Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Student-athlete and Olympian Micha Powell’s guide to thriving in college A weekly series from the sprinter on how she balances sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a B.A. in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

I have both my parents to thank for my athletic genes. My father is Mike Powell, UCLA alum and the long jump world-record holder, and my mother is the 400m hurdles Canadian record holder. I guess it’s kind of fitting that I’d end up a student-athlete in the States with roots in Canada.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the World University Games in Taipei at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400m sprinter.


Week 1

I have never been afraid of a challenge. I switched sports my senior year in high school, going from hitting serves on green tennis courts to racing around a red rubberized track. I decided to embrace my parents’ Olympic genes and put them to good use in the 400 meters. After receiving a track and field scholarship to the University of Maryland, I then moved away from my family in Canada in pursuit of a higher education and with the hopes of leaving behind a legacy.

Looking back on my four years in college, I had to adapt to many changes, including attending two-hour classes right after running up hills at 5 in the morning, all the while maintaining a balanced social life and remembering to take a deep breath once in a while. The adjustment from living with my mom in a quiet apartment to moving in with five other college roommates was drastic, but I was able to embrace my new surroundings by developing these three key habits:

Time management

I enrolled in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland knowing that I was going to have to learn to work on deadline and take most of my assignments on the road with me when I traveled to track meets. The fast-paced nature of the program forced me to plan ahead and communicate with my professors. If I had a track meet that coming weekend, I knew I had to finish an assignment by Thursday to avoid any additional stress. I also made sure to add some downtime with my friends and go to D.C. for some sightseeing or just stay in and watch some of our favorite Netflix shows.

Sleep takes priority

I aim to get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. If I can be in bed before midnight, I know that I’ll wake up the next morning motivated, rejuvenated and less stressed. However, I’m not perfect. During finals week, I had my fair share of “almost” all-nighters that left my mind drained. The best way for me to get a consistent amount of sleep is to keep a routine. As long as I continue to practice self-discipline, I’ll keep a healthy sleep habit that accelerates my muscle recovery and improves my mental health.

Nutrition & home cooking

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Nutrition is an essential part of my preparation not only for executing a great race but also for my overall well-being. Whenever someone asks me if I follow a strict diet, I explain that I don’t have to but I naturally gravitate toward leafy greens and lean proteins because it is simply what my body craves. I see eating healthy as the most beneficial way to reward my body for all of the hard work it does in one day. By eating fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein, I train my body to expect nutrient-rich foods after a hard workout, which encourages it to recover at a faster rate and readies it to go through the entire cycle again.

Before practice and post-workouts, you can be sure to find me in my kitchen cooking up everything from spinach and turkey bacon-filled omelets to curried tilapia with steamed zucchini spirals. I always make sure my fridge is filled with whole foods and my spice cabinet stocked with seasoning. I’m known on my track team to always have a different meal on my Snapchat and often get messages that read “Pleassee send me the recipe!” or “You should write a cookbook!” Maybe I’ll consider it now that I’ve graduated and have a little bit more free time on my hands. Cooking is not a chore for me but rather a habit that guarantees my body will get enough nutrients for the week, and it also brings familiarity and the comfort of home back into my life.

My grandmother is originally from Nigeria, and I remember growing up in her house, back in Montreal, smelling the peppery air and immediately recognizing the thyme and cayenne fragrance that was brewing in one of her traditional and tasty Nigerian dishes. Although I can’t make as good an okra soup as my grandmother does, I consider myself fortunate enough to have inherited her cooking skills, which have helped me prepare the majority of my meals that fuel me for the day.

Daily Dose: 8/3/17 Dave Chappelle ain’t what he used to be

Clinton Yates is not here. He’s currently watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to find clues as to how White House senior adviser Stephen Miller is only 31.

  • The Baltimore Police Department, much like the professional football team in the city it protects, is quickly realizing the jig is up. For the second time in three weeks, video footage has surfaced of police officers allegedly planting drugs. This time, from a stop last November recorded on body cameras, an officer can be seen squatting by the driver’s side door, stepping back, and another officer moving in and finding a bag of heroin and marijuana. The charges against the suspect were eventually dropped, and Maryland prosecutors dismissed more than 30 cases after the release of the first video in July.
  • Dave Chappelle, as much as it hurts to say, is struggling. On Wednesday night, he held the first of 16 shows at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, and the reviews weren’t great. Chappelle tried, and failed, to make jokes about the trans community … again, and he apparently had trouble finding the humor in the perpetual-gift-that-keeps-on-giving President Donald Trump. Between this first night of the residency, his 50-50 performance on Saturday Night Live (asking the audience to give Trump a chance), his largely forgettable two-part special for Netflix, and the countless times he’s been booed this decade, it might be safe to say that the Chappelle we knew from the early 2000s is long gone.
  • The leaks continue for Trump. Days after firing the man who said he’d kill leakers and hiring a new chief of staff looking to install military-style discipline at the White House, the commander in chief’s most private moments have been released to the public again. The Washington Post got hold of transcripts of the president’s calls with heads of state in Mexico and Australia from earlier this year. Trump Keith Sweat-begged Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to stop telling the media Mexico wouldn’t pay for his billion-dollar border wall, and the next day told Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a U.S. ally, that their call was “the most unpleasant call all day,” and a previous talk with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin “was a pleasant call.”

