Jurnee Smollett: We come from kings and queens who weren’t covered in textbooks

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Jurnee Smollett captivated us last year as badass heroine Leti Lewis in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. I believe Lovecraft has been Jurnee’s best performance so far. Jurnee plays complicated characters whom she wears seamlessly. Jurnee played Black Canary in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey And her recent role as Leti was also a very physical performance. Jurnee is profiled in W Magazine’s TV Portfolio issue. W asked actors to dress up as their favorite characters from Leti chose Walter White from Breaking Bad. Jurnee told W that Leti is a superhero and that Black folks descend from kings and queens who are not covered in history. Below are a few highlights:

On being the first Black actress and actor (along with Justin Majors) to be nominated for lead performances from the same drama series
I’m still trying to fact-check it, because it feels like it can’t be possible. This nomination is special for so many reasons. My Lovecraft family is real. That’s not just me saying that; I speak to these folks all the time. I’m incredibly proud of the art that we created together, and the literal blood, sweat, and tears that we shed to put this piece of art out into the world. And it feels so incredibly special to see the whole crew recognized too. The amount of nominations that the show got is mind-blowing. It’s humbling. I’m on cloud nine.

On the physicality of her roles and whether Leti is a superhero
Hell yeah, Leti fucking Lewis is a superhero! Absolutely. As were so many of the women of this time. My grandmother, Showtime, who I drew a lot of inspiration from in crafting Leti—she was a superhero. She went to work every day cleaning the homes of white folks who didn’t appreciate her and disrespected her, and she did it with dignity and maintained her womanhood, her Blackness. She raised four kids in the ’50s as a single mom. Tell me that’s not being a superhero!

I think we’re expanding what the definition of a superhero is. You ain’t gotta wear a cape to do extraordinary things. Most times, these extraordinary things are done by very ordinary folks. Obviously, I didn’t approach Leti thinking she’s a superhero, but I think in hindsight, one of the beautiful things about Lovecraft is that we get the opportunity to shine a light on and highlight the beauty in the mundane, the courage that our folks had, and have. We come from kings and queens. They weren’t knighted, they weren’t caped, they weren’t written about in textbooks. Their stories have been so undervalued and hidden in history, erased in history. We are now currently being told that we should not be talking about our stories in schools. These are the battles we are fighting. Being able to give voice to these stories is such a privilege. And hell yeah, Leti’s a superhero.

On what she’s looking forward to in her career
I don’t really categorize it in that way as like, my television career versus my career. I just want to play very exciting characters that stretch me, characters that scare me. I want to work with great filmmakers and creatives, whether that’s in TV or film or onstage. I’m just as heartbroken as the rest of the world about Lovecraft. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a place now where there are roles that I’m jumping into that I feel just as excited about.

[From W Magazine]

First, I must acknowledge the fact that Jurnee is an absolute babe. Second, I absolutely loved her as Leti in Lovecraft Country. Jurnee was such a fighter and she wore the style of that period well. It would seem like Jurnee took pieces of Leti with her after that role ended. As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but chuckle because Jurnee sounded like a midwestern Black woman from the 50s. I find it interesting that Jurnee chooses such physical roles. In Jurnee’s role as Rosalee in Underground she also had to fight her way through life to win her freedom. I hope she wins that Emmy. Not only are her characters badass but most of them have fatal weaknesses. Several of her characters, like Leti and Rosalee, get entangled in unhealthy romantic relationships. I am looking forward to seeing what Jurnee does next, but I am pretty bummed that Lovecraft Country was cancelled.

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10 Responses to “Jurnee Smollett: We come from kings and queens who weren’t covered in textbooks”

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  1. Snuffles says:

    “ We come from kings and queens. They weren’t knighted, they weren’t caped, they weren’t written about in textbooks. Their stories have been so undervalued and hidden in history, erased in history. We are now currently being told that we should not be talking about our stories in schools. These are the battles we are fighting.”

    Damn right! There is SO much black excellence throughout history that we are never taught.

    Also, Jurnee has been killing the game since she was a kid. I highly recommend Eve’s Bayou!

    https://youtu.be/E__7f_AM1JU

    • Christina says:

      She was brilliant in Eve’s Bayou. Dear Lord! I love that movie. Everyone in that movie is amazing. Samuel Jackson was sexy and magnetic and evil in one character. That is one great movie.

    • Chantal says:

      One of my favorite movies! Despite her youth, she definitely should have won an Oscar for her portrayal. That entire cast was amazing!

    • Green Desert says:

      That quote of hers…so beautifully said.

  2. Merricat says:

    She’s dead on about history textbooks. Integrate those, and then we can actually reach across the table.

  3. Christina says:

    From what little I know about her, she’s sounded like a 50 year old Black woman since she was a kid. She was an extraordinary child actress. I’ve been watching her career for a while. I was sad not to see her on screen for a few years and am delighted that her public career is roaring back. It was clear that she’d be working on art projects, but those don’t always get commercial play.

  4. VespaRed says:

    I highly recommend the Podcast “Stuff the British Stole”, especially the one about the Benin Bronzes. I did not know that empire existed. You are taught in school that England mostly looted Greece and some of Egypt, but they “earned” them and “saved” the relics. England in its heyday was a war machine for looting. That podcast showed how thoughtless they were and explains the current attitude towards Meghan.

  5. Stacy Dresden says:

    We need mandated fair curricula and revised textbooks NOW.

  6. Kali says:

    Lol say what?!?!

    1. That is your opinion, not fact
    2. Do you need glasses? In no way, shape, or form is Jurnee white-passing. She is clearly a lightskinned Black woman. Even if she were white-passing, so? She is speaking about her people. Have a seat.
    3. What do her brother’s actions have to do with her?

    ETA I don’t see the comment now but some fool named LOL came on here to drag Jurnee for no reason.

    • Kkat says:

      A strong, talented, beautiful black woman spoke some truths, so the racist had to crawl out from under their rock