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Jasika Nicole on Breaking Barriers, Playing Roles That Matter

People

Through her newest role, actress Jasika Nicole is looking back to look forward.


“I play the coolest character ever,” says Nicole, who plays a woman named Georgia, who runs a boarding house (and stop on the Underground Railroad) in the show, Underground, which boasts an impressive viewership of 6 million each week. “She’s the head of a sewing circle that’s really a front for women to be politically active and to talk about how to abolish slavery,” says Nicole. “In that time you didn’t really see many black women who owned a house or had a business. It wasn’t a reality for people of color in that time, and I love that this dialogue is bringing the story into the picture.”

All pictures of Jasika Nicole by Robin Roemer

Nicole's character, who is the daughter of a slave and a slave owner, teaches other women how to use guns and fight for their freedom, and serves as a personal inspiration.

“I don’t see [the African American experience] in mainstream entertainment,” says Nicole. “I have a personal relationship to it; but there are so many different black experiences. We always get dumped into one experience. We are in a diaspora and I love that this show is bringing that to light.”

Nicole, who has a black dad and white mom, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where she said racial tensions were high. “It’s still so segregated and antiquated in a lot of the roles people have in that city. I left home to go to college in North Carolina, then in New York. Each time I returned, I felt more and more different. I felt I was having to squeeze myself into who I was there and I wasn't that person anymore.”

Nicole says she had an even more nuanced racial experience due to being biracial, and thus was treated differently from her black friends and family.

“As an adult processing my childhood, I realize I am still unpacking a lot of it,” says Nicole. “I was influenced largely by my environment which was almost all white, and anti-black. I understood that my light skin and the fact that I was biracial gave me the point of view that a lot of black girls my age didn’t have, in terms of how others treated us. People would tell me I was pretty, but it was because I have lighter skin. They weren’t saying that to my black cousin.”

“Racism is so insidious that even though my mother has black children she’s not free of its entanglements.”

Eventually Nicole would move to New York with the intention of performing in musical theater. From there she booked a few off-broadway plays, a show in Philadelphia, and eventually larger television roles like playing Agent Astrid Farnsworth on the Fox series Fringe.

Jasika Nicole courtesy of WGN America

“In television and film you can completely get edited out, so I’ve learned to accept that the work I do [in the moment] is my work. Whatever happens after that, who cares? It’s not mine after I film my scene.”

When discussing the entertainment industry as a whole, Nicole says she considers herself lucky to have the ability to star in films and shows that are meaningful.

“It is a real privilege to be able to pick and choose the roles that you get,” says Nicole. “Usually that [creative freedom] is limited to a select group of super famous females with a lot of money and most of whom are white. It’s been a really hard thing to navigate. These three markers are hard to fill: Doing projects so you can pay your bills, feeling creatively inspired, and feeling proud of the work you are doing. This is the first big project that hits all of them. I’d be lucky for another show like this.”

Nicole, who describes herself as "queer," says that being a role model for the LGBT community is something that she takes seriously, but it doesn’t come easily.

“I identify as a queer woman and it feels like a double whammy sometimes,” she says. “I don't think the writing in mainstream media reflects what my life is like. It doesn’t look the same, it doesn’t feel the same, in terms of race, culture, religious background and the stories they are telling. A lot of TV and film have introduced a bi or lesbian woman character only to kill them off. It happens so much.”

In terms of her own acceptance of her sexuality, Nicole says it took time to come to terms with it. “I wasn’t out because all I knew was that I needed to go on a date with a girl to see what it felt like. When I finally did, I heard birds singing. It finally made sense. I had always been ambivalent about romance and for the first time [I felt something]. I came out after my first date with a woman.” Although she didn’t end up with this woman, Nicole met her now wife, Claire, shortly thereafter. “At that point I didn’t have anything to lose by coming out,” says Nicole. “For me, because my relationship with Claire was so new, and I was just so proud of it that I couldn't imagine putting it back in the box. She was too good to keep a secret.”

It was around that time that Nicole began booking television roles, and began making a name for herself on the small screen. “I had no idea I was going to be in TV and film,” says Nicole. “I thought I was going to have a career in musical theater and no one cares who you’re sleeping with in musical theater.”

When asked what advice she has for actors in today’s complex world, Nicole says it’s all about staying true to values. “I would say that the thing that has kept me most level is to have a really strong idea about who I am outside this industry,” she says. “This industry wants to own you. You don’t have to play that game. Make sure you stay solid for who you are. Don’t make compromises for [on your beliefs]. This industry can be tricky. There are misogynists, racists, homophobes, and all these bad things but I’m still a part of it. It’s a fine balance.”

In her spare time, Nicole says you can find her sewing or knitting (she is wearing all clothing she made herself in the images in this story), and working on side projects like her indie flick – Suicide Kale – a dark comedy that tells the story of three women of color.

“My hope is that one day someone would look at me on screen and say ‘I look like her’ or ‘I’m queer like her,’” says Nicole, who is currently filming her second season of Underground. “That’s representation. That's what I didn't have when I was growing up. I didn’t have a mirror to see myself in the world. I'm hoping to do more good.”

Suicide Kale, which won the audience award at Outfest LA, can be viewed on Suidicekale.com and on ITunes. Underground can be viewed on WGN and on Hulu, and to follow Nicole, go to Jasikatrycurious.

The Quick 10

1. What app do you most use?

Instagram.

2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?

Drink a cup of hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.

3. Name a business mogul you admire.

Heather Lou of the indie sewing pattern company Closet Case. She isn't a "mogul" per se, but she is an entrepreneur with a successful small business who is changing the lives of people the world over in small, meaningful ways. I appreciate how her art and craftsmanship have manifested into something she can create for and share with people.

4. What product do you wish you had invented?

The electric car.

5. What is a food you never get sick of?

Peanut butter and I eat it almost every single day.

6. What is your life motto?

"Live a trycurious life."

7. Name your favorite work day snack.

If I'm in a healthy mood, chopped up jicama and green apples with chilli pepper, salt and lime juice sprinkled on top. If I'm being lazy, a bag of Doritos.

8. What's something that's always in your bag?

Bobby pins.

9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

Amsterdam.

10. Desert Island. Three things, go:

A knife, peanut butter, and a solar powered kindle loaded up with thousands of books.

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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.