Things that make you think …

  1. For the first time in history, WNBA players will be featured in a video game. Electronic Arts, the video game developer responsible for the NBA Live franchise, announced that NBA Live 18 will include all 12 WNBA teams and rosters exactly 20 years after the inaugural season of the all-women’s league.
  2. The Texas football program replaced the nameplates on players’ lockers with 43-inch TV monitors for the upcoming season. Keep in mind, the Longhorns pay new head coach Tom Herman more than $5 million a season, one of the top salaries in the country, and had the second-highest total revenue in the NCAA last season ($187,981,158) while having the highest expenses ($171,394,287), which will no doubt increase with the purchase of more than 100 new TVs. If you wonder why college players don’t get paid, here’s why.

The ‘Incredible Jessica James’ and the necessary arrogance of black women In both Jessica Williams’ new movie and ‘Girls Trip,’ black women reaffirm their own value

In The Incredible Jessica James, available on Netflix starting Friday, Jessica Williams plays a 25-year-old playwright who’s just gotten out of a relationship. When we meet her, she’s already grown impatient with the meaningless small talk of the dating scene.

In a line she improvised during a take, Williams-as-James tells a potential suitor, “I’d rather have my period nonstop for a year than continue this portion of the conversation.”

“I think we really just wanted to portray a female character that is unapologetic,” Williams, the former Daily Show correspondent, said in a phone interview. “Like, she’ll apologize for things she does wrong, but we didn’t want her to be like, ‘Sorry I’m alive!’ I feel like oftentimes, women can be written in a way where they’re really apologetic. I wanted to play this character … where she really gets to drive her narrative. There’s a line where she’s like, ‘I know I’m dope. Everybody likes me. I know I’m dope.’

Chris O’Dowd and Jessica Williams in a scene from ‘The Incredible Jessica James.’

Courtesy of Netflix

“We wanted to be like, well, what if a woman had self-confidence and the crux of the movie wasn’t about her figuring out self-confidence? That narrative has been done, and we wanted to try something a little different.”

That quality of self-confidence links Williams in an interesting way with Regina Hall, who stars in the raunchy comedy Girls Trip, which opened last weekend (aside from the fact that they both worked with Jessica James writer-director Jim Strouse in the 2015 romantic comedy People Places Things).

We see both characters, Williams in The Incredible Jessica James and Hall in Girls Trip, talking themselves up. They give themselves little verbal boosts, even though they’re at different points in their lives.

Hall plays a woman for whom confidence should be a sure thing. Her character, Ryan Pierce, is 40-something and firmly established in her career as a writer and lifestyle expert, a sort of Arianna Huffington-Oprah hybrid. But she’s also a woman used to lifting herself up, and her go-to mantra, especially in moments of vulnerability is “I am smart, I am beautiful, I am powerful.”

Girls Trip and The Incredible Jessica James aren’t the only projects that make a point to show this affirmation of self. There are the sticky notes of encouragement that Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) leaves sprinkled around her house for herself in the BET series Being Mary Jane. There are the confidence-boosting raps that Issa Dee (Issa Rae) spits to herself in bathroom mirrors on HBO’s Insecure. Even my own sister, who is one of the most confident, capable, self-possessed women I know, has a note scribbled to herself on her bathroom mirror. It says simply: “You got this!”

This confidence can seem a bit incongruous for the Jessica James character at times. Although her day job is teaching theater and playwriting to school-age children, she can’t find a theater company or a fellowship that wants to produce her plays. She writes at a desk in front of a wall filled with rejection letters but never lets professional success determine her self-worth. That’s not an easy lesson to learn. And when you consider that Jessica James is 25 (Williams is about to turn 28), it’s pretty inspiring.

There’s a scene in which James is negotiating a hookup with Boone (Chris O’Dowd). Jessica is trying to charm her way into his apartment after their second date. They’ve already slept together on the first one, but Boone, who is several months removed from divorcing his first wife, wants to take things slow.

Jessica has a different idea about what should happen.

“Good night,” says Boone.

“Really?” she responds. “Boone. Boone. Boone. Boone. I’m a unicorn. That’s gotta mean somethin’.”

