Ebony Obsidian – Grateful
Words + Interview By: Tyrone Davis
Ebony Obsidian is an actress who grew up in New Paltz, NY and is best known for her roles in “Master of None”, “Tough Love” and “Twelve Dollar Words”. We spoke about PTSD, her love for music, my love for her hair, and her role as Adrienne Hunt in Director Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of “If Beale Street Could Talk”, which is based on the book by James Baldwin.
When thinking about New York, a lot of us who aren’t from there immediately think about NYC and are pretty ignorant to anything outside of that. What was it like growing up in New Paltz, NY and what was the culture like there?
Right, I get that a lot. “Where are you from? Oh New York! Wait, where?!” It always leads to interesting conversation. Some disputes too, ya know, amongst other New Yorkers. But, I love my hometown. New Paltz is whoever is within it at any given time. You’ve got hippies mingling with college students mingling with transplant store owners mingling with people who are actually from there, like myself.
And, I’m a first generation American so shout out to the few but strong African and West Indian families over there. There are mountains, farms and lakes all in the valley, Hudson Valley to be exact. They say Native Americans put a curse on the land long ago ensuring that anyone who came there would be destined to come back. The term “curse” is usually bad, but it’s a beautiful place so…
What was transitioning to NYC like? Being that you were not too far away, did that make it any easier?
Honestly, moving to the city was less of a transition due to environment change and more of a transition in terms of becoming a young adult, paying bills and being fully responsible for myself, my dreams and my shortcomings. I spent quite a lot of time in the Bronx, Queens and even lived in Harlem for a bit as a child.
When did you decide you wanted to become and entertainer and what steps did you take to develop your craft?
I was hesitant to pursue acting at first. It took 5 years before I decided I had to give it a shot. I had graduated high school early, took time off, started studying journalism and quickly realized I could only tell stories if I was allowed to be fully affected by them. After my first on-camera class I knew I could never be the woman in front of the camera standing next to a burning building with a mic in hand, putting a number to the fatalities behind me with a straight face. Not possible. Instead, I opted to study at the William Esper Studio. Several projects later and here we are.
Had you any military ties prior to appearing as Amber in “Traces: A Post Traumatic Love Story”? What did you learn most during this role?
I did not have any direct military ties prior to accepting the role of Amber, but several people in my life did/do. PTSD comes in many forms but more often than not, the people who struggle with it want very badly to lead normal lives. That’s the biggest lesson I took away.
PTSD is far from restricted for those who have been to wars that will make the history books. Here in America, black people essentially walk through a war zone everyday regardless of where they are. But to be specific, PTSD is a disorder that begins after a traumatizing event. It continues when certain things trigger an excess of emotional or mental stress and one is unable to cope with that stress as they would if they had not had that traumatic experience.
Aside from military based PTSD, a lot of our (black) people are suffering from PTSD due to the conditions of growing up in poverty and other underprivileged conditions. What is your take on that?
A lot of Americans of the Black variety have been through or have observed a traumatic event in their lives and if not, they are waiting to because they are taught that it could and likely will come eventually. We are the only group of people in America who deal with this specific twist to PTSD. What makes it worse is that this is a circumstance that could easily be nonexistent if people of all races were more in touch with their humanity and less in touch with the many lies that led to this type of discrimination.
Tell us about If “Beale Street Could Talk” and your role as Adrienne Hunt?
If Beale Street Could Talk by Director Barry Jenkins is the film adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same title. It’s an intricate story of love, family and faith. It follows Tish and Fonny, two young Black lovers fighting for their freedom to love against a system that works in opposition of their freedom and happiness. I play Adrienne Hunt, Fonny’s eldest sister. She is a quick tempered, quick tongued young woman who despises anyone who threatens the unity of her family.
How did you feel when one of your co-stars of the film, Regina King won her Emmy for her role in Netflix’s “Seven Seconds”?
Regina King, Regina King. I was beyond proud to see her win for her performance in Seven Seconds. If you haven’t seen the series, run, don’t walk. From beginning to end it is so viciously vivid and Regina quite literally carried the story on her back, like many mothers in her characters shoes have had to do.
Are we satisfied after #EmmysSoWhite or is there still work to do? Do we need that validation at all? What say you?
The world is not black and white. There is a whole spectrum of colors in between. Walk outside and you will see that we, America, are not one shade. So, to think one specific race could dominate in any field, especially a field that reflects real people, is a strange truth we have been conditioned to believe is right. Validation and honor are two very different things. It is always an honor to be recognized for hard work by your peers, but that is not the deciding factor of your worth.
Michael Beach is a veteran actor that I grew up watching in the 90’s (I’m 34 now). Being that he is a veteran actor, is there anything that you learned from him in particular that stood out to you?
I grew up watching Michael as well and was blown to be working with him. He is such a wonderful presence. I think anytime you work with someone who has been digging into their craft for as long as he has, they teach you to be confident in the work you are doing in that particular moment.
Speaking of veteran actors, you’ve worked with quite a few of them. Which of them did have been the most influential to you and why?
