Photo Credit: Nick Branch
KJ Smith stars in the recent movie A Madea Family Funeral where she plays Carol. Smith speaks with ATM about her character, the complexities of black women and how they are portrayed in this film.
ATM: How would you reflect the ways Tyler Perry shows support and inspiration for black women?
KJ: Oh wow. He shows all facets of black women. It is cool because you have a strong independent black woman who is hurting inside. Then you have the torn young woman who does not know what she wants. Then you have the perfect woman. She has it together, loves her husband, and they have a great relationship. They have sort of a Claire Huxtable vibe. Then you have Madea with her crazy self. She says what she wants when she wants. Then you have the woman who comes in and wreaks havoc. It shows very different layers of a black woman. This is so dope. I had not even thought about this until you asked your question. You see so many black women reflected in this film. You have the black sidekick woman in here. You have the black mother who did whatever she had to do to take care of her children. All of these are represented in this movie. Wow, what a great question. Holy smokes.
ATM: There is a lot of representation of black women in this film. You named a lot of them. You get to see different phases of a black woman. A lot of people stereotype black women as this one thing. If she starts yelling, then she is this. I feel the Madea franchise sits society down saying, “There are not only different shades of us or textures of hair, but there are different personalities of us.” What stereotype does your character fit?
KJ: My character is a woman who is trying to keep it together. She needs help and will not let people know. It comes a point when you must deal with your issues. She is faced with her crap head on. She is trying to keep it together, but it all hits the fan.
ATM: How does her flaws or struggles influence the other characters?
KJ: She is going through her stuff and projecting it on other people. If you are in a bad mood and someone says something, then you are going to take it personally. If you are in a high vibration, elevated, and someone says something, then you realize it has nothing to do with you. It is not until my character has this realization or epiphany that we see her grow. Otherwise, she is projecting her misfortune on other people. They are trying to suck out the positive traits of another person. They are trying to make a person as miserable. Misery loves company. “What are you doing being happy?” “Nah, we are not happy over here.” If there is a woman in a bad relationship, then she will say, “Men are trash.” Happy and giddy.
ATM: This is similar to the “crabs in a barrel” saying.
KJ: Yes. This would be the perfect definition of how Carol is. There is a line in the film where the guys tell my character, “She does not like anybody.”
ATM: It sounds like your character is searching for happiness. A lot of people want to find their happiness. I feel it is human nature that we do not like to see people happy. People need to understand others have different paths in life. Their happiness could have come from a lot of other places. What gives people like your character the right to mess this up?
KJ: This is true. You are preaching over here to me.
ATM: Tyler Perry writing your character represents a lot of people in society. The opposite side to your character is one who is selfless. This is a trait that a lot of people do not carry. However, they put on masks as if they do. Your character seems to be the person to say, “I told you so.”
KJ: At least in the beginning. She finds herself and voice. I saw the movie. It was pleasant to watch. I watched it without being critical of myself. Sometimes as actors we watch with a critic’s eyes. She figures it out and redeems herself. Like we talked about. No one is just one thing. She figures out who she truly is.
ATM: How would you observe your character’s journey of redeeming her identity?
KJ: I can relate to this. This life will make you hard and tough. You start fighting and get in the habit of fighting. Then you get to the point where everything is not a fight or a battle. My observation would be it is pleasant. I have never heard this question before. I like it. “How would you observe that?” I have to add this to my lexicon. I must dig deeper in that.
ATM: Break down the stages your character took to come into a new self.
KJ: Step one is when she could not run anymore. She and everyone else realize there was a problem. “I cannot run from this anymore. I cannot hide it.” Her being exposed is the first step. It is like someone with an addiction. It is fine when you are just dealing with it. But when it starts affecting other people, it starts to be “It is not fine anymore. You have a problem.” Step two is her realizing she wants to make the change. “Hey, I do have a problem. Do I want to change this or keep it the same? Step three is choosing to change it and asking people for help and getting advice. Moving forward in the direction that you are trying to get into.
ATM: How does a person in your character’s position move forward in treating her old self like shedding skin? How does she make sure not to pick back up this previous identity?
KJ: When you make a real decision, nobody can change it. It is only when you are on the fence, that you come back to it. Especially with women when they are with a no-good ass dude and she constantly takes him back. But when she is fed up there is nothing you can do about it. They wrote a song about it because this is how serious it is. You have to be fed up and know that you know you are done. There is no way you can come back.
ATM: Women are the forgiving gender.
KJ: Oh my god. We give so many chances. A second, third, and even an eighth. We give all the chances in the world for them to get it together. When he doesn’t change, we are over it. You can forget about it.
ATM: Men take advantage of this. “I am going to get it together the third time.” This would be the love and emotional aspect when a woman falls deep in love. It is a woman’s nature to just keep forgiving. This builds up. Men are different. They do not give second chances.
KJ: No. They are done right away.
ATM: When they do not give second chances you look at it like “But I gave you eight chances.” They are like “Okay, so but you cheated on me.”
KJ: You do not even have to cheat on them. You can just take a phone call. You can say hello to another person. It is like “Oh My God!!!” They are devastated. It is so ridiculous.
ATM: It makes you think who is really the most sensitive one.
KJ: Women are obviously the stronger species or beings. We have baby humans. We carry the future of the world in our bodies. Physically we are stronger. Mentally we are stronger. We have to endure so much more and mental anguish. We have to endure being on the bottom of the totem pole in society. I will not let anyone tell me otherwise.
