Nzingha Stewart has never been one to back down from a challenge. At the start of her career, the challenge was getting behind the camera back when female directors were an anomaly, where she shot over a hundred music videos such as Common's "The Light," Sunshine Anderson's "Heard It All Before," and Nivea's "Don't Mess With My Man". She then transitioned into the television world, adding shows like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal to her carefully crafted resume. And when Hollywood hesitated to open up their doors, she burst through them by writing and directing her own TV films With This Ring (Regina Hall, Jill Scott and Eve) and Love By the 10th Date (Meagan Good, Andra Fuller, and Keri Hilson).
For Nzingha, being a black woman isn't a limitation; it's an opportunity.
While the entertainment industry may try to put directors of color in a box, women like Nzingha think outside of them—leaving a noteworthy trail of creative clips for future filmmakers to follow. Though the ethnic name that she adopted while on a trip to Senegal may sometimes cause the industry to turn a blind eye to her talents, Nzingha refuses to play Stevie Wonder along with them. Instead, she continues to prove that black women can tell narratives beyond that of their own. Her latest feature film, Tall Girl (Netflix), tells the story of a teenage girl who overcomes her insecurities and stands tall in who she is, a theme that all people can relate to.
In this xoChat, the director shares how she overcame feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, why she'd rather do good work than try to change people's minds, and the importance of standing firm in your vision, even in the midst of opposition.
xoNecole: What drew you to the script for Netflix’s ‘Tall Girl’?
Nzingha Stewart: There's a kind of sweetness and pain of adolescence. When I was the age of watching John Hughes movies, I felt like they spoke to me because they were so honest and allowed kids to have this real feel of vulnerability. I wanted to make that movie for this generation. I wanted to be able to talk to them like your feelings at this age and your insecurities, all of that is valid and it's beautiful.
Courtesy of Netflix
Was there ever a moment where you felt uncomfortable in your own skin?
Oh my God, every single day (laughs). I'm a pretty shy person; even small talk is so uncomfortable. I get painfully shy sometimes and have to stay in my head and continually have a running dialogue like, "It's okay; it's just a person. Just say, 'How are you?' back." I completely relate to that. Jodi doesn't necessarily have painful shyness, but she does have insecurities, and there's a beautiful scene in the movie where she says, "Sometimes you just don't want to be seen." For me, it might be a part of why I'm so shy, because I'm afraid that I'll say something crazy or embarrass myself, and I think that character has a similar thing. She just doesn't want to be seen.
Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your style of writing and directing?
I'm from Brooklyn, New York originally, and then moved to Atlanta for all of my high school years. When I was in New York I went to the United Nations International School (UNIS). At UNIS, every kind of person on earth was represented there. It was like you're a minority if you're American. So, I do feel like I grew up at an early age just learning all people have an interesting story, and they don't have to look like you; they don't have to have the same story as yours, but there are things that we can all relate to. Like with Tall Girl, maybe I'm not 6'2'', but I do relate to the insecurity, and it really is just lovely when you can connect over just having a shared experience.
You started your career creating music videos for artists such as Common, Eve, Jay-Z, and 50 Cent, and then transitioned into commercials and television and film. What made you focus on music videos at the beginning of your career?
I loved music videos (laughs). I was one of those kids who came home super early after school, and writing felt like something where if you didn't have any money and you were a black girl, you could do that without anything else. I wasn't from one of those families where we had a film camera and a projector. If you get this McDonald's meal on Sunday, feel blessed. It felt like writing was something I could at least control; I didn't have an excuse that I didn't have this or that.
So I could write, but I always felt like my heart was in the visual image. When I got to New York, it would be somebody who wanted to rap who had some money—probably not from legal sources—but wanted to rap, so I got to build a reel of just local rappers. Building that kind of reel got me other work and got me the video with Common, which became a hit, and then led to everything else.
At that time in your career, what was it like for black women music video directors?
Here's what's interesting. Most people weren't used to seeing black women on set as a director. However, because I was in music videos, it was a different experience than being in Hollywood and feature films because I was working with rappers, so I was working with black men. They had grown up a lot of the time with single moms—where their mom may have only had $5, but you were going to eat, clothes were going to be clean, and stuff was going to be in order. So, there was a difference when I would work with them because they believed that I could do it. There wasn't a doubt. The fights weren't patronizing; they were just fights. There was a respect there. But when I started taking meetings in Hollywood, there wasn't that belief that I could do it in the way that there was in a Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Kanye who saw their mom put things together.
Courtesy of Netflix
"When I started taking meetings in Hollywood, there wasn't that belief that I could do it in the way that there was in a Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Kanye who saw their mom put things together."
How did you overcome those doubts from people?
