Anika Noni Rose: The black queer love story on Little Fires Everywhere ‘felt honest’

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Mild spoilers for Little Fires Everywhere that will not spoil the main plot
Anika Noni Rose was interviewed from home for People Now on her work in Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere. She played Mia (Kerry Washington’s) art mentor from college, as seen in flashbacks. My friend Lola_Lola (Z) convinced me to watch LFE when I wanted to give up after the first episode. The characters were intense at first and I didn’t like anyone. About midway through episode three I was hooked, so if you’re on the fence about it like I was, give it a chance. She also told me that the actresses who played the young versions of Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon’s characters were amazing and they are! They’re played by Tiffany Boone (Mia/Kerry) and AnnaSophia Robb (Elena/Reese). Somehow they both nailed their voices and inflection, it was so impressive and made me wonder if they had an on-set voice coach. Anika plays Mia’s college professor and mentor who has a relationship with young Mia. She spoke to People and had nothing but praise for what a great set it was, especially compared to other sets she’s worked on.

On guest starring and not getting scenes with the leads
Our director [Nzingha Stewart] was fantastic. It was such an inclusive set that you didn’t feel like you weren’t connected to people [or] were dropped into a space. They made certain that everyone felt welcome [and] necessary. What you saw in front of the camera with all these amazing women, you also saw behind the camera, which was fantastic and very different. Reese [was welcoming]. That doesn’t always happen. Sets are not always pleasant.

On her character’s love story
It felt complete and true and honest.

[From People Now via Twitter]

I really enjoyed this brief interview and it sounds like such women-centric sets are rare. It reminded me of working in the tech industry in the late 90s and early 2000s and how toxic that was. I do wonder about the way she characterized that relationship. It felt that Anika’s character was grooming young Mia, because they were a professor and student! Others saw it differently, and I wanted to quote this piece from The Advocate about how the relationship felt genuine.

For Boone, Mia and Pauline’s relationship is “a very complicated thing, because there is a maternal element there,” she explained to O, the Oprah Magazine. “Mia, she had such a fraught relationship with her mother — she never felt truly seen. Then she meets Pauline, someone who really sees her, understands her, supports these decisions that she’s making. This relationship that she’s been looking for with her mother is suddenly there with Pauline.”

She continued, “In an earlier script, Mia says, ‘You’re like a mother to me. Or a friend. Or a mentor. What is it?’ All of those things, together with Mia being in a vulnerable position, pregnant and alone — I think that’s what makes her fall for Pauline. I can’t speak for what Pauline sees in Mia — maybe a little bit of herself, and someone she wants to take care of. That’s how I think they fall for each other.”

The presentation of their love story is subtle, but the power of seeing two black women in love on our television screens is momentous. Through their relationship, we also discover the backstory behind Mia’s prized possession, a stunning black-and-white photograph of her pregnant in a bathtub. Mia and Pauline’s relationship is gentle, understanding, and poignantly brought to life by Boone and Rose.

[From The Advocate]

It was nice to see a relationship between women, and women of color, that wasn’t played salaciously. It also seemed like Mia’s choice, but again the power dynamic threw me a little. You could definitely tell that Little Fires was made for women by women, which is hard to find. That show delivers a lot of entertainment, twists and 90s nostalgia and I loved the music! If you’re looking for another series it’s on Hulu.

Here’s part of Anika’s interview!

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7 Responses to “Anika Noni Rose: The black queer love story on Little Fires Everywhere ‘felt honest’”

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  1. Chaine says:

    I also had mixed feelings because of the power dynamic between the two and because Mia was clearly a first year student, still a naive teen. Ultimately, I decided, well, this portion of the flashback was set in the early 80s when those concerns about a professor/student romance probably didn’t exist, so even though we may cringe at it now, it was showing a relationship that could be true to its time.

    • WTW says:

      I didn’t like this relationship because of the power differential, and, yes, Mia was a naive teen and Pauline was her professor/mentor. I don’t think it was honest or pure. It would’ve been a better relationship with just the mentorship. It didn’t have to be sexual. I’m sure in the 80s, there would’ve been some concern about a professor having a relationship with a barely out of high school student. Let’s stop acting like people had no sense of morality, right-and-wrong in previous decades. Maybe the professor wouldn’t have been disciplined or fired over the relationship, but I’m sure it would’ve raised some eyebrows. Anika Noni Rose is in her 40s. In what world is her dating a teen not an issue? And it says something about her character that she couldn’t have dated another grown woman instead of a barely legal teen. Also, it would’ve put some doubt in Mia’s mind. Did Pauline really think she was so talented or was she telling her that to have a sexual relationship with her? I think Hollywood is very warped in that it can’t show a teacher-student relationship without sexualizing it. It’s pretty disgusting.

      • Mara says:

        Well thought out take, do you think the show adequately showed that there was a power imbalance inherent in the relationship?

  2. Haha says:

    It also took me an episode or two to get into, but I ended up enjoying it, esp the 90s throwback.

  3. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    I just wanted to say “Princess and the Frog” is severely under-rated. Tiana has the best voice and personality. It’s one of the few Disney princess movies I can tolerate.

  4. Anonymouse says:

    I started calling this Big Little Fires Everywhere, because Reese plays the same busybody, upper-middle-class character that has become her trademark.

  5. Lola_Lola says:

    I really love ANR. I think whatever role you give her she can handle. She is so versatile to me and really doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Not to mention her voice and what is she almost 50? I do agree with the take of the power dynamics between Mia and Pauline. In the book, their relationship was strictly teacher/student. There were a few things that were added for the tv show to heighten the drama.
    Tiffany and Ana Sophia were amazing. I love to hear how a set is inclusive of everyone. That tone is set from the top down. Even the writer’s room was diverse and entirely women.
    My daughter and I were talking about a scene with Izzy and Moody when he found out about Pearl and Trip. Izzy told him that she doesn’t belong to you. Just because you were nice to her you don’t deserve to be with her. It opened up a really good conversation about people being entitled to your time and space. I really loved this series.