Sarah Jones (as herself) and Jessica James (Jessica Williams) meet for the first time at a playwriting retreat in ‘The Incredible Jessica James.’

Courtesy of Netflix

Boone relents, because really, who’s going to turn down Jessica? “We can always say good night in the morning!” she says cheerfully.

I asked Williams if there is any additional meaning in the fact that the woman we’re watching live her life without unnecessary apology is black.

“I think sometimes, when you’re trying or not, being black can be political,” Williams said. “And I think in this particular movie, it’s very valid to have movies where race is discussed — and that needs to happen more — but I think it’s progressive as well to have movies where race isn’t discussed and the character just gets to sort of exist. There’s interracial dating happening, and while it’s not discussed, it’s still interesting because she is a black woman. I think it’s important and also not necessarily majorly important to this story in particular.”

James’ blackness doesn’t announce itself in Jessica James, which takes place in New York. She lives in “deep, deep, deeeeeeep Bushwick,” as she says in the film — not, say, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Crown Heights. Her ex-boyfriend Damon (Lakeith Stanfield) designs cellphone cases for a living. There’s an unspoken irony in having the film’s lead be black while her best friend is white, a nifty subversion of the “black best friend” trope. On top of that, the white best friend’s name is Tasha (Noël Wells). Whether it was intentional or not, I found it clever and I totally snickered at it.

A rhythm and a trust develop between actresses and the writer-directors who know how to exploit their comedic sweet spots. There’s Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow (it helps that they’re married to one another), Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig, Madeline Kahn and Mel Brooks, and Hall and director Malcolm D. Lee. We may be witnessing the fruits of a similar creative partnership in Williams and Strouse. Strouse is comfortable with Williams improvising lines, and the result is a character who speaks in a voice that feels completely natural.

“We work well together because Jim is very thoughtful and he thinks about things before he says them. He’s a fan of mine, and he has been for a while, and I’m a fan of his,” Williams said. “But he really likes my podcast Two Dope Queens [with Phoebe Robinson] and my work on the Daily Show, and so he’s always been really respectful. He’s just a great writer. I’m sensitive, and it’s really nice to work with him.”

But I think Strouse sees something in Williams as a black woman, even if he doesn’t scream it in his scripts, the same way he saw something in the talented Hall. There’s a power in seeing a self-aware black woman on screen who simply proceeds through life like she hasn’t been defeated by it, like she still feels she can make a difference, like she still believes that the world is hers.

Maybe that’s why so many black women spend so much time telling ourselves how wonderful we are: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we say, “I’m smart and beautiful and powerful,” the more we insist that we’re “unicorns,” the more we make it so.

Comedy Central’s Rikki Hughes is the woman behind the big names The showrunner for Comedy Central’s ‘Hood Adjacent’ talks her favorite athletes and the influence of her late father

In the early 1990s, Rikki Hughes was headed to medical school. Her game plan was set. Life: all figured out.

Then she got an opportunity to spend a summer on the road with all of your favorite ’90s rappers. So she spoke to her mom and dad about going off on this adventure, with the promise to return to UCLA and go to medical school.

“Look,” she said to her parents back then, “I have the opportunity to go to take these artists on the road, and they’ve never been outside of Long Beach — it’s Snoop and Warren G and those guys. This is a tour we’re going on. I can come back, I can defer my enrollment, and I can still go back to UCLA for medical school.”

To her surprise, her mom agreed. “You know, this might be the only opportunity you have in your life to have someone else pay you to travel the world. Just know you can always come home.” That conversation was one of the most empowering things that has ever happened to her. It was life-changing.

“When I got back … my peers … and even my mentor at medical school, they’d graduated and had like $300,000 worth of loans, making like $80,000 a year. I, on the other hand, was at about $150,000 a year, no loans, no kids, so I was like, ‘Kind of made a good decision there!’ ” She ended up running the international department for Priority Records and left in 2001 to go produce TV. Another good decision.

And after a career in music, Hughes is now the “woman behind the laugh.” She is one of the few black female television producers, and certainly one of the very few in comedy — and she’s one of the most successful. Hughes is the showrunner for Comedy Central’s new Hood Adjacent with James Davis. Most recently, she was the executive producer for Dave Chappelle’s acclaimed Netflix specials. And this fall she has the All Def Comedy series premiering on HBO.


What’s your primary social media tribe?

I’m really an Instagrammer. I get lost in Snapchat at times, and so, like, sometimes I send the wrong thing to the wrong person. Twitter is so much information — I get overloaded.

What is your favorite throwback TV show?

Hart to Hart. I just love the glamour of this romance, and they’re out there doing stuff. There’s a murder every episode, and somehow they solve it within 44 minutes, which is brilliant. They stay glamorous the whole time, and he’s [Robert Wagner’s character] just totally in love with her [Stefanie Powers’ character]. It’s truly just fun-filled, fantasy stuff.

