Courtesy of Rosco Spears
It’s no secret that Ashley Blaine Featherson, co-star of the Netflix Series, Dear White People is busy, yet she took some time from the crazy buzz surrounding her role as the ambitious, down to earth Joelle Brooks, to chat with us at The Lip Bar about her background, her business and diversity in the media and beauty industry. As she talks, we get a sense of humility that comes from Blaine’s demeanor, she’s hilarious and honestly, similar to Joelle in the way that you’re literally having a woke conversation with your best friend. Though, what is most noticeable is her conviction; she’s a woman living on mission and purpose.
“So many young women have hit me up on social media or even in person and just have said like I’m so grateful for you Ashley or Joelle because I feel like I’m finally seeing myself on media, I’m finally seeing myself on TV” Blaine doesn’t take her platform lightly and welcomes the responsibility of an influencer, which comes with her growing fan base.
In a world that often suppresses the magic of black women, the dutifully skilled actor attributes her sense of confidence to her family. “ I just remember my mom taking me in the mirror and saying you’re dark, you’re black, you’re beautiful, like there’s nothing wrong with your skin, just be proud of who you are,” Blaine says, recalling a time where she was much younger, in elementary school. She had somehow separated herself from being darker skinned after describing a similarly hued classmate as the same color as her mom. “I think that just because of the society we live in, we can oftentimes feel as though, whether it be subconsciously or consciously, that we have to dim or diminish a little bit who we are and I’m just happy that I learned at a really young age not to do that.”
With the rise in black women-centric films and tv shows like Dear White People, being at the forerunner of entertainment and tv’s resurgence. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, the actress encountered what some may presume to be a lack of awareness and inclusivity, while in a beauty trailer on set of her first large production.
Courtesy of Rosco Spears
“ I remember I was shooting a show in New York and it was a big deal for me, like I had booked a pilot and I was really excited, and I showed up to my first day on set in the hair and makeup trailer and I mean the makeup artist literally didn’t know what to do with me" The makeup artist whom allegedly had 50 years of experience in the industry had no experience doing black makeup and in fact, tried to use foundation six shades lighter than her actual skin tone. As for her hair, the following day, after the team provided several bad choices for wigs, Blaine managed to get a hairstylist in Bed-Stuy. “I remember being so hurt calling my mom like I finally made it to this point in my career but yet I’m running around like a crazy person who’s trying to make it so that I don’t look crazy on camera.”
From this point on she’s taken matters into her own hands and has done quite well even beating the face of good friend Lena Waithe for the Emmy's, who later on that night became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Comedic Writing. Today, only a couple of years after Blaine's beauty trailer incident, at surface level Hollywood "appears" to look different yet, the actress still encourages artists to call people out, not to be afraid of educating and doing makeup for themselves.
Her story sheds light on a serious matter within Hollywood and causes us to wonder how many more hair- makeup horror stories there are for black actresses in the beauty trailer. The doors of opportunities are certainly opening up for black women and it is our hope that hair and makeup teams are following suit. On the other hand, within these opportunities, layers of colorism still exist. This is only an indication of underlying exclusivity in not just Hollywood, but the beauty industry and the world as a whole.
Courtesy of Rosco Spears
When discussing the beauty industry’s new take on diversity and inclusivity Blaine says, “ I mean, to be honest, I don’t think they are just so inspired, I think they’re backed into a corner and they have to” She’s talking about her experience in CVS a couple of years back. Not only did the drug store not have a Rimmel London foundation in her shade, but rather not even in the lightest shade of brown, ignoring a vast majority of the world.
The tone we get from the Dear White People co-star when discussing beauty and inclusion is not that of a spectator, but rather a change agent. Alongside her best friend, actress Christina Elmore, she’s launched Blaine Lorenn, a luxury skincare line. “What we hope for Blaine Lorenn is that we can introduce to women especially women of color to the simplicity of beauty and proper skincare because those are all things we can love and appreciate”
In her newest project Leitmark Park produced by Macro Ventures, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year Blaine believes that along with Dear White People it will push the envelope for the narrative of black women, " I love it because it’s similar to Dear White People, you’re seeing that black women, in particular, are not monolithic and we’re so different and you’re seeing that we’re embracing one another rather than judging one another and trying to learn about one another rather than distancing ourselves from things that may feel foreign”
Blaine isn’t just advocating for black people, or for black women but she’s just a for the people kind of girl. She’s full of empathy and like Joelle, resonates with people of all races, gender, and cultural backgrounds. According to Blaine, in addition to Joelle representing for black men and women, the character is meant to be representation for people who are "coming from outside of the shadows, they were never in before" This speaks to once popular girl, Joelle finally reclaiming her power, which we are especially excited to see more of in season two.
We wish we could tell you all about the amazing-ness that is Ashley Blaine Featherson but this article must be cut short. We’ve learned so much in just a conversation. And upon asking her the big question, her definition of beauty, she responded by saying it only comes with being yourself and embracing your differences. She’s honestly, truly a breath of fresh air in an industry stapled as inauthentic and manufactured. She’s not necessarily new to the game, but maybe new to a few faces who weren’t keeping up with her in the Hello Cupid web-series days. Moreover, her presence in Hollywood and in this world is a wake-up call to the industry that she’s been here and so have we. So Dear Beauty Industry, in the words of our good sis Ashley Blaine, “Y’all weren’t thinking about us five years ago”
Written by: Nia Shumake
This interview was edited and condensed.
For more of Ashley's awesomeness head on over to Netflix and binge Dear White People.