Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chating it up with a homegirl (A Day in Hollywood South, Part 2)

When I met award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield at Southern University at Shreveport’s 3rd Annual Economic Forum several weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect.

She was one the featured speakers during the luncheon portion of the event which focused on the budding movie business in the area and discussed ways to turn into a long-lasting film industry. Whitfield was so gracious and nice and she looked elegant as always. Forever classy, she was wearing this sleek black suit and this chic sheer blouse with a ruffle collar, her hair, streaked with light brown highlights, cascaded past her shoulder

I can only hope to look so fabulous when I’m her age. I was mesmerized, taking it all in. Thank God, I didn’t revert back to my lame-brain Erykah-Badu-interview days.

I mean, this is the same woman who dazzled us with her portrayal of Josephine Baker in “The Josephine Baker Story,” captivated us alongside Oprah Winfrey in “The Women of Brewster Place,” and entranced us in “Eve’s Bayou.” Then, showed us black don’t crack in her most recent starring role in “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

And even though the woman is a Baton Rouge native, I just never thought I would meet her.
Amazingly, Whitfield was just as taken with our city.
“Even though I’m from Louisiana, I’ve never spent time here before and I’m just so amazed at how glamorous the city is,” she said. (Glamorous? Really?)
“I had to leave here and go to places like Toronto just to get a chance in Hollywood and now people can do that right here,” she said.

Whitfield comes from an aristocratic family in Baton Rouge and throughout her speech at the luncheon, she spoke of how especially her parents’ supported her decision to be an actress when she was a child, even though they weren’t too crazy about the idea.
“I don’t know how or why I knew I wanted to be an actress. It was something God deposited in my spirit,” she said.
She shared how this longing to be an actress stayed with her, despite rarely seeing brown faces like hers on TV and in films during her childhood.

“It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do what Audrey Hepburn did,” she said. “I would only see splattering of brown faces here and there, like Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Rosalind Cash, Diana Sands, but I was really optimistic like ‘Here I come. Ta-da!’” she said, as the crowd laughed. “And they were like Ta-da? Ta-what?”

Whitfield talked about how her daughter Grace has been bitten by the acting bug and she hopes to show her “What a wonderful place she comes from,” referring to Louisiana.

“We may be at the bottom for a lot of negative things, but Louisiana is the most exotic, most authentic state in the union,” she said, her voice transcending into a tone similar to that of a preacher in mid-sermon and the crowd was right there with her. “People can say the hurricane changed New Orleans as we know it. That it took away the city, but they can NOT take our stories,” she said to a chorus of amens. “If we don’t tell our stories and preserve them on film, they may not ever know.

I’ve always admired Whitfield’s talent, gracefulness and elegance, but after meeting her and hearing her speak with such pride, I also came away admiring her state pride.

She’s a proud homegirl who doesn’t just talk it, but wants to be about it.
“I’m going to hang a shingle in this state and bring productions here in this state and preserve our state,” she declared as she concluded her speech.

I hope she doesn’t let us down.

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