“I credit my dad for never allowing fear to be a part of our life, or conversation.”

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Totally a binge-watcher. I go from, like, from House of Cards to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I love the cleverness of the writing. House of Cards, it reminds me of the old West Wing days of really clever characters that are complex and layered and all those good things. You can root for the bad guy and not feel guilty. Unbreakable is just a guilty pleasure. I love it because I don’t have to think.

What do you think about the binge-watching TV culture that we have right now?

It’s a good thing because it creates a scenario where we have to continuously create content … we have to keep feeding the beast. So as a content creator, I’m excited for it — and nervous. I get excited because … I’m constantly in demand to create content. And then the nervous energy is that I’ve got to continue to create at a certain level.

What will you always be a champion of?

I’m always a champion of creativity and of protecting the creative voice. Voices are so important, and they’re distinctive. I’ve battled throughout my career for the voice to be there. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, I want to give a voice to the voiceless.’ It’s not that. It’s more of … I don’t have to agree with your politics or whatever, but I feel like voice is necessary. I would hate for us to be monolithic, a one-tone culture where everyone just kind of buys in to the same thing.

“I went to a Richard Pryor concert when I was really young. Because my uncle has worked at The Comedy Store.”

Who was your childhood hero?

My dad. He passed in 2007. My dad was one that always instilled in me that you have a choice: ‘You can always choose, Rikki.’ And no one can ever put you in a box, because all you have to do is stop, and you can stop at any point in time. It helped me navigate, in a fearless way. … I can look at a situation, but I don’t have to be in that situation. I credit my dad for never allowing fear to be a part of our life, or conversation.

Is that where your courage comes from?

It really does go back to my dad. There’s never been a ‘no’ for me. ‘No’ is just not a thing we say. It’s just another opportunity for a ‘yes’ somewhere else.

What was the first comedy concert you attended?

I went to a Richard Pryor concert when I was really young. Because my uncle has worked at The Comedy Store. I wasn’t supposed to be in there. I remember sitting on the side, and I had to sit in the hallway. I remember hearing — it was just electric, the way he could move people.

Is that what did it for you?

That definitely made me fall in love with the tale of telling stories on stage … engaging an audience in that way.

Is your life like a constant game of “make me laugh” once people know who you are?

Comics … more than anything, they always say, ‘If you can get Rikki to actually laugh, you’ve really won on stage!’

“I’m an L.A. girl, born and raised in L.A., so I just grew up around him. Fast breaks and Magic Johnson!”

Favorite athlete of all time?

Magic Johnson. He was so excited just to be in the game. It wasn’t about fame and money. I’m sure those things were great for him, but I always felt the genuine excitement, that he was just happy to be in the game, happy for people to be there, loved the fans. I felt like I always smiled when I watched him play. I’m an L.A. girl, born and raised in L.A., so I just grew up around him. Fast breaks and Magic Johnson!

Do you have a favorite athlete who’s playing right now?

I kind of like LeBron … I really appreciate the way he moves. I love integrity. It’s one of my biggest things. It’s the most attractive thing to me. So I feel like he has integrity and is able to speak boldly and clearly, and just own it, and I love that about him.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Jazmyn Simon is planning her real-life wedding to Dulé Hill, and loves hanging with her ‘brothers’ on HBO’s ‘Ballers’ But she still has time for political arguments, electric cars and breaking stereotypes

Enjoying a successful career? Check. Engaged to the man of her dreams? Check. Living her best life? Double check. Though the year has been a whirlwind for actress Jazmyn Simon, it’s one the 36-year-old co-star of the hit HBO series Ballers would not trade for the world. With the third season of Ballers underway, Simon is looking forward to showing viewers a different side of her character, Julie Greane, who has played the role of a supportive wife to Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller), an ex-NFL player who struggles to find his identity off the football field.

“The first two seasons, [Julie] was really just Charles’ backbone, trying to help him decide what he’s supposed to do … and that definitely goes on in season three too,” Simon says of her character. “But this season, she kind of steps out on her own. You see her go to work for the first time, which is very important for me. [It’s] one thing to be a wife and another thing to be a mother, but it’s a whole other thing to be a wife, mother and have your own things. She’s a doctor, and many people don’t realize she’s a doctor because she never went to work.”

Life can get a bit hectic in Hollywood, but that doesn’t stop Simon from making time for the important things, including binge-watching her favorite shows, winning political arguments, and being engaged to and planning her wedding with fellow Ballers star Dulé Hill.

What’s your favorite part about playing Julie Greane?

