The Emmy-winning Jackée Harry brings everybody up to speed The legendary performer on everything from ‘Game of Thrones’ to a ‘Sister, Sister’ reboot

Jackée Harry was glowing. She was at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Sept. 20, 1987, and Bruce Willis presented her with the Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy role, making her the first African-American woman to receive the honor. She won for her role as Sandra Clark on the #BlackGirlMagic standard-setting sitcom 227 (1985-90), beating out Justine Bateman (Family Ties), Julia Duffy (Newhart), Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls) and Rhea Perlman (Cheers). You also certainly remember her as Lisa Landry, the adoptive mother of two long-lost twins named Tia and Tamera, from the timeless Sister, Sister (1994-99).

Harry is still glowing — more than 30 years and countless film and TV appearances later. The woman admired and known to many as Ms. Jackée (who’s superinteractive with her fans on Twitter) makes an illustrious return to the small screen on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) as part of the Tyler Perry-created series The Paynes, a spinoff of Perry’s former TBS comedy House of Payne (2006-12). Before the new show’s Jan. 16 premiere, the free-spirited Ms. Jackée previewed her role as JoAnn Payne, confirms a Sister, Sister reboot and details, between infectious laughs, her love for HBO’s Game of Thrones.


How did you get involved with The Paynes?

Tyler Perry said he’d work with me eventually. He called one Sunday … and he said come on down. … It was really that simple, but it took years. I waited years because I’ve always wanted to work with him.

In your mind, what’s the biggest difference between the spinoff and the original show?

Curtis and Ella, they retire and move to Florida. They come down and begin a whole new TV family. Ella [Cassi Davis] is still an activist and involved in the community and Curtis [LaVan Davis] is still a fool. You get to see more of the two of them. It’s funny. They were funny on the House of Payne, but this is their show now.

How would describe your character, JoAnn Payne?

I play Curtis’ first cousin. I’m a crook, but I also am helpful. I’m working up a new scam. We’re sort of like Lucy and Ethel, me and Cassi. We’re always doing schemes. But she knows how to handle Curtis. I’m standing here with her now, looking at her! Ms. Cassi Davis!

Everyone is wondering — is a Sister, Sister reboot actually in the works?

Oh, yeah. We’re planning to do one. I just spoke to Tia and Tamera. They’re busy working on it right now so we can do it for y’all. Everybody is asking for it, and we’re ready to do it.

Are you recognized more for Sandra Clark from 227 or Lisa Landry from Sister, Sister?

Sandra Clark, because the show is on OWN right now. They’ve been playing it every weekend, all weekend long.

What do you remember most from the night you won your Emmy?

Nothing. I don’t remember a thing because I didn’t expect to win. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d just be nominated one time and that was it. But I won the first time out.

What’s your favorite current TV show?

Game of Thrones is my favorite. I love it. Dragons and you know what!

Who’s your favorite Game of Thrones character?

Emilia Clarke’s character, Daenerys. Her and her dragons. I actually love all the women on the show. The little sister, Arya, and Sansa. They’re all fabulous.

Are there any young actors or actresses that stick out to you nowadays that you’d like to work with?

Regina King, of course. She’s my favorite. Zendaya. She’s just phenomenal. … Yara Shahidi. I did work with them, but when they were little kids. Now they’re all grown up, so I’d like to work with them again.

If you could have dinner with one actor or actress, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Bette Davis [laughs]. Uh huh. I wanna hear All About Eve! I would love to because she’s in one of my favorite movies. Or even an Alan Rickman. He’s my favorite villain. I would love to have dinner with him. I think I’ve seen Die Hard about 600 times.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Show up, be on time and know your lines.

What would be your go-to karaoke song, and why?

Boyz II Men, “End of the Road,” because I could get the best harmony with it. I do that at Taco Tuesdays!

What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish in 2018?

To evolve as a person … become kinder and more empathetic … and try not to be as much of a diva!

What will you always be a champion of?

