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I stayed away from my country for 11 years, raising my three daughters in the calm and safety of Canada. I decided I could not let everything my husband tried to achieve be forgotten or destroyed. When I landed back in Mogadishu, I was amazed by what I saw. And what shocked me most was what had happened to women.
Several notable movie critics and mainstream news publications were quick to point out the lack of diversity with film nominees this awards season. One person not biting her tongue is 'For Colored Girls' star Anika Noni Rose.
We sat down with the Tony Award-winning thespian to talk about who she felt deserved to be recognized, how much fun she's been having with her stint on 'The Good Wife,' and why the Bloomfield, Connecticut native just has to get in the studio with Cee Lo Green sometime soon.
Here's 20 Questions with Anika Noni Rose.
BV: Why do you think that actors of color are not being recognized?
ANR: I think very often our films are not seen in the same way and are not looked at in the same light or looked at in general, to be honest. I think that is really unfortunate because even if you decide that you don't love the film. Is there a performance in there that was mind-blowing to you? Or, was phenomenal to you, or just plain great? I think that it's a very disappointing trend. It's as disappointing as a trend of movies that are put out for people of color. Even that is disappointing to me because it shows just one genre.
BV: Can you elaborate on your feelings about what films are one-note for African Americans?
ANR: At the risk of insulting somebody, that's not what I want to do by pointing out somebody's particular thing, but we have a few movies coming out right now that are revisiting themes from the 70s when it was not a high-brow moment in filmmaking. Not that everything has to be 'King Lear' or 'Black Orpheus.' I'm just saying, we have the opportunity to tell stories and can have dialect other than Southern or African dialects, we live in many places. We have stories to be told and it doesn't always have to be for a kee-kee good time. We either get gut-wrenching tragedy or a gut-busting comedy. There's very little in between and when it does come out in between – who saw it? It's not marketed and people aren't told about it.
BV: What film or films do you think have been looked over this awards season?
ANR: I'm just going to mention that movie 'Mother and Child' one more time. I think it is one of the most beautiful movies that came out this past year. Samuel L. Jackson was in it and gave a beautiful performance. He didn't yell, he didn't cuss. People laugh about him yelling and cussing, and only he can do it the way he does it, but he gave a lovely, nuanced performance and no one has heard a word. It was a mixed cast and an American story. It bothers me that we aren't able to tell American stories of what our life is like in America. Do you only have black people in your rolodex? No! I don't know anyone who only has black friends at their birthday party. I'm interested in us being able to tell stories about us. I think it's sad and disturbing that we don't get the opportunity to tell them and when they are made it's not marketed in such a way that the black community or other people want to see it. I don't believe the rest of the world is not interested in the lives that we live because if they weren't there wouldn't be so many white boys running around listening to rap music.
BV: 'For Colored Girls' was certainly an incredible piece and another film that was surprisingly not recognized. How was being a part of that ensemble?
ANR: I had a great experience filming it. I came away with a lot of really great friendships with these women. It was so amazing to sit in the hair and make-up trailer and talk about our common issues and laugh about stuff and the job that so-and-so got that you didn't. To laugh about it instead of being upset. So often, actors get into that runt but it's so wonderful to be in a room and everybody has a story about someone getting the job that they wanted and letting it be a part of the conversation over a bone of contention. It was great to be able to say that poetry and to speak that poetry into light and in such a way that for me it became something colloquial. It was high art hidden as colloquial speech. You're feeling what Ntozake Shange put on that page within this person's journey. I thought that was brilliantly interweaved.
BV: What do you think the legacy from the movie 'For Colored Girls' should be?
ANR: I don't like to tell people what they should take away from something. I think it's important for people to see something in a movie that resonates with them. Whether it's something that inspires them to live their life in a different way or something that inspires them to speak to somebody they know or love about the way they are living their life whether good or bad. It is important to realize it is not a man bashing film. It's very unfortunate the men/actors are not extraordinarily vocal. I think people should see them and think, "Thank God I'm not like that, but maybe I need to talk to my nephew or my brother." There was a woman who interviewed me, a white woman from New Jersey, who saw the play and she has never seen anything like this play that moved her. When this movie came out, she took her teenage daughter and said, "You are coming to see this, a story about women and about women's plight."
BV: Aside from the central theme of women and women's plight, what were some of the other take-aways for you?
ANR: Everybody goes through abusive relationships. Everybody spends time abusing themselves and allowing other people to abuse them. Experiencing date rape -- that is a multi-ethnic journey. There are a lot of things to take from the movie. You may not identify with everything or everyone but you will identify with one.
BV: Most recently, you've been a recurring character on 'The Good Wife.' Why did you decide that you wanted to appear on this television show in particular?
ANR: I really like this woman. I think she is a very difficult person to figure out. She's extrodrinarily smart. She is a family oriented woman but she is a hard-core politician. She is not going for the okey-doke and she is shaking these men up in the world of Chicago politics which is not a white glove political arena. She is coming in and giving those boys the 'What for?' Interesting enough, I was only supposed to be there for two or three episodes, but they kept writing for me, which I found really exciting. I get to play with some really great actors.
BV: What are your thoughts on playing this type of role in 2011 where we are seeing more women in politics?
ANR: It's fun and it's a different role than I've played before because this woman is serious business and is coming for you. I like it because it's 2011. This is not a year of pleasantry in the land of politics. It's no longer a year where women are asking for their place. They are coming in and they are taking it and that is a fantastic thing.
BV: Watching some of the things going on in real life politics, do you say to yourself, 'My character is a real accurate portray of female politicians today?'