I got to break a stereotype. It’s always good for a black woman to be able to break a stereotype. When you think of a football player’s wife, you automatically think of negative stuff, and you don’t really think that this is just a doctor who loves her husband and supports him no matter what he does. And that is the thing that I’m most proud of and most excited about, what the writers have done and what I’ve been able to do with this character.

What was one of the craziest moments you’ve had on set?

We had this one party scene last season and it was Ricky’s (John David Washington) birthday. They only showed a little of it, but I tell you, when you get all of us together, the whole cast and a whole bunch of people at a pool party, it gets weird. It’s a lot of shenanigans that go on when all of us are together in a party scene. Working with a bunch of guys is fun in general, but things get wild when all of us are together.

“I was telling them it was so fun to be out with my brothers, and Dulé was like, ‘So we’re clear, I’m not your brother.’ And now … he’s my fiancé.”

Are there any actors you’re closest to? Or are they all just treated like brothers?

Well, I’m engaged to one of them, so that one is definitely not my brother. It’s funny because 3 1/2 years ago when we first started shooting, I went out with all the guys … just a bunch of us. I was telling them it was so fun to be out with my brothers, and Dulé was like, ‘Just so we’re clear, I’m not your brother.’ And now 3 1/2 years later, he’s my fiancé. I love him. He’s the best. I’m the closest with Donovan Carter, who plays Vernon Littlefield. Me and Donovan are like siblings.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I very rarely get starstruck. I get excited. President Obama was the most starstruck I had been. He and Michelle Obama were everything. That meeting was just everything to me. I will tell you the first table read that I had for Ballers, the very first one after I booked it, they sat me directly across from Dwayne [Johnson], and the entire time I was in that table read my knees would not stop shaking. I kept thinking, ‘That is The Rock. Oh, my gosh.’ Like, come on. I still have to pinch myself and say, ‘Girl, you have Dwayne’s phone number. That’s The Rock. If you need to talk to him, you can just call.’ I was starstruck that day, and my blood pressure was probably very high. The awe has definitely worn off in 3 1/2 years just because I know him and I love him. He’s definitely a brother to me.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

Trying to act. My first job out of college was at HBO, so if I wasn’t on an HBO show, I’d probably be an executive at HBO. I was a sales assistant in the Chicago office. Full circle. Life is good in that way.

“So if you see me riding around town with my falcon doors, just say, ‘What’s up?’ “

Julie has great fashion sense, and I’m sure Jazmyn does, too. What’s your current fashion obsession?

Shout-out to Tiffany, our costume designer, because Julie’s clothes are always on point. And Jazmyn’s clothes are not as cool as Julie’s. I do like a nice pair of jeans though. I will spend some dollars on a pair of jeans. I’ll put on jeans with a white T-shirt and an expensive purse and call it a day. Jazmyn likes fashion, but she’s not wearing Alexander McQueen to cook dinner like Julie is. Julie is the baller. Jazmyn is on Ballers. See the difference there?

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Oh my gosh. I have a couple. The Handmaid’s Tale was the bomb, but it wouldn’t let me binge it because Hulu is mean. They only made it once a week. Over Christmas break, I rewatched every episode of Game of Thrones because that is my all-time favorite. I can just watch Game of Thrones right now. But I’ve also been bingeing Sense8 and The Leftovers right now.

What will you always be the champ of?

Political arguments. I will always win a political argument. Always. Don’t come for me, because I feel like I’m Anderson Cooper. I know the most.

What is the worst purchase you ever made?

I’m gonna tell you the truth. I was in Vancouver shooting something and me, trying to be a baller, I was like, ‘I need some new sunglasses.’ So I bought these Christian Dior metallic, reflective sunglasses and they were like $700. And when I tell you those shades are in the bottom of my purse somewhere … I can’t wear those in real life. And every time I think about it, I get mad because I’m like, that $700 could’ve gone on something else. They’re in a purse somewhere in my closet.

And best purchase?

The most baller purchase I’m about to make is this Tesla X. I cannot wait. I’m ordering it in October, so hopefully I’ll have it in November. So if you see me riding around town with my falcon doors, just say, ‘What’s up?’

“Julie is the baller. Jazmyn is on Ballers. See the difference there?”

What are you looking forward to achieving in the rest of 2017?

Girl, I’m planning my wedding! I’m planning the wedding of my dreams so hopefully, after all this planning, I will achieve the perfect wedding. I love work, but love is so much better. Love is the best. I’m also auditioning for a movie, so hopefully I’ll book that too. Everybody put good vibes out there.

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Beyoncé. I just need to know how she named the twins Rumi and Sir. And I have a question: Is it Sir Carter Carter or just Sir Carter? These are the questions I need to go to dinner with Beyoncé to ask her. Let’s put that out there. I’ll have a seat for her [at the wedding].