Education. Forever. That’s my No. 1 thing. Formal or informal. Books, computers, however you get it, but it’s gotta be done so we can keep up. Because if we don’t teach these kids, there will be no tomorrow for them.

Don’t join the rush to condemn ‘Game of Thrones’ team behind HBO’s ‘Confederate’ Whiteness does not prevent wokeness

There are as many reasons to worry about the next project from the Game of Thrones showrunners — an HBO series called Confederate, about an America where slavery still exists — as Queen Cersei has reasons to worry about her head staying attached to her neck.

But let’s give David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a chance. Whiteness does not prevent wokeness. And fiction can be more penetrating than fact, particularly in this era when too many people argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.

On Wednesday, HBO announced the forthcoming drama, written and executive produced by Benioff and Weiss, who turned the Thrones fantasy novels into a global phenomenon. Confederate is set in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War. “Slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution,” HBO said in a statement. “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone  —  freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

The biggest reason to worry about Confederate is Game of Thrones’ troublesome relationship with race.

Benioff and Weiss’ show is almost devoid of blackness. Only two minor characters had African features, and they’re both long gone. Two current minor characters appear biracial: Grey Worm, who has no testicles, and Missandei, an ex-slave doomed to love Grey Worm when she’s not busy as Daenerys’ servant. The brown-skinned Dothraki are a stereotypical savage horde, reveling in public sex and the consumption of raw animal organs — and they worshipped fair Daenerys, of course. Overall, Thrones is so Eurocentric, even a dude named Shagga is white.

Such whiteness is somewhat to be expected, given that George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire books that are the basis of Game of Thrones, says his world of Westeros is a fantasy analogue of the British Isles. “There weren’t many Asians in Yorkish England either,” Martin told a mournful fan in 2014. And Thrones delivers equal-opportunity barbarism, with white characters perpetrating an enormous variety of depraved and disturbing crimes.

But still. Dragons are born of a human mother in Game of Thrones. People return from the dead. Undead ice-fiends are marching south. But we can’t get a brother up in King’s Landing? C’mon, y’all.

Folks on Twitter predictably trashed the Confederate press release, questioning whether white writers could be trusted with such a deeply black story. In a more nuanced critique, David Perry, a writer and professor of history at Dominican University in suburban Chicago, expressed concern over Thrones’ treatment not only of race but of sexual violence as well.

“The showrunners have been defensive when engaged on these issues,” Perry, a Thrones fan, said by email. “Their decisions have been troubling here, and we’re only dealing with a medievalish fantasy world. … I am skeptical that they have the listening skills and humility to adeptly handle the even more tense subject matter of American slavery.

“You can’t do a show about American slavery without engaging the history of rape of enslaved women,” Perry continued. “Can we trust the people who decided to make the rape of Sansa about Theon’s emotions to portray that kind of trauma? I am always willing to be proved wrong. I always want to believe artists can develop and improve. But I’m deeply skeptical.”

But Cheo Hodari Coker, showrunner for the Netflix series Luke Cage, dismissed the critiques of “armchair Twitter cultural nationalists” and cautioned against judging a TV concept by its press release — or even by the creators’ previous work. Coker also expressed confidence that the involvement of black executive producer/writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who have worked on shows such as Empire and The Good Wife, will ensure that the explosive premise is handled with sensitivity.

“You can’t always apply someone’s previous creative track record to the work that hasn’t been done yet,” said Coker, who is friends with Benioff and Malcolm Spellman. “The Ice Cube of Straight Outta Compton is different from the Ice Cube that collaborated with the Bomb Squad, and different from the Ice Cube that made Are We There Yet? Just because there were elements of the Dothraki and some of these things that were problematic on Game of Thrones, does that mean this new concept will be equally problematic? No. You have to see it first.”

Responding to the criticism in an interview with Vulture, Weiss said, “It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama.”

Despite America’s long history of white storytellers seizing and misrepresenting black life, white writers have inhabited many authentic and classic black characters. Langston Hughes called Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin a “moral battle cry for freedom.” Richard Price illuminated the world of corner crack hustlers in Clockers. David Simon created some of the greatest (quasi) fictional black characters in American history with The Wire (which could actually be the most realistic depiction of an America where slavery never died).

The recent best-selling novel Underground Airlines explores the same premise as Confederate — what if slavery never ended? — in powerful and thought-provoking ways. It was written by a white author, Ben E. Winters. His protagonist is a black escaped slave, trapped into tracking down other fugitives. Winters’ research included reading slave narratives, contemporary and classic African-American literature, histories of slavery and the generations after slavery, and just talking to regular black folks about their modern lives.

“As we all know, our country has a long literary history of white people telling black stories and writing in black voices, and a lot of it is pretty gross,” Winters told me last year. “It was my aim from the outset to not be one of those. To bring empathy and intelligence to a work of speculative fiction that was also engaged with the great social issue of our time.

“The novel rose out of my powerful and sad sense of all the ways the shadow of slavery hangs over our country,” Winter said. “All the institutions and attitudes that were shaped during those centuries are still with us.”

They will be with us again when Confederate hits HBO, undoubtedly under great scrutiny. Game of Thrones is one of the towering achievements of this golden television age, largely because of the immense talents of Benioff and Weiss. Let’s see how they apply those talents to the great social issue of our time. Let them make their art, and then let them win or die. There is no middle ground.

Daily Dose: 7/18/17 Michael Vick has some advice for Colin Kaepernick

I’m finally back home for more than a day, and I’m very happy about that. On Monday I was on The Ryen Russillo Show, and it was an excellent experience. If you want to hear the show, here you go. Hour 1, Hour 2, Hour 3.

Well, it looks like the latest health care plan has fallen apart, again. The goal of trying to keep America healthy has turned into a political battle that’s genuinely embarrassing on a global level. The GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare fell short, again, because they didn’t have the votes. This fact apparently caught the White House off guard, which is bizarre, as everyone paying attention knew this wasn’t going to work. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for a repeal of the whole thing, with absolutely zero plan to replace it. What a mess.

Michael Vick, we didn’t think it’d be you. The former NFL quarterback, who knows a thing or two about image rehabilitation, went on television and gave some advice to Colin Kaepernick on how he might be able to get back in the league’s good graces. He told him to cut his hair. Without getting into a whole rant about how black hair is unfairly weaponized in America, I’ll just say this: Kaepernick’s hair is too important to cut at this point. Should it matter? No. But yes, alas, it does. Damien Woody was not a fan of Vick’s suggestion.

Summer is weird. While the weather is warm, and there’s a sense of elongated laziness and carefree mentality that people enjoy, there can also be a huge downside: depression. Why? Mainly because if you don’t have your life together and are forced to watch everybody else having fun in their seasonal happiness, it can wear on you. But there’s also a physical reason. As it turns out, too much light can negatively affect your body, never mind the actual temperature of the air. The dog days are for real.

Ezekiel Elliott is living his life. The star Dallas Cowboys running back seems to be in the headlines for one thing or another all the time, and it might end up costing him some cash. During the week he was supposed to meet with the NFL about how his offseason has gone, but he ended up getting into an altercation at a nightclub, which just isn’t a good look. Now he’s trying to appeal a speeding ticket. At this point it’s pretty clear the NFL is going to sit him down, even if it’s just for his own good.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I know you all love Game of Thrones. I don’t watch that show, but it’s not personal, it’s just not for me. I’m a robots-and-lasers guy, not a wizards-and-woods guy, but with the season premiere having just dropped, people are back at it. One question though: Where are all the black folks in this HBO series?

Snack Time: The Magic School Bus was a series of books that as a kid I didn’t admit that I liked, but I genuinely loved. Now it appears that Tracee Ellis Ross will play Mrs. Frizzle in a live-action version adaptation. Amazing.

Dessert: Some things you just can’t make up, kiddos.