ATM: There are so many names that would go a long with someone who thinks otherwise. It is interesting how self can ostracize or give us a bad reputation. We are the makers of the world. We put you all here. If it were not for us, then you all would not be here. It is like spitting in a woman’s face. Everyone has a mom, sister, aunt, and grandmother. Everyone has a female family member. You treat this woman wrong, but this woman represents a sister or an aunt, which you have in your family. Either she represents this now or one day she will. There are a lot of things that do not make sense and are hypocritical. There is a lot of story writing that gives a new face to it.
KJ: It is the black struggle. When they see something so strong and powerful, you try to tear it down.
ATM: But why?
KJ: Because this is what the rest of the world did to black people in my opinion. They are so strong, fast, and beautiful. “We cannot have them thinking this. We have to tear this down and destroy it because they will take over.” It is about survival of the fittest. “We have to mess this all up.”
ATM: But it is 2019.
KJ: Yes. But some people have deep rooted beliefs. This is the same for women. They kept saying “You are the weaker gender.” Even physically a penis is weaker than a vagina. It really is. If you kick a penis, then it is a problem. If you kick a vagina, then we will be fine.
ATM: Biologically a woman’s genitals can do certain things in a more advanced and mature way that a male genital cannot do.
KJ: Absolutely. I agree 100%.
ATM: In the world, knowing this there are so many examples you can list to prove we are the strongest.
KJ: Yes, but they would have you to believe that women cannot be inventors. They would not have you to believe women can lead nations. Women were the queens of Africa. It was the woman that was exalting and making decisions. This was until men, and their egos took over. I love men. I am not trying to bash men. I am just saying a petulant shift. If we can just get it right in the middle, then this would be fine. I am not saying it should be one way or the other. Let’s love each other equally and not feel the woman is weak. We all have a feminine and masculine portion of our body. If we can honor these parts of ourselves, then we can flourish together.
ATM: During slavery, very often black women’s bodies were made fun of. The black body was put on public display. The slave masters laughed and made fun of our ancestor’s large breast and hips, and robust buttocks. She just sat there and masked the horrific humiliation. This does not happen now. It does happen socially. Honestly, because of this, black women or any women should not be scrutinized to show their bodies.
KJ: Girl I am so proud of you. I agree. I feel like we are a specimen of a whole — all our different shades and colors. We should be honored and respected. We should not be stolen by different communities. They say, “imitation is the best form of flattery.” It is not. Find your own thing and do that — what a time to be alive. I feel proud of the progress we have made, and how woke society is becoming. Especially just coming out of black history month. I have been doing my own research and seeing vivid pictures of people being lynched, murdered, victimized, and brutalized. We never chose to be here in the first place. This is beyond me. It is like saying, “Hey I want to babysit your kid.” Then I treat your kid like trash. It is like “No, you brought me here. What are we doing? I was a tribe leader. I was a king. I was a queen. I was a mother. I was all these things, and you stripped this from me. Then you brutalize, threaten me, and try to destroy my race. You try to destroy my family.” Coming out of Black History Month and every day, it is important for me to speak life to this generation and everyone I can touch. I do not want anyone to be lost, but everyone to be woke.
ATM: It is time to. Us hanging on trees was a source of entertainment. They ate popcorn while we hung. This was television for them. We were the entertainment.
ATM: I do feel the representation of blacks regardless of gender is getting what it deserves. The fact that we can sit here and talk about it based on the Madea franchise proves it. People of all races are getting aware. You see the words of the songs we once sang coming alive. You see answers. This is the Era of Answers.
KJ: Yes. What a time to be alive. You have your own platform. You are doing this! Yo, I am so proud of you, beyond this stuff. AHHH! (screams). Keep it up because you are doing your thing.
ATM: I always tell people this is an important time to be alive.
KJ: I would not have it any other way. I have been in this business for ten years. I used to think “Man, when am I going to make it? When is it going to pop for me? When am I going to get my big break?” Honestly, one I was not ready. Two, the industry was not ready. They were not ready, and now they are. Timing is everything. We are talking about inclusion in productions in films and behind the camera. I had a black female director contact me that she is doing a black female film project. This is with a black film director, black female writer, a black female producer, and black female lead actresses. I sat back and cried. I cried because there was a time when this was unheard of.
ATM: There was a time you said this, and people laughed. “This is not going to happen.” And now it is reality. Do you think the franchise of Madea could have been as successful if done back during the 60s?
KJ: There was a lot of stuff going on. I do not think it would have been great for us during the 60s when we were fighting for so much. Yes, we needed the release and the funny. For this, we would have needed something to laugh about. There were so many big issues on the table. We needed to see people like Sidney Poitier. We needed to see these black people getting glamorous. When you are watching something, you say, “I can be that too. I can be that black doctor. There is a black person on here.” Society was telling us we could not find any of these things. I am not sure. There were some different things we needed to see on the screen.
ATM: Even the religious tone that is in the franchise?
KJ: Yes, even with this. It would have been a different movie. It would have been Madea cutting up on some white folk. This would have also been funny. Yes, we needed it! Thank you! You keep doing your thing, Ms. Smith. I am so proud of you seriously. My sister is a journalist. I went to journalism school. So, I know this is not easy, but you are doing it.