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

Don’t forget who you are. Every day before I left my house — I lived with my grandmother until I was of age to move out on my own, and every day before I left, she said, ‘Don’t forget who you are.’ When you’re 10 years old you really don’t understand that, and when you’re 15 years old you don’t really understand that. But today, I understand that more than ever because I’m in a town full of actors and full of Hollywood executives, and this business is not for the faint of heart. And if you let people, they will take you out of yourself. They’ll make you something that you are not. So every day, before I leave the house, I say, ‘Do not forget who you are,’ and it keeps me humble, grounded and accountable for the decisions I make every day.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

The ‘Last Chance U’ second season is just as authentic as the first The EMCC boys are back for another riveting look at junior college football that’s worth watching as much as the first time

There’s a scene in season one of Last Chance U, the popular Netflix series that aired last year, that’s incredibly unsettling. The junior college football powerhouse that the show follows, East Mississippi Community College, gets sucked into a massive brawl that’s as brutal as any team fight you’ve ever witnessed.

After the fight, Buddy Stephens, the white coach at EMCC, dresses down his predominantly African-American players for their involvement in what he calls “thug bulls—.”

The scene made you cringe. Stephens was so affected by what he saw in himself over the course of the six episodes of season one that he was embarrassed by his behavior and reluctant to attend a Denver film series to promote the series.

After exposing the rawness of juco football in season one, EMCC has invited the cameras back to document the 2016 football season, which is the subject of season two of Last Chance U, which begins streaming on Netflix on Friday.

The director of Last Chance U, Greg Whiteley, was thrilled to spend a second season in Scooba, Mississippi, a tiny rural town of 700 people who few had heard of before the series. That’s changed since that first season, when EMCC opened all its doors and allowed Whiteley and his crew to document the lives of players who see the school as their last chance at football stardom.

Last Chance U , season two.

Courtesy of Netflix

“It wasn’t unusual while we were shooting to have someone show up from Scotland or Australia,” Whiteley said. “People had seen the series and enjoyed it so much that they decided on their next trip to the States that they would stop by Scooba to check out the school. We allowed the town’s new fame to be a part of the narrative.”

What was thought to be a huge challenge in a second season: getting the players to remain authentic in a day and age where everyone’s holding camera phones to their face in a cry for attention and Instagram likes. The true reality of reality TV: The more drama in your life, the better your chance of fame and airtime. But Whiteley didn’t see that as a problem.

“People just assume that with the participants being more conscious of the camera and more conscious of their prospect of being famous, the result would be less authentic,” Whiteley said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m confident in our ability to navigate to maintain the authenticity that is sort of our brand.”

If you followed season one you know that EMCC is a juco football powerhouse that was in pursuit of its third straight National Junior College Athletic Association championship when the cameras began following the team in 2015. That fight would eventually derail the team’s quest to three-peat. And, in an attempt to avoid spoilers, the carryover from the brawl has serious implications for EMCC in Last Chance U’s second season.

Last Chance U Season 2

Courtesy of Netflix

Focusing on juco football is brilliant. At that level you will always be able to find players with Division I talent who wind up playing at the juco level because they are their own worst enemies.

Season two of Last Chance U documents the redemptive journeys of quarterback De’Andre Johnson (who was caught on video punching a woman while he was at Florida State), defensive lineman Chauncey Rivers (who was dismissed from Georgia after his third arrest on marijuana charges) and linebacker Dakota Allen (who was released from Texas Tech after his arrest for burglary).

Besides Stephens’ attempt to rehabilitate his image in season two (after he often appeared completely unhinged in season one), Brittany Wagner returns to her prominent role as the academic adviser striving to keep the players on the field. The relationship between Stephens and Wagner in season two is best described in one word: tense.

Sequels are always challenging, but Whiteley is able to pull it off mainly because of the turnover of talent of the juco players who open up and lay bare their often troubled lives. Just like you rooted for the bad guys in The Wire, you pull for these players, who often need little more than someone steering them in the right direction. The second season is even more thorough in developing the personal struggles of some of the key players, including the challenging journey of running back Isaiah Wright.

With seasons one and two under his belt, Whiteley was asked whether he’ll spend another fall in Scooba.

“I don’t think we’re finished documenting the life in Scooba, but I’m not sure it would be for a season three,” Whiteley said. “If we do get permission to do a third season, we might want to go somewhere else.”

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.

Sydelle Noel is making a splash in Netflix’s ‘GLOW’ The track star turned actress gets candid about Monopoly, her father and meeting Angela Bassett

Sydelle Noel is on the fast track to becoming one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. Shortly after landing a small role in the highly anticipated Marvel movie Black Panther, Noel sprang into a challenging role as Cherry Bang, one of the featured wrestlers in Netflix’s latest original series, GLOW. It focuses on a group of women in 1980s Los Angeles who become the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. “Cherry is sexy, she’s very physical, she knows what she’s capable of and actually says what’s on her mind,” said Noel. “She’s not afraid of anyone, not intimidated by anyone. And she’s badass. Who doesn’t want to play a badass?” Noel’s former focus was on becoming a star athlete at the University of Georgia, where she ran track on a scholarship. Unfortunately, a stress fracture changed all that. But it’s Noel’s athletic background that helps her on GLOW. “Anything that’s a challenge,” said Noel, “I like to … conquer it.” Below (among other things) she talks about her favorite real-life wrestlers — and about which actress almost brought her to tears.

Who is your favorite wrestler?

I grew up watching Hulk Hogan. As I got older, I think me and everybody else loved The Rock. The Rock was my all-time favorite. He took wrestling and made it his own. And now he’s one of the No. 1 actors in the world.

Are there any rituals you get into on set?

Every athlete has a type of music they listen to to get them to that place — I’m very similar with acting now. I still have my get-crunk music, I have my cry-to-me playlist. I have so many different playlists I listen to to get me where I need to be, and in the zone I need to be. When I’m in my trailer preparing my lines, sometimes I listen to jazz. Sometimes I listen to Uncle Luke before the scenes I’m doing.

“Every athlete has a type of music they listen to to get them to that place — I’m very similar with acting now.”

What were your top three songs?

Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good,’ Lil Jon [& The East Side Boyz], ‘Get Crunk,’ and Tracy Chapman’s ‘Give Me One Reason.’ I love throwbacks.

Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?

If I had to say never, and it’s not because of their athletic abilities, it would be Serena Williams. It’s because no one ever wants to see her fail, so she has the world on her shoulders. She’s playing for her and everybody. That’s a lot of pressure … when she loses, it’s like she lost for the world, not just for her. But, shoot, that body, her bank account, her skills — I would definitely trade places for that!

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

The first person that popped into my head is my dad. I lost my dad when I was 9, and I would drop everything, give up everything, for one last dinner with him.

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

Right now, I would want to play myself! Twenty years from now I wouldn’t know, but right now, if they were like, ‘Sydelle, we’re going to do a film about you right now. Who would you want to play you?’ I’d be like, ‘Uh, no one’s playing me but me.’ Not only do you have to have the acting down, but you have to be physical and have the athletic background. There are a very few — a handful — of African-American girls out there in the entertainment world where we can act, be physical and actually do your own stunts. There’s not many of us out there.

What’s your favorite throwback television show?

Fresh Prince! I love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When it’s on, I always have to stop and watch it.

“I lost my dad when I was 9, and I would drop everything, give up everything, for one last dinner with him.”

What’s the last show you binged through?

Dear White People. I was sad that it was over. I actually didn’t know it was over. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. What?’ With Netflix, shows just literally go on. In 30 seconds the next episode just goes on, and you just need it. It was done and I was like, ‘What just happened?’

What will you always be the champion of?

I will always be the champion of Monopoly. Always. Hands down, no one can beat me in Monopoly.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I’m starstruck all the time. I ran into Laurie Hernandez. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re so cute! I love you!’ The most [starstruck] that I’ve ever been, and it really brought me to tears, is when I was working on Black Panther and I saw Angela Bassett. I went weak in the knees because I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s one of my idols. Finding out she was so down to earth and chill and fun, it was amazing working with her. When we wrapped, I just had to go over and knock on her trailer and let her know how much it meant to me, and I almost started crying.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 15-year-old self?

I would tell her not to stress so much about the future, because the future will be just fine. I used to stress myself out, especially with … my track career. I used to stress myself out … and would have to tell myself to relax, and just go with the flow. Let things be. Things will always work out.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Broadcaster Lisa Leslie remembers Prince, loves Nilla wafers — and ‘Gidget’ ‘Me and Jesus go way back,’ says the WNBA Hall of Famer, ‘so I’d like to have a few words’

Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie is proof that life doesn’t end after retirement from professional basketball. The former Los Angeles Sparks center, who put in 12 seasons before hanging up her sneakers in 2009, may be busier now than she was during her time on the court, when she was a member of four gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic teams, led a team to the WNBA championship in 2001 and received three MVP awards. Shortly after retiring, Leslie became an in-studio sports analyst for ABC, Turner Sports and CBS Sports Network. And the grind hasn’t stopped for the 44-year-old wife and mom of two. These days, Leslie co-hosts the all-woman CBS Sports Network talk show We Need To Talk, is an ambassador for The Players’ Tribune and most recently co-authored the self-help book From the Court to the Boardroom with business partner Bridgette Chambers. “Eventually, anyone can have these certain levels of success,” Leslie said. “It’s not based on luck. It’s strategy.” When she manages some downtime, you can find Leslie listening to her favorite Les Miserables songs, binge-watching Netflix series and kicking butt while playing board games with her family.

