On Day 3 of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), a few of Hollywood’s hottest black actors gathered to discuss one of the hardest things to do in entertainment–launch and navigate a career in the entertainment industry. Moderated by Natasha Eubanks, founder & CEO of the popular site TheYBF.com, the panel included actors Naturi Naughton, Cory Hardrict, Yaya DaCosta, and Lance Gross. The discussion, presented by Cadillac, touched on the unique challenges these artists face, their specific approaches to success, and unexpected discoveries they’ve made while navigating the industry.
The panel tackled a number of topics, from mentorship to work-life balance in an industry with high demands. Naturi Naughton, who plays Tasha St. Patrick on the hit TV show Power, says “big sister in her head,” Regina King, provided guidance to her during her recent project. “She is someone who has been on this journey almost my whole life, someone I’ve always admired. She told me not to allow anyone to make me feel like I don’t like the way I look. She celebrates all things that make me a black woman.” Actor and producer Lance Gross, known for House of Payne, says one of his greatest influences is Tyler Perry. “I learned so much from his work ethic. Even when he’s on vacation, he’s creating.” Yaya DaCosta, who recently starred as the legendary Whitney Houston in the Lifetime original movie, Whitney, feels the same way about Angela Bassett, who made her directorial debut with Whitney. DaCosta also touched on the pressure she felt once cast in the role. “I had only a few days to prepare, and those days were stressful. So I kept my research very specific. But I had to shut all of that pressure out because it can be debilitating.”
The discussion turned to the pressures of having a family and how it’s currently used as a social media tool to maintain a certain image. Gross says, “Social media can be a great tool in promoting the things you’re a part of. I share my family, but I only share what I want people to see.” Cory Hardrict, who has starred in Gran Torino, Battle Los Angeles, and Warm Bodies, is also married to actress Tia Mowry. They met while working on a film together. It was never about fame for the two. “I was catching the bus to the set. When I needed a ride home, she would take me to Inglewood. That was as real as it gets.”
The actors then talked about the setbacks young actors sometimes face. “I’m a shy guy. That was the one thing I had to get over because it was holding me back,” says Gross. Naughton’s biggest setback was the highly publicized breakup of girl group 3LW. “I thought my career and life were over. I felt insecure about making it outside of the group.” She realized that, despite what came her way, she just had to be herself. Hardrict’s greatest setback was losing his mother while starting his career. “I was in Chicago and didn’t want to act anymore.” His family told him to go to California. “That setback made it a comeback to this new discovery.” DaCosta faced a lot of resistance from appearing on America’s Next Top Model. “They would say they wouldn’t see models or reality stars.” As she started her acting career, she had to shut her reality stardom out. “I had to pretend it didn’t happen for seven years. Now it has become a positive thing.”
All of the actors felt that the recent “boom” for black actors was great, but hoped that it wasn’t just a trend. “Slowly, people are starting to get it,” said DaCosta. “It’s becoming more reflective of our reality in American cities.” Hardrict adds, “Black people have always been talented. It’s not a trend. I don’t get too excited. These opportunities need to be consistent.” Naughton agreed: “Don’t confuse trendiness with reality.”
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