BREAKING BARRIERS AND DISMANTLING STEREOTYPES
By Kia Vilchez
July 8, 2020
Lexi Underwood is a 16 year old American actress, well known for her role as Pearl Warren in the tv series Little Fires Everywhere. Her work in the series was called "excellent" by the New York Times. She has also appeared in other various projects such as Raven's Home and Will vs. the Future.
You entered the entertainment industry when you were how many years old? What was your first acting role?
I entered the industry when I was about ten years old. My first acting role was when I was ten and it was Person of Interest. I played this sassy girl, on a playground that was basically trying to bribe people for money. I only had about five lines but it was still so exciting. It’s crazy how life can just change, the fact that just a couple years ago I was in D.C, flying up to L.A and driving to New York, while still managing school and just the fact that i'm here now is really wild.
Could you talk a little bit about your views about female african-american representation in the media. For example what kids grow up watching or even what is shown to adults as well, whether that is movies, tv shows, magazines etc. What is your experience with it? How has it shaped who you are today?
Honestly I feel like within the past 7 years there has been a shift when it comes to accurate representation of black women in TV and film, and we are still not necessarily there yet. I think right now especially, I have been so inspired by a bunch of these black female actors that have been coming out and sharing their stories. Oftentimes it's very rare being a Black girl in a television show and not being a sidekick, best friend, or girlfriend, and so that's why stories like Little Fires Everywhere are so important because there is representation for all women from all different backgrounds. That's what drew me to the script originally. Even though Pearl is going through a lot and she doesn't necessarily always make the best choices, she's such a complex character, and I think that she really is the accurate depiction and representation of what it's like to be Black growing up in America.
"Oftentimes it's very rare being a Black girl in a television show and not being a sidekick, best friend, or girlfriend, and so that's why stories like Little Fires Everywhere are so important because there is representation for all women from all different backgrounds."
hope that we can continue to tell incredibly diverse and accurate stories. I hope that these stories portray Black women, or all women of different races,don't necessarily add any racial stereotypes to the character, and just be open, raw, and authentic when it comes to telling those stories. Also I think what helps with that is making sure that the writers room is diverse and that you don't have a team of only white straight men and women telling stories, because there is no way that you're going to tell an accurate story about what it's like to be a Black girl in America or you're not going to tell an accurate story about what it's like to be a hispanic female growing up.
If you don't come from that background, if you don't know what it's like then it's not going to be accurate to the viewers. In Little Fires Everywhere, we only had one man in the writers room and the rest of the writers room was filled with women. We had women that were part of the LGBTQ+ community, Asian women, Black women, Latina women. It was just so diverse and I think that's why everyone kind of resonated with the show, because we told a true authentic story of these things that we have all been through.
"We had women that were part of the LGBTQ+ community, Asian women, Black women, Latina women. It was just so diverse and I think that's why everyone kind of resonated with the show, because we told a true authentic story of these things that we have all been through."
You're struggling to find your place and you're struggling with just even trying to fit in. I want to say it’s almost like suppressing your Blackness, to want to fit in and want to be normal, cool, and popular in everybody else's eyes. Which is such an accurate thing that happens in our community especially when we do go to all white schools or when we aren't necessarily connected with our Black side and the Black community, making it very easy to go on that route and kind of change ourselves to fit in. Which is honestly why I think that characters like Pearl are so important because it let’s young black girls know that they are not alone. This isn't just a thing that they have struggled with.
I think it's a thing that most Black girls struggle with. I am very hopeful for the future of the entertainment business, but I
I think that being in the industry has opened my eyes a bit more about the people in power, and the people that we hold on high pedestals, and I've kind of seen what really goes on. Not even in a negative way, just the hard work and determination, because I see people that I've admired for so long, like Kehlani, who I absolutely love and I've admired for an incredibly long time, but I've always kind of thought that Kehlani just made it. She grew up in Oakland and then she just made it. This is not true and I realized that after having a conversation with her and she was telling me about her journey. I just realized how much of a struggle it was to get to where she is and how sometimes I used to look ay my journey and feel ashamed or bad about the fact that it took so long for me to get my own show, but most of the celebrities that we admire and see at the front lines have been working for years and still some of them don't get the amount of respect and credit that they deserve.
Do you believe there is any necessary change that needs to be enacted and what needs to be done regarding the entertainment industry?
