On this episode of Diversity Be Like, host Sequoia Houston talks to actress, writer, and producer Nicole J. Butler about her new online series Sister President, what it’s like being a Black woman in Hollywood, and how her career has evolved since she moved to LA in 2015.
About Our Guest
Nicole J. Butler
Actress, Writer, Producer
Chicago-native, Nicole J. Butler, moved to Hollywood with $220 & plenty of home-grown moxie. All she wanted to do was to tell the stories of the women who had never had the opportunity to tell their stories for themselves.Los Angeles was a cantankerous heifer, prone to delivering a swift kick at inopportune times. Nicole got stuck in an inflexible day job that she hated, spent money on bad headshots, gave terrible auditions, got burned out, quit acting, went broke, & moved to a neighborhood where people who did not work for pizza restaurants sold slices of pizza door to door. Let that sink in for a moment.Nevertheless, she persisted… & after years of doing it wrong, she finally started getting it right.Since then, Nicole has worked behind AND in front of the camera, which has given her a unique perspective of the business.
3 Key Points
- There is more to diversity than just on screen representation; every single aspect of the entertainment industry is affected by bias and internalized racism.
- There is a false dichotomy that is often presented in conversations about diversity where the choice is framed as hiring a qualified person or hiring a non-white person.
- Long-term stress affects the body in so many different ways, and it exacerbates or can lead to many diseases that disproportionately affect the Black community.
- Nicole J. Butler started acting in theatre, and in 2015 she moved across the country to Los Angeles to advance her career.
- Her new series, Sister President, launched in 2020.
- It follows two sisters who criticize the sitting president, who tells them that they can try serving and if their approval ratings aren’t higher than his they’ll go to jail for the rest of his term.
- Sequoia mentions that a few years ago, her agent posted a rant on Facebook about how diversity programs are “ruining” things for her blonde actors. She had conversations with her about it, and the agent was very defensive.
- Sequoia brings up the recent Christmas movie Jingle Jangle; she says that when she saw The Little Mermaid as a kid it made her want to perform, and she’s so happy that little Black girls get to look at the little girl from Jingle Jangle and look up to a girl who looks like them.
- Nicole says that her natural state is being a creative who instructs, informs, and helps in whatever way she can in a creative way.
- Nicole considers herself an unintentional activist.
- Sequoia brings up that there is more to diversity than just representation; bias and internalized racism keep Black people out of every aspect of the entertainment business.
- Sequoia and Nicole talk about hair styling on set, and Nicole says she only works in wigs now because of bad experiences she’s had with her natural hair being done by white stylists.
- Nicole’s wigs are an added expense, as well as bringing her own makeup to set and having to worry about how her hair looks when she shows up.
- Sequoia asks Nicole how she’s seen the industry progress since #OscarsSoWhite.
- They talk about how Black people’s stories are not allowed to be simple and also aren’t allowed to be messy in a human way, and that this is the reason that shows like Atlanta and Insecure have taken hold of audiences.
- Sequoia asks what diversity myth Nicole wants to debunk, and she says she hates the false dichotomy of hiring someone qualified OR hiring someone non-white.
- Long-term stress affects the body in so many different ways, and Sequoia points out that it exacerbates or can lead to many diseases that disproportionately affect the Black community.
- Nicole says if she had been interviewing herself, she’d ask herself a question she’s been contemplating in her own life: “What’s next?”
“A lot of times, I see Black characters portrayed as the sidekick, and they don’t get to be messy…I wanted [the sisters] to have the freedom to be messy and figuring it out as they go.” – Nicole J. Butler
“Shouldn’t we as a society try to be fair? The people who fight the most against that are the ones who benefit [from it].” – Nicole J. Butler
“What happens if Hollywood never, ever pays any attention to anything that you’ve written, or any idea that you’ve had?” – Nicole J. Butler
“We are right at the edge of tolerance.” – Nicole J. Butler
“There’s still an idea that only white people’s stories can be universal.” – Nicole J. Butler
Email podcast (at) mochastock (dot) com to get a full transcript of this podcast episode.
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