American performer and maker, Lynn Whitfield has without a doubt made a profession out of playing the solid, ground-breaking screw-up.
From her Emmy award winning role in the true-life show The Josephine Baker Story to A Thin Line Between Love and Hate to her present job as Lady Mae in the TV dramatization Greenleaf – there isn’t an adaptation of a solid influential ladies Lynn hasn’t explored.
She agrees, adding: “I don’t know if there is another way for me to do a powerful woman just flat footed walking the earth. Perhaps I could play a powerful intergalactic woman from Mars. With supernatural powers. In a science fiction fantasy. I would love to get stuck into something like that.”
The 65-year-old star recently visited South Africa for a third time on a press tour for Greenleaf as well as for the film Nappily Ever After – both of which are currently streaming on Netflix.
In both the TV show and film, Lynn takes on the role of a “pushy mom”. In Greenleaf, she’s the no-nonsense matriarch fighting to maintain her legacy and in Nappily she’s a meddling mother who wants to see her daughter marry well.
For Lynn, who was conceived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to guardians with profound roots in Southern privileged, the fascination in these jobs lies in the way that they so honestly mirror the manner by which influential ladies are frequently misconstrued by society.
“I come from a family of very flawed and very strong women. Look at any leadership anywhere – it’s hard to understand strong women. I mean here we are in South Africa where Winnie Mandela was misunderstood.”
She adds: “You fight for what you believe in. You fight to maintain. Lady Mae is just like a queen who is fighting to maintain her kingdom and fighting for her legacy. If a man does that he is kingly. He is taking care of things. He is a warrior. If a woman does that she is the b-word. I resist that and I don’t know a human being who isn’t flawed. So I just try to present the truth.”
THE FIRST LADY
An arrangement about a megachurch is something totally new that has never been finished. The show centers on the Greenleaf family who run Calvary Fellowship World Ministries. From a look their lives appear to be immaculate, yet behind the exterior lies a gathering of shameful insider facts and falsehoods that undermine to cut their realm tumbling down.
“I think right now in America, and the world, it is really important to question leadership,” Lynn says.
She adds: “We have to speak up about what is going on because at the end of the day people who lead, who are the shepherds for so many…they have problems too. So I’m very interested in ‘normalizing’ Christian leadership and saying…’look these people are human too’.”
The gripping OWN drama has just been renewed for a fourth season and has received rave reviews from both viewers and critics. The first season alone has an impressive 81% score on the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes.
For Lynn the achievement of the show lies in the way that the characters, and their quandaries, resound with watchers. These characters have a ton of issues that individuals can identify with and that is the reason watchers cherish them and give a shout out to them.
“In interviews and making appearances I have had women cry in my arms and say: ‘I was molested by a pastor’ or ‘I had this secret and I held it for so long’. People see themselves in the Greenleaf family. It’s not just a drama. It’s not ‘TV land’, these things are really happening and it resonates with people.”
For Lynn the most challenging part in playing Lady Mae has been “creating the space for the truth of a person”.
“I feel like what I do is serving…serving an audience. Acting is a service in that you put a mirror up to humanity and you say: ‘Look we all have falls and there can be healing in it’. Television is so fast so the challenge is in finding those opportunities for truth that can help people.”
ABOUT HAIR AND SELF-LOVE
From the fierce Lady Mae to Paulette Jones, a mother who lives vicariously through her daughter in Nappily Ever After, Lynn moves with ease from TV to film.
The Netflix original, based on the novel by Trisha R. Thomas, explores women’s relationship with their hair and self-love and has hit a note with women around the world.
What Lynn enjoyed most about playing the role of Paulette was that it was more comedic approach to the type of role she usually takes on.
“What I loved about doing this is that it was still a controlling mother but from a comedic approach – a softer approach. This is a woman who had no other ambition but to see her daughter marry well cause she married ‘okay’. It was a lot of fun.”
Her highlight was working with co-star Sanaa Lathan who she has never worked with before: “There was such respect and regard and a sense of humor between us just as women outside of the characters. We had tons of fun. We actually went on a retreat – a detox thing together with some of the crew – it was a wonderful experience.”
Speaking about all the positive feedback that the film has received Lynn says it is an honor to be part of the project and so happy it is resonating internationally: “Women are forever looking for their identity in beauty and they are always being confronted with what the world’s idea of beauty is.
“This idea of beauty and what makes us presentable is so complex. Nappily takes a hard cold look at these ideas of standards of beauty with humor and charm.”
Apart from working on the new season of Greenleaf, she is also working on developing a series that takes place in the 1800s in Louisiana: “It is about Storyville, the first legalized red-light district in the US. There are some very interesting women and their stories need to be told. I am also working on a book not a biography but I think it could be entertaining.”