Quantcast
DFree / Shutterstock.com

Exclusive: Nafessa Williams On Why Getting Fired Was The Best Thing That Happened To Her

"I felt like I became my own superhero that day when I took it upon myself to just do what I felt like I needed to do for me."

Exclusive Interviews

It's press day for Nafessa Williams, and xoNecole is her last stop on the press run. If she's low on energy after fielding back-to-back interviews, the movie star is keeping it well under wraps. She hops on our call with good vibes and a level of enthusiasm that is the epitome of gratitude begets success.

And truth be told, she worked hard to get where she is today and prayed even harder. Just a few years ago, she was interning at the district attorney's office daydreaming about a more fulfilling life in Hollywood. No longer willing to work a job that didn't align with her purpose, Williams began auditioning for roles, not realizing that her leap of faith would cost her a steady paycheck when the company ultimately decided to let her go.

DFree / Shutterstock.com

"I felt like I became my own superhero that day when I took it upon myself to just do what I felt like I needed to do for me. That was the first day of the rest of my life."

Over the next few years, Williams built an impressive resume of television and movie roles before receiving a call that would lead her to be crowned network television's first Black lesbian superhero on CW's Black Lightning. Keeping with the trend of being a part of history-making projects, she hit the big screen this fall alongside Naomie Harris, Mike Colter, and Tyrese for her role as Missy in Black and Blue—the first film to feature a Black woman lead as a police officer.

And if you think the flashing lights and red carpet appearances have her feeling herself, she's quick to remind you that she's the same ol' Nafessa, just a Philly jawn going for gold with no intention of slowing down. We catch Williams as she continues to level up on and off the screen for some good girl talk about the importance of trading fear for faith, bringing her girl tribe with her as she elevates, and why she's choosing selfishness as a form of self-love.

xoNecole: What drew you to the script for 'Black and Blue'? 

Nafessa Williams: I like to take on projects that I feel are going to help shape the culture and have a message that serves us as a society. It was really unique with this group because it was a film about a rookie cop who witnesses a murder, but it's led by a female, which is very unique in and of its kind. We don't typically see a female leading a movie based around the police department. Also, the fact that the script mirrored what we're going through right now in our country with racial injustice and the judicial system and the injustices that are within, that really caught my attention.

xoNecole: You've previously talked about your interest in television and film, even as a child, but then you pursued a career in law. What initially made you decide not to dive into television and film?

Nafessa: You know, it felt like a hoop dream. It felt like something far-fetched. I didn't have anyone really in the industry or my family or close friends that could help guide me towards it, so I went with something a little bit more practical like most people do. I went to college and I was like, "I'm going to go be a lawyer." I interned at the DA's office and I soon learned that it was not for me. I had to do what spoke to my soul and what spoke to my heart, which was acting. No matter how difficult it was going to be, no matter if it took me 20 years to get the first "yes", I knew that it will happen eventually if I stuck with it.

xoNecole: At what point did you realize working in that law office really didn’t align with your purpose and how did you overcome the fear of taking a leap?

Nafessa: I used to dread going to work every day. Some moments I would cry that I had to do it and I was like, "OK, you can't do this anymore. You gotta be happy. You got to really get aligned with your purpose." I'm really grateful for my insight because I saw it all so clear and for the faith that I have and the drive to do it all. I was sitting in the office and realized that this would be my life 30 years from now if I made the decision to stay, or I had the option to start from scratch and make a lot of sacrifices. I couldn't travel for a while. I couldn't do certain things some of my other friends were doing because I decided to follow my dreams, which can be very tough and [there] can be a lot of ups and downs. But I just made a promise to myself that if you start, you gotta really go full throttle, and I did that from the very first day.

"I was sitting in the office and realized that this would be my life 30 years from now if I made the decision to stay, or I had the option to start from scratch and make a lot of sacrifices."

xoNecole: How long did it take for you to start seeing success in television and film?

Nafessa: I was 22 going on 23 [when I got fired], and then I booked my first regular series two years later. It was on One Life to Live, and at the time you could not tell me nothing. I was able to pay my rent. I was able to work on my craft every day, and I knew that would only strengthen my skills and help me get to the next level. So, it was about two and a half years into it, which was fairly quick. That was confirmation that I was on the right track, and it gave me hope to keep going.

xoNecole: What were you doing in between that time since you weren't working a 9 to 5?

Nafessa: I had saved money so I was living off of savings and I was auditioning like crazy. I was in acting class, but I wasn't technically working on the books yet. I was going on auditions and I would tell everybody I'm a working actress even though I hadn't booked anything, but I was just really trying to manifest that and do everything in my power to make it become real.

xoNecole: Did you ever experience Imposter Syndrome?

Nafessa: Oh, of course. Especially when you get to LA because I had started to make a name for myself in New York with being on One Life to Live and just hanging out in the acting community. But when you go to LA it's like starting all over, so it can make you feel really small. I told myself you will hear no and to just get comfortable with that rejection because eventually, you're going to get a "yes" that's going to change your life.

xoNecole: Did you get that kind of character from your family or is that just something you developed as you went along in this business?