What’s one thing you did in the past year that you never thought you’d do?

Move across the country [to Florida]. I never thought I’d leave Los Angeles.

Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?

Any of those boxers, probably. Or MMA fighters. Ronda Rousey. I’d never want to be in the ring, because they take some serious beatings. I’ll pass on that sport.

What are you looking forward to achieving this year?

I’m actually about to go back to school to get my real estate license for the state of Florida. I’ll have to go to class for a month. My husband and I have had properties in California. … I like the whole idea of investing … flipping properties. That’s probably my biggest focus this year. Trying to get people to move to Florida.

“I tie my shoes too tight. Because when I would play, I had to tie my shoes and retie them three times before jump ball.”

Are there any habits you developed in the WNBA that you still find yourself doing now?

Yes. I tie my shoes too tight. Because when I would play, I had to tie my shoes and retie them three times before jump ball. I [was] just so neurotic about my shoes being tied tight before I played, that now sometimes I catch myself and my shoes will be too tight and I’m like, ‘What is wrong? I’m in pain.’ I have no game to play.

Which current WNBA athletes remind you most of yourself?

[Los Angeles Sparks forward] Nneka Ogwumike reminds me of myself. She’s tenacious and plays both ends of the floor, and she just has heart and a will that she doesn’t give up. She’s a hard worker. I was a hard worker, and I like that.

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Jesus. Me and Jesus go way back, so I would just like to have a few words. Face to face would be great. Get a few answers.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Yes. I met the late Michael Jackson, and I met Janet Jackson. I met a lot of the Jacksons, but Michael was so cool. Michael wanted some Kentucky Fried Chicken, I remember that. He liked chicken, and he had really big hands. I also met the late Prince, who was supercool. Prince was the symbol at the time, but he was very militant and very beautiful. He was really the most beautiful person I ever met … his face was gorgeous. It was ridiculous. He looked like a porcelain doll, and I don’t think he ever had any work done. I’m looking at him, and of course he’s like 4-11 and I’m 6-5. We’re both leaning against this wall, and we were chatting it up. He was really nice and super down to earth.

“MMA fighters. Ronda Rousey. I’d never want to be in the ring because they take some serious beatings.”

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

That’s so funny because I don’t know if anyone’s actually tall enough. But Gabrielle Union is the only celebrity I know who actually has some game, and can shoot and play. She’s a little short for me, but everything else is there. She has the right color, she’s got swag. She can do it.

What’s the worst purchase you’ve ever made?

You don’t want to know. And this was a true accident. In the Tiffany’s store, I accidentally bought some diamond earrings that were like $32,000 and I thought the lady was saying that they were $3,200. I was trying to buy my mom some real diamond earrings. The lady was like, ‘These are 2, these are 3, and these are 4.’ How was I supposed to know the 2, the 3, and the 4 were $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000? That lady took my American Express and put $30,000 and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m walking out of here today, but we’re bringing these back.’ That may be my most embarrassing moment too. I know there’s people that do that, but I’m not them; $30,000 was a big stretch.

What is the most embarrassing music you admit to listening to?

It’s not embarrassing to me, but my family, kids and all, they hate when I put on Les Miserables. I listen to ‘Bring Him Home’ and they hate it. My kids are like, ‘Mom. No.’ I think it’s so beautiful. It’s such a spiritual song, and I’m a spiritual person. Nobody wants to hear Les Mis in the house, though.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Things I don’t ever get to have. Hostess powdered doughnuts, when they’re fresh. A box of Nilla wafers, when they’re fresh. Come on. That’s old school. Red Vines, not Twizzlers.

“The problem is, everyone thinks I cheat in Clue.”

What will you always be the champ of?

Clue. In my family, nobody will play me because I beat everyone. I get the answers right every time, and they get so mad at me. We play a lot of board games: Life, Monopoly, Taboo. We play a homemade game called Fishbowl, which is a mixture of Taboo and charades. We’re competitive. The problem is, everyone thinks I cheat in Clue. Even if I leave the room and let them shuffle and put it all together, I figure it out. I’m brilliant.

The last show you binge-watched?

I was watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, and I’m also watching This Is Us. And then, I didn’t finish binge-watching Narcos. I’m on season two. I completed Power and now I’m like, damn, I can’t do without Power. My No. 1 show is Game of Thrones. I also finished Insecure, which is excellent.

What’s your favorite throwback TV show?

Probably be an episode of Martin because my husband loves it. Now something I’d seek out — I’m so corny — but mine would be I Love Lucy. And if I really throw it back, I would probably sit and watch an episode of Gidget. No one would know that.

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

Keep God first.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.