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Nia Long Talks Representation and Redefinition of Diversity in Hollywood and Beyond
by Dontaira Terrell
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July 23, 2020

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15 Minute Read

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Nia Long Talks Representation and Redefinition of Diversity in Hollywood and Beyond

Nia Long (Photo courtesy of Don Flood)
Nia Long (Photo courtesy of Don Flood)

Nia Long has been a voice for our community and a staple in the industry since the early ’90s. Her 30-year journey is filled with notable roles in cult classics, including Love Jones, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Best Man, Soul Food, and many more. From Nina Mosley to Lisa Wilkes, each of her character portrayals created an indelible impact that showcased Black culture’s multidimensional experiences. Throughout the Brooklyn natives’ long-standing career, a common theme and one of many reasons the 49-year-old has become a well-known, celebrated, and respected Black actress in Hollywood

In continuing to push the needle forward, and speaking on systemic racism in various facets, especially in the film and television industry, the Trinidadian star has been extremely vocal in the past and even presently about the beauty challenges of being a Black actress

And we can’t forget about her most recent encounter with the beauty company Glam Squad. After enlisting their services in San Francisco, she was told by the hired makeup artist, “We don’t do makeup for Black people very often. I don’t have a foundation that matches your color.”

Taken aback Nia Long sprung into action to demand change and even offered to help educate the company’s fellow makeup artists. After several in-depth conversations with Glam Squad‘s executives, including the CEO, she was met with unfulfilled promises. Following the brand’s participation on social media during #BlackOutTuesday, the actress took to her Twitter page to call them out on their performative activism. 

“I think everyone called them out. They [Glam Squad] ignored me. I had conversations with the executives where they made promises to do more education. I said, “Listen, I’m not trying to be a whistleblower. I’ll come in and even talk to your artists and give of my time. Because that’s the only way we can make a change is if we educate one another.”

“Oh, yes, we would love that!” And nothing ever happened. When they posted the blackout thing [square] for Tuesday and everybody got in their ass, I did not feel sorry for them. Because they were not accountable for the way they run their company. They are clearly misrepresenting who they are. If you don’t want to service Black people, then take us off of your website and stop raising money from larger corporations to fund your small company to act as if you are a company committed to representing diversity. All of these companies are doing it, and I’m not sold on any big corporations raising their fist until I see action.”

In addition to utilizing her platform to ignite awareness on social issues, many have wondered how the mom of two continues to maintain her fountain of [internal] youth? According to her, the wellness secret is quite simple, “water, sex, and vitamins.” And we’re reminded of her captivating on-screen presence and timeless aging in her latest Netflix original feature film Fatal Affair, starring alongside Omar Epps. The two powerhouses reconnected in their first movie together after 21 years, and it also marks Nia Long’s first producing credit

We’re trying to heal this next generation of young Black men and women to understand each other.

BlackLove.com spoke with the veteran actress about healing, redefining family in the wake of COVID-19, her latest role as Ellie, and the importance of allowing Black men’s vulnerabilities to take center stage, plus much more. As a fun fact, if her entire life were a movie, the title that would best fit from her catalog is Baadasssss!, she said. And we have to admit. It is the perfect description of her tenacious spirit and peerless talent embodied with her decades’ experience.  

BlackLove.com: What are some parallels between you and your character on Fatal Affair?

Nia Long: I would probably say that Ellie and her husband were empty nesters because their baby was in college. Even though I have two children, with COVID-19, my oldest is back home again from college. I have to restructure what I think every mother has expected for the 12 years their children were in school. In this current climate, we have to take this opportunity to redefine what family is, what it means, what it looks like, and we have to take the time to rethink our plan.

BL.com: Through the film, it seemed Ellie wasn’t a great communicator. There were several moments when being open and honest with herself, and others could’ve helped the situation. From personal experience, what are three principles you’ve learned, implemented, or live by to ensure communication does not become a lost art in your relationships?

Omar Epps as David and Nia Long as Ellie in Fatal Affair (Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix)
Omar Epps as David and Nia Long as Ellie in Fatal Affair (Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix)

NL: I don’t know if I’ve been successful, but I will definitely address the big pink elephant. I don’t pretend like it’s not there. I challenge people to be the best version of themselves because I want to be the best version of myself. The thing that bothers me the most is when people are passive-aggressive. You can feel that energy, and it’s so destructive. It only takes one uncomfortable conversation to get to the bottom of something to move on and flourish. 

