Nafessa Williams has a higher purpose whether in performance or in real life, it seems that the actress and mental health advocate is opening dialogs where ever she goes. Starring as Thunder in Black Lightning which ran for 4 seasons on the CW, a long line of Stans has risen in the space of having a black lesbian superhero. Then there is her line of clothing which melds fitness and messages of mental wellness. It is the film works which she has appeared in which has challenged unspoken traumas like male fragility in the context of Greek pledging in Burning Sands and the intersecting conversation of police and black identities in Black and Blue. Though it is her latest role in I Wanna Dance with Somebody that we get to see her act as the strong figure of creative nurturing and wholly possessing the influence only a lover could. This time recontextualizing how the world understood the relationship between Whitney Houston and her performance as Robyn Crawford. Below we catch a moment with the actress.
What was the casting process like, how did you find out you landed the role?
I auditioned for this role back in late august 2021 and a week after I was doing a chemistry read with Naomie Ackie which I felt extremely good about. A couple days after that I got the call that the role of Robyn Crawford was mine!
How was it capturing Robyn’s character, did you have much inspiration to pull from as well as a chance to speak to her?
It was fun capturing and portraying Robyn. There’s not a lot of footage out there with Robyn but her autobiography was my saving grace. I learned so much from the book that I was able to borrow from.
How important was it to have a strong representation of Robyn and the relationship with Whitney in regards to representation of LGBTQIA+ in pop media. And to really have that relationship as a strong part of the identity which we frame Whitneys history. We are talking so much about representation and fixing past erasures.
It was very important to have a strong representation of Robyn and Whitney because it’s the truth. And I’m excited for fans to see a different more personal side of Whitney. The foundation of their relationship was their love, loyalty and adoration for each other which is what I led with.
You have a very well imagined world of empowerment that extends to your Brand Y-FEAR, what is the ethos behind the clothing range and how did you get started with it?
Yes, Y-FEAR is a passion project of mine. I love fashion and I’m very passionate about mental wellness so my idea was to merge the two. My goal is to use my voice to empower my generation to seek therapy, and make our mental wellness a priority. When people wear Y-FEAR I want them to be reminded that their FEARS AND EGOS AREN’T REAL!
What is on the horizon in the new year as you are about to finish up 2022 with such a huge project.
I’m developing and producing a few of my own projects that I created. I also booked a new and exciting gig that I’m not able to speak on just yet but it’s yummy and can’t wait to share with everyone.
You are officially an icon to a generation of black queer comic book dolls with your role in Black Lightning. What are your thoughts on Robyn as so much of her narrative had been cast to the side until now.
I’m really excited for the world to know more about Robyn, her character and who she was to Whitney. I’m also excited for Whitney fans to learn more about her and her relationship with Robyn that was never highlighted. Robyn was Whitney’s best friend, confidant, protector and Creative Assistant. Now is the time for the full scope of their relationship to be shared.
Photographed by David Hache
Styled by Hayley McCune
Hair: Annagjid “Kee” Taylor
Makeup: Jasmine Madison
Location: Room Service Beverly Center
Produced by BJ Panda Bear