly asserts Kori as “complacent with the struggle.” For a black actress the seduction of struggle lures in every slammed door, and those that never opened to begin with. In the same breath, this seduction mirrors the plight of the black woman. To often our daily perils seem to roll off our shoulders only to eventually become how we feel about ourselves.

Alicia: Also an aspiring actress, Alicia identifies with Kori’s journey in landing that dream role. With her doe eyes and good intentions,Alicia represents the beauty in the socially awkward friend who adds to your character.

Romeo Stein: From rolling stone to a potential Mr. Right, Romeo Stein is Kori’s love interest. with his slim physique, chiseled features and baritromeosteinone voice, Romeo is surely eye candy, but his status as a math tutor adds depth to his good looks. Like Kori, Romeo is an aspiring actor and his presence adds a sweetness to her journey.

I personally find it very sweet that the series features black love as its romantic center. I commend the courage in Black Actress in showing black love as blossoming beyond the walls of doubt. There is something revolutionary about seeing butterflies between the kings and queens of the black diaspora.

Manicurist, Jean: Jean represents the confidant often found in those who render our routine services. Jean also represents those in our life who are solely able to see things simply. It is this simplicity that leads Jean to deter Kori from her dreams, a reality that all face in the pursuit of success. However, Jean and those like her embody the obstacles we see and hear when we take our eyes off our goals.

A New Trope is Born

What I find most beneficial about protagonist Kori is that she fails to fit into any of the stereotypes that have come to define black femininity. While there are many stereotypes that attached themselves to black women over the years, hyper sexuality, in addition to portrayals of black women as neck and eye rolling are perhaps the most unwavering.  blackactressal

Even protagonists that stray away from this cliche attitude, are depicted as sexually careless. Kori brings a refreshing new edge to this portrayal. While there are no implications that the protagonist is a virgin, her sexual integrity is maintained throughout the series. Bailey also deters from the “weave” that has come to be expected of black women. With a beautiful crown of curls and a pleasant disposition, Kori issues a portrayal of a black female who is not only natural and classy but likable and nice.

To be Black and Beautiful

It is also worth mentioning that the show features actresses from throughout the black female color spectrum. It is especially empowering that the three leads are variants of brown. While the beige and butternut women are certainly present, they align the background. With that said, I also like that the black starlets all exude different variants of natural hair. All actresses don an assortment of styles from silk presses and braids, to a casual blowout. This depiction not only makes the characters approachable in their aesthetics, but demonstrates that there are many ways of beauty within blackness.

A Victory for All

Although it was rather hard to watch, Black Actress‘ portrayal of the internal conflict between black women in the strive for success, the portrayal was a painful yet accurate.

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Season 1 Episode 3, guest starring Reagan Gomez Preston (Zaria from The Parenthood), and Franchesca Ramsey (Sh*t white girls say to black girls) as Daniela, features Bailey pursuing yet another audition but with a familiar face on the panel. Prior to the audition, actress turned casting director Daniela makes a point to converse with Kori when they casually cross paths. Flash forward to the day of the audition, Kori wows despite being issued a deterring suggestion from Daniela. After completing the audition, Kori’s performance earns three nods from the panel but a solid and smug “no” from Daniela. Daniela insultingly refers to Kori’s performance as “community center” level and Kori is eliminated  a candidate for the role.

While this is certainly not always the case, black women are largely conditioned by society to believe that there is a sole spot for success. This belief causes many black women to sabotage one another to increase personal opportunity. This episode issues the necessary visibility as an initial step in the healing process. For in a world where the support of other factions is uncertain, we as black women need to support one another.

Black Actress features insight from black actress Aisha Hinds who brilliantly remarks: “ If one of us makes it, we all make it.” While it is often hard to accept personal loss, one black female foot across the finish line, is a victory for all.

An Inspiration for All

In so many ways, being a black actress is synonymous with being any variant of a black female professional. So while I am not a black actress, I am a black woman, an aspiring academic and a black female writer. My attributes of self  align me with most, if not all the dynamics presented on the series. From tension with other black women in the field, to grudgingly donning the stench of my insecurities under my perfume, Kori Bailey is very much myself and many other twenty- something black girls on a challenging yet beautiful journey to womanhood.

Despite whether viewers of Black Actress are in fact pursuing a career in Hollywood, in a way we are all awaiting our big break. In featuring Miss Lewis and her project on Whispers of Womanism, I hope to inspire others to consider their journeys as a black women and artists.  Inspired by her experiences, Lewis manifested her own destiny, thus she created her own “big break.” Rather than compartmentalizing them as hobbies, Lewis incorporates her love for acting, writing and singing into Black Actress.

May her courage inspire our generation to see beyond settling into the endless feat of creating.

Please help fund Black Actress by donating to the Kickstarter Campaign. Your donation will go to funding the remainder of Black Actress Season 2, in addition to future JungleWild Productions.

Thank you in advance for your contribution to positive portrayals of black women in media/popular culture!