Best known for her role as Joelle in the popular Netflix series, Dear White People, and as the co-creator and star of Black and Sexy TV's Hello Cupid, actress Ashley Blaine Featherson took time out of her busy schedule to speak with 21Ninety ahead of her Fireside Chat set to take place at Summit 21. 

The Maryland native began acting at the age of 4 and has since gone on to star in feature films and television shows visible in countries all over the world. But there's so much more to the purpose behind her work and how she uses her art to advocate for women and people of color.

21Ninety got a chance to speak with Ashley ahead of the "Shadow, Act, and Beyond" fireside chat she will be taking part in at Summit21. Read on below to learn more about the inspiration behind her work and the moment she knew she wanted to be an actress. 

Ashley Blaine Featherson: I have more visibility and people recognizing me in public since the show is in over 160 countries. I’m not getting mobbed or anything like that, but it’s hard for me to go somewhere and not get recognized. But it’s really really nice. Our supporters and fans are great. 

I’ve always been aware but being on Dear White People has helped to increase my awareness on issues surrounding the black and brown community. It has made me more of an advocate for issues plaguing our community and I continue to do art that feeds the positive narrative of our people. I’m always trying to find ways to use my art to be an activist. It’s impossible to be on a show like “Dear White People” and not be.

  • 21N: What are some of the events that led up to you working with Lena Waithe on your series Hello Cupid

ABF: We met at a holiday party in 2012 and we instantly connected. We both had visions of wanting to create content and were feeling like we didn’t see ourselves on television. We formed a friendship and got together and created a web series. I really credit her with that because she pushed it forward.

  • 21N: When did you begin to make the transition into production? 

ABF: Hello Cupid was my first time producing. I always had a producer's brain and it was something I always had plans for. As a young black actor your brain has to work that way or else you’ll be waiting for opportunities. I didn’t want that to be the case for me. I knew I couldn't leave it up to the industry to create my narrative.

  • 21N: Who are some actors and actresses who inspire you? 

ABF: Oh God everyone! Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Vanessa Williams, Angela Bassett, Courtney B Vance. 

I’m also inspired by many of my peers that are in my age group and some of my closest friends like Aja Naomi King, Kylie Bunbury, Teyonah Parris, and Aisha Hinds. 

21N: Is there a movie you watched as a child that made you realize you want to be an actor? 

ABF: The Five Heartbeats. I remember watching that growing up and feeling such a connection to the characters, character development, and raw emotion. I sing and dance also so I looked at that film and knew that is what I wanted to do. It inspired me in a life-changing way because I watched it and knew that if they could do it I could do it too because they looked like me. 

Growing up I watched content that proved to me my dreams were possible. My parents also put me in lessons and I was supported so it helped me believe in myself. 

  • 21N: What advice do you have for aspiring actors?

ABF: Know your why. Why you want to act. Know why you want to do it and whose lives you want to change. Anything you do, you have to know that it is bigger than you. I’m an actor because I’m able to change lives in a way that feels organic and powerful to me. I know personally how important that is just like any form of therapy. 

You have to know that this is your purpose. As an actor, most of our days are filled with rejection. If you’re connected to your why then it’s easier to get through the hard times. 

  • 21N: What is something you would like to see more women do to support each other?

ABF: Talk more openly about what we’re dealing with. It sounds simple but it’s easier said than done. Many women, especial women of color, we are taught to be private outside of close friends and family. But it can do ourselves a disservice. You might not be able to get the help you need or give someone the help they need if don’t open up and speak to the woman next to you. 

We need to get better with transparency and advocacy. Women really do run the world and breathe life into the world. We hold an important task here on Earth and when we band together it’s a powerful force. 

  • 21N: What excites you most about events like Summit21?

ABF: Women getting together to support, uplift, pray, learn, and love one another. I think it’s impossible to go to Summit 21 and not leave unchanged. I place events like Summit21 at the top of my list to be a part of because of the purpose. I still have women reaching out to me from last year’s Summit saying how much their life has changed.

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