Firstly, I think that there is a necessary change that needs to happen as far as stereotypes and making sure we are being properly represented and that it isn't just a white wash production team. Something else that I've been thinking about recently with everything going on in the world right now is also the way that we continue to tell cop stories and just not necessarily glamorize or romanticize that. I mean I love Brooklyn 99 and all those shows but you know sometimes it's a little weird to turn on your television screen and to see something happening with police brutality and then flip to the next channel and to see cops being glamorized as these heroes when sometimes in certain situations, not all cops are good. I think it is important to start speaking up and saying something because we have to let kids know that the police will not always be there for you especially when it comes to black and brown people. There are some cops that are going to protect you, because they are good and they do have
"I mean I love Brooklyn 99 and all those shows but you know sometimes it's a little weird to turn on your television screen and to see something happening with police brutality and then flip to the next channel and to see cops being glamorized as these heroes..."
your back but most times they don’t. It's just telling those stories and explaining what is actually going on in the world instead of romanticizing it and that's honestly why stories like Get Out and Queen and Slim really move me because they are so out of the ordinary and out of the box that sometimes when your sitting there when you first watch it you’re thinking well this could never happen, but then it does, and this is the truth of what's happening. Basically these storytellers are telling the harsh reality of what it's like to be Black in America, but in a nice way to make it a bit more relatable to everyone else. I think that we need to continue to tell stories like that so people are aware of the world that we are living in, or kids will grow up continuing to watch those types of stories that glamorize cops and even glamorize racist people.
In the media, there is a high consumption of Black popular culture. There are many favored Black celebrities, including female black celebrities such as Beyoncé or Lizzo. Do you think this helps combat stereotypes or reinforce them, if so which stereotypes?
I think that they are helping abolish them. The biggest, not even stereotype, but truth, is just the mere fact that Black and Hispanic women have also been incredibly under appreciated. I feel as though we are the most unprotected, neglected, and disrespected. I think that when we have women like Beyonce, Lizzo, Rihanna, and Michelle Obama, it abolishes the stereotypes that Black women can’t. That they can’t rule the world, that they aren't smart, that they aren't intelligent, that they can't be changemakers, and that they can’t basically be the best in the game and the best in what they do. I definitely don’t think that it helps reinforce any stereotypes but helps to continue to abolish the idea that black women can't.
"I think that when we have women like Beyonce, Lizzo, Rihanna, and Michelle Obama, it abolishes the stereotypes that Black women can’t. That they can’t rule the world, that they aren't smart, that they aren't intelligent, that they can't be changemakers..."
Despite advances in racial equality over the years why do you think society is still faced with racial injustice?
I don’t ever think that racism is going to go away and I don't necessarily think that racism can go away when you're living in a country that was literally built off of it. Racism is literally in the roots of America and it has been since the very beginning of time. None of us owned this land, the Native Americans did. They stole this country from Native Americans, so I don’t ever really think that there will be peace or equality all around when this system was built off of racism. Most of our precedents have been racist, the first couple presidents of the United States that we did have were slave owners. When you read the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, most of the men that you see on all these dollar bills are all racist, they were slave owners. You can't. You can't banish racism because it’s always going to be there but I think that with everything happening, I don't necessarily know how to put this but, I think that people should just be glad and grateful of the fact that people aren't trying to get any revenge and people are just trying to make peace. People are coming after protests and rioters for burning this down and causing all this
commotion when it comes to George Floyd, but I think that people fail to realize that we are not crying and screaming for just George Floyd. We are crying and screaming for Emmett Till, we are crying and screaming for the four little girls that were bombed in Alabama in the 1960’s, we are still screaming for the Tulsa massacre, we are still screaming for all of our ancestors that were brought from Africa that were oppressed for 400 years. It’s like, we deserve respect, and without minorities there would really be no America. Half of the pop culture is basically stolen from the Black culture, all this music, food, literally all this swag comes from us, it comes from minorities. These buildings, and landmarks come from us, we built that. That’s why we continue to make those points heard, and let people know that without us, there would be no all of this.
"...we are not crying and screaming for just George Floyd. We are crying and screaming for Emmett Till, we are crying and screaming for the four little girls that were bombed in Alabama in the 1960’s, we are still screaming for the Tulsa massacre, we are still screaming for all of our ancestors that were brought from Africa that were oppressed for 400 years."
At the young age of 16 you have accomplished so much. You act as a role model for many young girls and are an inspiration to those who follow you. Do you have a special quote, motto, mantra, or phrase that you feel represents you and you would like to share?
The biggest quote that represents me and my journey is “There is no limits on a disciplined hustler” said by Nipsey Hussle, I just kind of live by that because if I continue to strive, work hard, believe in myself , no matter what anyone throws at me, it will not affect me. As long as I'm secure with myself, as long as I know myself and I keep faith then I'm going to be good. I am religious so another one is “All things through Christ who strengthens me”, with whatever comes my way as long as I got God on my side then I'll be fine.
“There is no limits on a disciplined hustler”
Do you have any perspective on how other groups such as Latinos in and out of the US can support and collaborate to fight racial injustice?
I’ve seen a lot of tweets and posts where it's kind of been the Black community coming after the Hispanic community or the Hispanic community coming after the Black community, but at the end of the day, we all need to realize we've all been oppressed and we've all gone through so much that the only way that we are going to come out of this is if we continue to build. Just imagine if all minorities came together, we would be so much stronger, we would just dominate. We need to put our differences aside, stop focusing on who is more oppressed and who deserves more respect and who doesn't. We need to take advantage of this time to all come together as one.