Nafessa: I think that's something that's within you, but there are influences that can inspire that. Also, growing up in Philly and wanting to get out of the environment and wanting to just be different from what I saw. Again, it goes back to Black and Blue where you could become a product of your environment or you could want something completely different, and whatever your choice is, your friends are going to reflect that and your environment is going to reflect it. So I think it's about the environment that you choose. We don't have a choice at first, but after a while, you can make a choice to decide what it is that you want.

"I think it's about the environment that you choose. We don't have a choice at first, but after a while, you can make a choice to decide what it is that you want."

xoNecole: So, I know set life is crazy, and it can obviously take a lot of toll on your body. Are there certain things you do to maintain your self-care and wellness? Because you look good, girl!

Nafessa: Oh my gosh, the hardest thing is to stay away from all the badness and crappy food. I work out a good bit. Meditation is really, really important to me. My spirituality is very important to me. I think that's what keeps me centered and grounded throughout all the chaos and the strict schedules. What else? Oh, massages. I treat myself very often, especially with all the fighting that I have to do on set. It's very important to me. I love Deepak Chopra; I listen to him a lot. I've learned how to meditate through Deepak. So, whatever podcast he's on, I have those on my phone.

xoNecole: Being young and in Hollywood, what has your dating experience been like?

Nafessa: I can't say that I haven't dated here and there, but the last five years, my main focus has been my career and I've been really gung-ho on that. It's literally my boyfriend. I feel like that's been a priority to me; it's been about laying my foundation. I'm still a baby in this industry and I'm just starting out. The blessings of Black Lightning and Black and Blue, I take very seriously. So it's really all about work for me right now.

xoNecole: Do you feel like you're sacrificing your love life in lieu of your career?

Nafessa: You know, I realized that I chose a different path. If I had stayed home in Philly, my life may look a little different. But I'm still young; I feel like I have time. And again, I'm just getting started. I believe in coming into a relationship whole and knowing who you are and setting the foundation of your career so that you don't need anything from anybody else. And I believe you attract who and what you are. So to me, it's really about laying the foundation with myself and my career, and self-healing and self-care is high on my list. It's really all about me right now though, I'm so selfish [laughs].

"I believe you attract who and what you are. To me, it's really about laying the foundation with myself and my career, and self-healing and self-care is high on my list. It's really all about me right now though, I'm so selfish."

xoNecole: Oh, tell me more about this selfishness!

Nafessa: I was in long-term relationships really young, so I felt going into my 30s, it was really important to find out who I am as an individual and by myself and to learn what it is I really want, and then link up with somebody else.

xoNecole: Have you figured out what that is yet or are you still in the process of figuring it out? 

Nafessa: I'm definitely still on a journey of that. And I think soon, starting a family is ideal for me. But again, I'm still in the thick of having and enjoying where I am in my career. You don't want to break that. I guess I'm just riding this wave right now.

xoNecole: As you should be. So when the cameras are turned off, who would you say you are at your core?

Nafessa: Just a real simple, down to earth, funny girl. Somebody who you feel like is your cousin. Somebody who likes to have fun. Somebody likes to dance and just always tries to remain true to who I am and at my core who I was when I left Philly. I posted me dancing on my InstaStory and somebody who I went to college with was like, "Damn, you really are the same person. You still like to have fun; you didn't change." To me, that's a compliment because you always want to remember who you are and remember what got you here.

xoNecole: So what’s next for you?

Nafessa: I really want to do comedy. I love to have fun. I love to make people laugh, and I think it's going to be interesting for people to see a different side of me. A lot of what I've done so far has been a lot of drama. Even the superhero show, it's still very dramatic and I'm really excited to dive into the comedy realm. My ultimate comedy job would be SNL.

Keep up with Nafessa on Instagram by following her at @NafessaWilliams on Instagram!

Featured image by DFree / Shutterstock.com

Originally published November 11, 2019.

Queen Latifah is saying no to unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles especially when it comes to her career. Since the beginning, the rapper/actress has always been a body-positive role model thanks to the range of characters she has played over the years that shows that size doesn’t matter. In an interview with PEOPLE, The Equalizer star opened up about taking on roles that don't compromise her health.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image by Getty Images

Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

Keep reading...Show less

TW: This article may contain mentions of suicide and self-harm.

In early 2022, the world felt like it slowed down a bit as people digested the shocking news of beauty pageant queen Cheslie Kryst, who died by suicide. When you scroll through her Instagram, the photos she had posted only weeks before her death were images of her smiling, looking happy, and being carefree. You can see photos of her working, being in front of the camera, and doing what I imagine was her norm. These pictures and videos, however, began to spark a conversation among Black women who knew too well that feeling like you're carrying the world on your shoulders and forcing yourself to smile through it all to hide the pain.

Keep reading...Show less

Ironically enough—considering the way the word begins—the love-hate relationship that we have with menstruation is comparable to the way in which we navigate the world of men. It’s very much “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” vibes when it comes to women and their cycles. But the older I get, the more I learn to hate that time of the month a little less. A lot of my learning to embrace my period has come with learning the fun, interesting, and “witchy” stuff while discovering more natural, in-tune ways of minimizing the pain in my ass (those cramps know no bounds) amongst other places.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts