When UPN's Everybody Hates Chris first hit our TV screens back in 2005, we were introduced to the show's sassy little sister Tonya Rock, played by actress Imani Hakim. Since then, she's grown to be a voice for Black women and advocate for diverse voices in Hollywood, both on and off-screen through a multitude of projects – including Lifetime's The Gabby Douglas Story, Netflix's Burning Sands, and Apple TV+ comedy series Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet.
The esteemed actress is getting behind the camera to co-produce her first feature, titled Dinner Party. Dinner Party is a film that centers around a pivotal mystery about adult friendships, begging the question, "If you met your childhood friends today, would you still f**k with them?" During an evening dedicated to a 12-year post-high school reunion dinner, a group of childhood friends and their significant others get together as they tackle America's social climate. With issues like racism, sexism, and classism as they also assess their evolved friendships with one another.
Hakim's film displays an unapologetic exploration of the evolution of friendship, inspired by her own experiences growing up in a suburban neighborhood outside of Los Angeles, CA. Through her character Izzy, along with the rest of the cast, Hakim propels the film to dissect the most taboo social issues and spark those very tough yet necessary conversations.
We spoke with the actress about her experience co-producing her forthcoming film, why representation matters in Hollywood on-screen and behind the scenes, and how Dinner Party puts her in a position to advocate for underrepresented and diverse voices.
Njera Perkins: What's that experience been like co-producing your first feature film?
Imani Hakim: It's great. For me, I was really craving to keep creating. As an actress, you deal with a lot of things that are out of your control. You audition all of the time, and then people can choose to cast you if they want. So for me, I'm an artist. I just want to create. I'm passionate about telling stories through the lens of people of color, so I was excited to just dive into producing, and I learned a lot. It's exciting, and I can't wait to do more producing.
NP: How did the opportunity come about?
IH: The writer and director, Chris Naoki Lee, is my partner, and he presented this idea to me, and I really loved it! So he brought me on as a producer, and I just helped fill out the voice a little bit and pitched my perspective as a woman, particularly [being] a Black woman. We've worked together before on a short film, and now we're just going to keep growing and elevating. That's how it came together. My partner came up with an idea, and we're like, 'Let's do it.'
NP: So walk me through the movie's synopsis because this idea of friendship is something we don't talk about really.
IH: The film takes place in one setting, and it's about a group of childhood friends who get together for a reunion dinner with their significant others. During this dinner party, they realize they've changed. Just as much as the social climate has changed with racism, sexism, and all that stuff. Personally, I don't know if you have any friends that you look at or that you've been friends with for years on end, but it's almost like if I met them today, what would it be like? Would I still be attracted to this type of relationship?
What's happening in the film is that some things are coming to a head because we realize that, 'Oh, we're not the same people we were a decade ago.' We have different views. We've made some mistakes. We just stand on two totally different sides of the room. It's interesting to watch and to tell a story from this perspective because not only are we dealing with sexual assault, we're also dealing with racism in the same film. It's really interesting to watch those micro-aggressions come to a head with a very 50/50 diverse cast – with half people of color and the other half white.
NP: Talk to me about the casting for this film, diversifying the cast, and having everyone from different backgrounds versus having a one-sided perspective with one group of people.
IH: I know diversity is in right now, it seems. But luckily, from a very important standpoint, these stories matter. I'm happy that finally, we are coming to a point where we want to tell stories from everybody's perspective. With this story, it wasn't something [where] we're like we want to cast all different types of people. It was [more so] like this story matters because these people are important. We tell the stories of what we know. We booked some great working actors who were very passionate about the subject matter. They jumped on board, and they were very committed to telling the story.
NP: I want to talk about the aspect of providing representation on-screen as well as off-screen. So tell me, how does this film do that, and where does your role fall into that?
IH: Fifty percent of our crew were women, which I haven't seen on many sets, and it's because of the story we are telling. As long as we have a hand in storytelling and creative projects, we will be inclusive with our casting and behind the scenes. Those are the people that also matter with helping bring these stories to light and tell these stories in a very authentic way. You need all of those perspectives to keep it authentic.
NP: With many hot button topics, how does the movie position the characters as being voices and amplifying these issues?
IH: The characters are voices for these types of issues. We put these characters together in a way to humanize all of these people. No matter if you agree with them or not. This will open the door for that vulnerability and authenticity of these experiences as women and people of color. We wanted to provide a conversational piece, and that's what this film is.
NP: Without spoiling the movie, are there any specific events you pull from?
IH: As a woman, I have experienced sexual assault. I know friends personally. More than half of my friends have experienced sexual assault or misconduct. Naturally, you just pull from what you know. Of course, you can't run away from racism or micro-aggressions, no matter how much you try to sweep it under the rug. We didn't want to force the story at all. So we pulled from real-life conversations and let that fuel our creativity.
NP: I feel like everyone is trying to tackle these hot button issues in some form or fashion through TV and film today. How do you want this film to break through that noise, and what do you want them to take away?
IH: I'm a millennial, and this focus is on the millennial generation. Luckily, we are in a place where millennials are very much on the cusp of being very old-fashioned and being woke at the same time. I want people to feel encouraged to share their stories and call people out, even if it's uncomfortable. To me, it's not just about you. It's about the people you're helping. It's about the other people in the room who can learn from your courage, speaking out and speaking against discrimination or sexual misconduct or any of that. I hope when people watch this film, they feel empowered to do that and to have deeper conversations with their loved ones and friends.