You trying to get me in trouble? I don’t think I can measure that. Each experience is so different. I learned something different from watching Michael, Regina, Angela, Aunjanue, etc.
Is there a time during your career where you felt like you took an L? If so, how did you shake that off and keep it moving?
As an actor you technically “lose” every day. That’s simply because the answer is no more than it is yes. But, shaking it off is easier when you keep the fact that you are that much closer to the experiences that made you start this journey at the front of your mind.
Tell us about “Tough Love”.
Tough Love is a YouTube digital series about six friends living in New York City. Though they are a diverse group, each is trying to navigate love, careers and ultimately finding themselves. I play Alicia, who is in a long term and seemingly healthy relationship with her college sweetheart. When they fall on hard times financially they opt to join a paid therapy experiment. The only problem is they keep this information from one another. They say the truth will set you free and it quite literally does for this couple. As of Season 2 the show is Daytime Emmy nominated and still available to watch online.
How long have you been into music? Let’s talk about your record, “Hold Me”.
I’ve been singing since I could talk, long before acting. “Hold Me” came about in Season 1 of Tough Love. We were in the thick of production, which is always when I’m most inspired. I wrote the song all at once in maybe 10 minutes and got in the studio with Woodro Skillson. A good friend from High School, Sam Sherbin mixed it. My tie with music is wrapped up with acting. One feeds off the other and vice versa. It seems like they are starting to even out as well.
What do you consider yourself a “master” of?
That’s tough but I guess a master doesn’t have the be perfect, just real good. I’d say I’m fairly masterful at the art of communication. I enjoy understanding where people are coming from and the route one must travel to do so. I suppose that’s why I also love stepping into another person’s shoes too.
I’m going to throw a few names out there. Say whatever comes to mind.
A) James Baldwin
He would’ve made an incredible neighbor, mentor and friend.
B) Lena Waithe
Among one of the most uplifting women I have ever met.
The perfect companion.
D) Sidiki Fofana
A fellow artist I wish I could’ve spent more time with.
If you could play anyone of your choosing (based on an existing person/character), who would it be and why?
Off the top of my head, Elsa Kidane who was an incredible singer who also fought in the civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Stepping in those shoes would immerse me in my own culture in such a dynamic way, which isn’t something Hollywood is offering. Although Zeresenay Mehari, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the New York premiere of Difret back in 2014 is set to direct Sweetness in the Belly, so many incredible women I would be thrilled to embody live within that story. So, I guess there are a few…
I love your hair (I’m a natural hair guy). My little sister is in your age group and she is always looking for new ways to style her natural hair which is something you do very well. I was listening to a podcast based in NYC a few days back and the hosts mentioned people taking issue with their natural hair in the work place. It seems to affect black women the most at work. Being an actress, at any point did you feel pressured to straighten it?
I actually haven’t encountered an overwhelming amount of hair demands for roles but I know lots of naturalistas have for work in fields far beyond being in front of a camera. With that being said, from time to time I do straighten my hair in real life and I have straightened my hair for film.
It’s important to understand and educate those who don’t understand that there are several options to attain a straight look without actually straightening your own hair. There are ways that are way healthier to rock on a consistent basis and straight up easier to maintain. I love being transformative in appearance and as an actor that can be an exciting part of the job. I also love knowing that little girls can turn on the TV and see someone like me who looks a whole lot like them all the way to the root. That’s something I couldn’t do very often as a kid.
Elaborate on the following Tweets:
A) Dependable people have my utmost respect.
There is nothing like someone you can count on. Am I right? There are very few things I value more than someone who does what they say they will do. It’s commendable, respectable and something to always be ambitious to embody.
B) Nothing grows in the comfort zone.
I’m all for being comfortable but not at the expense of losing who I’m meant to be tomorrow. I don’t believe we ever stop evolving as individuals and that is nothing to be ashamed about. Change can be good.
C) If you’re gonna let go, let go.
Regret sucks. I’ve learned that the quicker I can get over something that didn’t work out, the quicker I can get to the thing that will. That’s how I turn disappointment into motivation.
Tell us about “#NoHomo” and the philosophy behind the term for us slow folk.
#NoHomo was the first digital series I ever did. My dear friend Nelson Moses Lassiter created the show in response to stereotypes he experienced when he first came out. The story tracks two irreverent straight men who pose as gay to trick girls into liking them only to discover that stereotypes don’t define a person’s identity.
If Beale Street Could Talk, what would it say about Ebony Obsidian?
Hmm, If Beale Street Could Talk what would it say about me???…Honestly, probably how grateful I am to be walking down it.
Any last words?
Good things come to those who wait, great things come to those who don’t.
Follow Ebony Obsidian on IG @ebonyobsidian, on Twitter @EObsidian and online at www.ebonyobsidian.com.
PHOTO: LAINE BOWEN
HAIR: MONIQUE MITCHELL
MAKEUP: MADGE EARLY
STYLIST: ANGEL NEAL