ANR: I do. Women aren't asking. Even the women who have no place being in there. They aren't asking. They are just coming in and talking about how they can see Jupiter from their backyard. They aren't asking. They're just taking their place (You know nobody said Jupiter, but you know what I mean). It's not whether they have qualifications or not, they are kicking that door in and coming. I don't think that it's going to stop the visibility of women in politics. I think it will ultimately make way for some women with some real sense and some strong followers. But there are strong followers behind the whooptie-doos too. I want another Barbara Jordan. Hillary Clinton is out there talking to Egypt and being on a world stage in a way that women haven't before and going to places that aren't necessarily looking for a woman to step off the plane.
BV: What are some of the big political issues to you?
ANR: We're going through a situation in New York where schools are being closed and it's schools that have the most children with special needs. Why are we closing schools in 2011? There was a young woman on TV about 15 and she said, "You know what? It's not our fault that this school is scoring badly and that we are in the lower percentile. Why would you close our school instead of taking the time to fix the problem?" This is a child. That young woman has a future and she wasn't asking anybody, "Excuse me, can I say what I need to say?" She was poised and had grace. She spoke as if she came from a top school. That's what's happening right now. Women need to be in politics because we need to make sure that our children are taken care of.
BV: Another television show we loved you on was 'The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency' with Jill Scott. HBO hasn't announced whether that series will return. Have you heard anything about whether it may be coming back?
ANR: If it comes back, it won't be coming back as a series. The last I heard, possibly some television movies for HBO. I don't know. It's been two years. I don't hold my breath over anything. When someone comes with a contract, I say, "Hey that's exciting," but until then I can't get excited everytime someone says something might happen. If I did I would burn out. But, I loved that piece.
BV: Are you enjoying your time on television enough that you think you would consider signing up for a television show full-time after your run on 'The Good Wife' ends?
ANR: I don't know. Those are the types of things that you have to weigh so many other things that are happening at the moment. I'm really trying to continue to forge my way in film. There are some ways that television helps you in that because you are more visible but there are some ways that it dilutes you because you are more visible. I don't know what I am going to do next. I really have enjoyed being there and there is something lovely about being a guest star because those people that are there every day are so tired come Wednesday. They are worked to the bone and having done it myself, it is exhausting. It would have to be the right circumstance. It's a grind doing TV as a regular.
BV: 'The Princess and The Frog' has really left a stamp in the world of Disney. When you sign up for a project you don't necessarily immediately think about the world of marketing but your princess is really lasting. Have you seen the reach of that role first-hand?
ANR: I have and I see it on our children and I also see it on children who look nothing like Tiana. That does not stop them from seeing themselves within her and I think that is pretty amazing. You're talking about a character who is inspiring little brown girls who have never felt or been told they were princesses, but also inspiring children who look nothing like her to think that she is a woman who is beautiful and smart. Well, I'll be...that's amazing (laughs).
BV: When you signed up for the role, did you ever consider how much Disney would embrace the character?
ANR: We were a couple years in when someone said, "Can you imagine [all of the merchandise]?" And, I thought, "That's right. This is Disney they don't play around. There are going to be barrettes and band-aids and cookies and sneakers and pins for your Crocs. All with a version of my face on them that little girls will love." I actually got a video from a little boy. He was three and he was bouncing on his bed singing 'All The Stars Up There' and telling his mommy, "She is my favorite princess. I'm going to marry her."
BV: Have you thought about returning to Broadway anytime soon?
ANR: Once I dedicate myself to the project, that's what I'm doing, but the issue is "What is the project?" It has to be something viable and something that is seen as a real thing. Does it excite me? Is it challenging? All of those things I have to weigh in order to say this is what I want to do, but I definitely want to come back. I miss it and it's my first love. I just don't know when I am going to be back in the saddle. I loved Tennessee Williams and I really loved that piece. I never even thought of doing 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' myself, it just wasn't in my scope of thinking until it came up and I was like, "Really? Absolutely."
BV: Do you have any passion projects?
ANR: I would like to produce. I would like to produce for my friend Chandra Wilson who is in 'Grey's Anatomy,' and is a really phenomenal talent and there is something that I want for her to do that I would like to research and make happen. I'm the person behind the book on the subway and I'm reading for pleasure and I'm also reading for opportunities for me and the people around me. I was trying to option a book this fall and it fell through. I loved the book so much but I'm not done doing that and I want to create from that level as well.
BV: You've sung in 'Dreamgirls' and also 'The Princess and the Frog,' of course, have you thought about exploring music in the future and recording a full-length album?
ANR: I would love to record. It hasn't really presented itself or maybe I haven't just looked for it because I have been doing so much acting that I haven't been searching to record. I would love to record with Cee Lo [Green].
BV: Really? Cee Lo Green?
ANR: I'm such a huge fan of his and have been for a long time. I just enjoy him. I love the way he blows. He sings his butt off but he's also laughing in the middle of his singing. There's always a joke and there's tongue and cheek somehow. I love the theatricality of what he produces. Loved the 'F** You' and still wishing I could rock a t-shirt. I loved 'Crazy,' I thought, "How brilliant" and I rocked it way past the time it was supposed to be rocked. I think he has a very unique sound and the way that he attacks music is unique. He thrills me.
BV: What kind of music would you put out?
ANR: I would love to do a Christmas album. I've been thinking about that for years. I love Christmas music. It just makes me happy. But, I [just did] a concert in New York at Lincoln Center. It's all of that old stuff and vintage voices like Dinah Washington that inspires me. Then, I love Cee Lo. It could be anything and I think that's one thing that has kept me from pursuing it. I don't have a niche that I want to attack. I just want to do it. I probably need someone to say, "Ok, Anika this is where we are going to start," and I will just say, "Ok."
'For Colored Girls' is now availble on home video formats.