Before Cookie Lyon displayed her brew of hood-rat tendencies on ‘Empire’ and Annalise Keating decided to reveal her duplicitous drama on ‘How to Get Away with Murder,' very few roles (outside the Shonda Rhimes’ stable of shows) were offering enough fat for actresses of color to really chew on.
Frustrated by the dearth of options for her and her fellow thespian sistren, Andrea Lewis decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own destiny—online—with the hilariously brilliant web series aptly titled ‘Black Actress.’ Season Two of the series will be honored at the American Black Film Festival on June 11-14.
“When I first started ‘Black Actress,’ we weren’t on TV like we are now,” Lewis told NBCBLK. “Like, I think it was just the beginning of hearing about ‘Scandal’ coming out and I was excited. I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing. Finally people are starting to put us in the forefront.’”
”I think it’s really great to see where we are now and the amount of characters that are out,” the Toronto-born actress, who starred in the popular teen drama ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’ for five seasons, furthered.
“What I’m hoping is that it is just not a trend. That’s the conversation I’m having a lot now, like ‘Is this a trend? And how long is it going to last?’ I truly hope that it’s not just a trend. I hope next year that the pattern keeps reflecting this and it gets bigger and better and not changed.”
But whether or not the tide is permanently going to turn, Lewis isn’t resting on her laurels. Lewis, 28, is the creator, writer, producer and star of the witty and satirical web series revolving around the inner thoughts and outer actions of a struggling black actress in Brooklyn, New York. The series, which can be seen via her YouTube channel, is now in its second season and is executive-produced by her pals, fellow actresses Essence Atkins and Tatyana Ali.
“I felt that I wanted to do a something that showed the story of black women and as black actresses that shows just what it is to our career and that we’re just like anybody else pursuing [their] dreams,” she shared.
“And I wanted to do something that celebrated it and that’s when I kind of thought ‘yeah, I want to include these interviews because I know so many women with great and inspiring stories but at the same time I wanted to see the scripted element and follow the story of the actress and what that actually looked like that."
Each episode of ‘Black Actress’ features candid confessionals by notable actresses such as Amber Riley (‘Glee’), Garcell Beauvais (‘The Mentalist’), Jenifer Lewis (‘Black-ish) and Naturi Naughton (‘Power’), among others, sharing their real life experiences of traversing through the acting profession.
“So that’s the way the whole thing came together and that was probably five or six years ago,” Lewis added. “I just decided to make it a web series because that’s where I got the freedom to really do whatever I wanted and to make the format something unique and something different to what anybody was seeing.”
“And nobody couldn’t tell me that I couldn’t focus on black women,” she underscored. “I was just allowed to do anything I wanted to do on the internet.”
According to Lewis—who has also appeared in TV and film projects alongside a wide array of acclaimed actresses including Diahann Carroll, Maya Angelou, Alfre Woodard, Loretta Devine, Hillary Duff and Ashley Judd—one particular incident really got her wheels spinning. On the set of a movie in Vancouver, one of her white co-stars introduced her to his agent as “the urban one.”
“I was the only black girl on the cast so that wasn’t out of the norm for me in terms of my work and my career,” she explained. “But this time, I was the only person that got this extra sort of ethnicity anecdote to my name and it was just a very strange moment, and I realized that he saw me kind of the way the script saw me and it was just sort of as the “quote unquote urban one”—just as a black girl and not really as me. And so from there, I kind of just thought about all the actresses that I knew from the super successful to the ones who are just getting into the business and that we all kind of had these experiences being on set or just dealing with people in our industry and the box that people try to put us in.”
The internet has enabled Lewis to be all that she can be—whether it’s distributing her content to an unlimited audience, or raising funds for the production. She recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for her production shingle, Jungle Wild Productions, which aims to produce positive and compelling content for women and people of color. Through the fundraising effort more than $30,000 was successfully raised from over 300 supporters.
“I actually get a lot of feedback on the show and I’m really excited about that because this has been my baby for a really long time and something that I have a lot of passion about and to get all of this positive feedback from it, is amazing.”