So communication, for me, is not optional. If you can’t communicate, then I can’t invite you into my world on a super deep, meaningful level, because that’s how you share experiences and learn. I would also say to learn how to argue properly. Don’t take cheap shots, stick to the point, and don’t bring up something that happened last year. Unfortunately, I am so guilty of this, especially if I feel like I’m not being heard.

Lastly, have some fun and a sense of humor when things are tough. Sometimes, if it gets too intense in the house with me and my kids, I’m like, “Okay, everybody stop. Put on some Megan Thee Stallion, and let’s go.” That just instantly changes the energy, and then you can revisit the conversation.

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BL.com: Switching gears, how do you plan or hope to continue pushing the needle forward to change the dynamic of the hair and makeup trailers’ lack of diversity?

NL: It must be mandated that there’s more diversity in the hair and makeup trailer. If I had the power, I would put it in my contract that my crew needs to be diverse, but I don’t have that type of power. But I think all actors should put it in their contracts that the sets and crew need to be diverse because there are plenty of capable Black people who can work on sets. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities and experiences. But I remember being on the set of Boyz n the Hood, and the entire crew was all Black. I remember doing my next film and thinking, “Oh, my God, there’s no Black people here.” And then that was my experience from that point on. So my first experience was my best experience and I’ve been searching for that experience my entire career.

BL.com: Speaking of the film Boyz n the Hood, the dynamic between your on-screen character Brandi and Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was comforting, specifically when Tre burst into tears and began swinging in the air at would-be-police officers. Why do you think it’s important to showcase the vulnerabilities of Black men on-screen?

NL: I don’t think Black men have had an experience, or many experiences, where they’ve been allowed to be vulnerable. I believe in our community; we teach our boys don’t cry or to stop crying. And we have to watch what we say. I encourage my boys to cry any time they want to. 

But I do say to my younger one, “Okay, don’t cry because you don’t have the words to explain yourself. Cry because something in your heart doesn’t feel good. But [also] use your words so that you understand what you’re feeling. And then, if it hurts you, you can cry.” I ask for both, so it’s not just crying in place of being able to explain and express himself because it’s equally as important to do both. 

If you can’t communicate, then I can’t invite you into my world on a super deep, meaningful level, because that’s how you share experiences and learn.

Nia Long as Ellie in Fatal Affair (Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix)
Nia Long as Ellie in Fatal Affair (Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix)

Honestly, I don’t know that our community has had the time and the nurturing to be able to explain why it’s important. We’ve had so many other things to combat. You can’t blame those older generations of women who’d say, “Stop crying, boy, you don’t need to cry” because they were merely trying to breathe. 

I think now we’re getting back to healing. We’re trying to heal this next generation of young Black men and women to understand each other. To love more, love deeper, and stand in solidarity for what we represent as Black people in this country. And also to redefine the Black family and have a sense of pride and responsibility for the future. 

BL.com: How would you say your artistry has helped tell the stories and represent all parts of who we are as Black women?

NL: I am a Black woman, so anything I do will be a part of us. Some films are to make a point. Others are to entertain, and some movies are to evoke emotion. Whatever it is, my job is to do it in the most honest way, even if some of it seems like movie magic.

And I hope that’s the thing that resonates and inspires us. I remember when I came on the scene, there were hardly any actresses who were brown skin. It was me, Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett Smith, Salli Richardson, and Regina King. When Gabrielle Union came on the scene, we were all excited, “Oh, a chocolate sister. We love it!” The group has gotten bigger since, but it started small. 

BL.com: With everyone you mentioned, do you all still have that sisterhood intact?

NL: Do we see each other every day? No, that’s not realistic. Everyone has their own lives. There is love and respect and a sense of community among all Black artists, whether spoken or unspoken. If there is a conflict, it will never be played out in public unless it’s just a big blow-up over something very specific. We are our own union for our own mission. We all know that we are on the front lines representing Black art at the end of the day, which ends up being pop culture and we understand we are more powerful when we stand together.

Be sure to check out the original feature film Fatal Affair available now on Netflix. 

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