A nomad who lived in multiple states as a foster child, Tiara Williams, also known as “Ms. Black Hollywood,” says that contrary to what many might think, she is very grateful for her upbringing. “It was a beautiful thing, actually. I got to be raised by a community of my family. Some of them lived in Pittsburgh, some of them lived in Minneapolis [and] Las Vegas, and I made my way to New Orleans. So I’ve lived on every coast, which has been very good for me. It has made me really well-rounded.”
Williams spent much of her teen years and went to high school in Minneapolis. She is returning to host a conference for aspiring entertainers as well as more traditional entrepreneurs.
It was Hurricane Katrina that prompted Williams to make the most fateful move of all. Knowing she wanted to be in the entertainment industry since seeing Angela Bassett’s performance as singing legend Tina Turner in the classic biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, Los Angeles was always endgame.
However, it never seemed to be the right time or circumstance to make the move. The infamous storm provided the impetus. She recalls, “I was at my house at the west bank of New Orleans and I heard there was this storm coming. I had already been thinking about going to L.A. before Katrina. I had been in touch with someone who was pitching a pilot to Tracy Edmonds at the time and she told me I should come out to audition for it.
“Usually, when you hear about hurricanes in New Orleans, it’s [just] a day off. You party, eat some gumbo, have a good time but at the last minute, I decided to leave. I went to Los Angeles and auditioned for the pilot. I didn’t get it, but it set the stage for so many other things. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the front row next to [her idol] Angela Bassett for fashion week and working in publicity.”
The scales soon fell from her eyes, though, as she ventured out into acting. The stereotyping of Black women characters was still rampant. She implies that for those going to Hollywood, it is essential to know who you are or risk being made into a sort of caricature of yourself. “[Know] what the climate is for actors and [know] that when you walk into a casting room you might be coached. Somehow it becomes, ‘that was great. Can you give me a little more sass?’ And somehow you just become that caricature of what a Black woman is supposed to be on television. That’s what I experienced and I got tired of it and it pushed me to find my own creative space in this town.”
She also realized that, “Diversity is definitely still being championed, but the fact remains that 99.5 percent of all roles are still being created for non-Black actors.” One of the challenges that she sees for young people who are just beginning to try to launch an acting career is that established film actresses such as Regina King or Regina Hall for example, are themselves also moving into the television space creating even tougher competition.
Although the television landscape is more diverse, she explains that there are no longer shows like Martin, A Different World, or Living Single, etc., based in Los Angeles where the cast is all-Black to provide opportunities to go out on castings every day.
However, Williams, an entrepreneur at heart who opened her first business (a lemonade stand) at the age of eleven, saw other opportunities. She says, “The digital space is just there for the taking, but a lot of older actors don’t know how to make money; they don’t know how to wrangle social media, they don’t know how to make it work for them. I knew I had to start a business and create something that would really allow me to have a legacy.”
She decided to start a company. “The name of my company is The Reel Network. We create content, we develop talent, and we find opportunities for performers of color. We also work with entrepreneurs in brand management, creating a personality around their companies. What we are ultimately trying to do with Reel Network is make it a one-stop shop.”
She will be working with both aspects of her client base when she comes to Minneapolis’ Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) on April 29. She explains that, “Half of the people that have registered are performers and half of the people that registered are entrepreneurs.
“My goal is to teach them that whatever they have created, whatever ideas they might have, use some of the strategy — some of the techniques that I have learned in Hollywood — to make their projects or their businesses pop, make them memorable. Give your business that Hollywood dazzle.”
Visit http://tiny.cc/MsHollywood for event details.
Nadine Matthews welcomes readers’ comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.