I don't think you can change their mind; I think you have to change your mind. There's something very real [about] just staring down the universe and being like I'm going to stand here and get my way. I don't care what it looks like right now; I'm going to do this. I don't care how many times I get knocked down, I'm just going to stay here until the universe is finally just like, 'Fine,' and you start to see things happen.
But it's very hard to change people's mind. There's no incentive for them to change their minds because what if you do mess up? What if they're right? What proof do you have that you're any different than anybody else? So, you have to change your mind and say, "I know I'm this good and I'm not moving until everything else falls in line."
"You have to change your mind and say, 'I know I'm this good and I'm not moving until everything else falls in line.'"
In an interview you said you haven’t always protected your vision, especially very early in your episodic career. Can you speak to how you learned to stay true to your vision without coming across as the “difficult black woman”? Is that even something that comes up in the TV/Film world?
It definitely does. I mean, it came up in Tall Girl. You have to know the material so well from the inside-out that you know when it's right to fight for something. You almost have to remind yourself, 'If I fight for this I might be seen as difficult, if I don't I might be seen as not good, because I know later on in the edit, I'm going to need that.' So I would rather fight and be seen as difficult, than to not fight and to be seen as a hack.
Was there something in particular that you had to fight for in ‘Tall Girl’?
In Tall Girl, there was a scene at the end where I just went home feeling like we didn't get it, and I know no one is going to want to spend the money to do this again, but I know in my gut that we didn't get it. So, I went to the producers and I went to Netflix. Luckily, they were like if you really feel that way we trust you and we can reshoot the scene, and they gave me everything I needed to make it happen again. Which, you never want to reshoot something, but I'm so happy seeing the finished result that I listened to that inner voice.
Television is different because then you really cannot be difficult, black or otherwise. You have to realize that in TV, the writer is the boss, and they're not hiring you so much for your vision as for your eye. They want you to protect their vision, so you have to go into it differently.
Courtesy of Netflix
"I would rather fight and be seen as difficult, than to not fight and to be seen as a hack."
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
Keep the tank full in terms of making time when you're busy to watch as much as you can watch, go to exhibits—just be around creativity. Even a trip to the gallery can spark something. Understand that part of your work is creatively refilling. Going to a concert, going to a museum, checking out a photography show, all of those things are part of the work.
For more of Nzingha, follow her on Instagram.Tall Girl is now streaming on Netflix.
Featured image by Getty Images
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The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood.
We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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Diving into the compatibility of Gemini is a unique one because a Gemini has no restrictions when it comes to love. They are open-minded enough to get along with everyone, and their charming and talkative nature attracts many to them. Geminis are notorious in Astrology, and not always for the best reasons. They are talked about the most regarding their relationships and how they are as partners. So what is it about this air sign that intrigues some and irritates others? Is Gemini a good partner to be with, or are they a walking red flag?
Who Are Geminis Compatible With?
Well, there is something to be noted about Gemini that is often not known. In Astrology, Gemini is represented as The Twins, and in Tarot, Gemini is represented as The Lovers. They do have a deep connection to relationships, love, and partnerships, and this energy is not talked about enough when it comes to Gemini.
Geminis make good partners as they know what it takes to be one. They are the type to support their partners unconditionally and to see their partners in the best light. This is why so many are attracted to Gemini in the first place because they make others feel like being themselves is enough and is worthy of love and affection. They are also extremely fun partners to be around, and nothing is ever dull in a relationship with a Gemini.
The challenges that arise with a Gemini relationship and where they get their bad rap from, however, have to do with Gemini’s flighty and inconsistent energy. Being a mutable sign, you never really know what you are going to get with a Gemini, and not in a good way. They are very impulsive and can be irrational when it comes to love.
Love is often where they feel the need to take the most risks, often at the expense of someone else. If they feel smothered or controlled in any type of way in a relationship, they tend to run, and sometimes that’s into another person’s arms.
Geminis need a lot of mental stimulation to feel connected and need a partner who has this same type of spark. It may take a while for a Gemini to commit, and they tend to go through many trials and errors in love, however, if they get into a relationship with the perfect balance of love and spontaneity, they will not have a challenge being devoted to that person. You will never forget a relationship with a Gemini.
GEMINI + ARIES
Gemini and Aries are soulmates. This is a relationship the two find easy and comfortable, and like they get each other on another level than most. Gemini and Aries have a similar energy, and their curiosity and excitement for life make this a fun couple that everyone loves to be around. This is the type of relationship to have funny banter and who loves to joke around and not take life too seriously. They both value their freedom and independence and won’t put too much pressure on each other, which makes this a relationship that can go the distance. They respect each other, they put good energy into the relationship, and this is a dynamic couple.
GEMINI + TAURUS
A Gemini and Taurus relationship is not the worst of the worst, but it’s also not the best of the best for Gemini. Being that these two are next to each other on the Zodiac Wheel, there is a unique connection and familiarity these two have together that can’t go unnoticed. Gemini can learn a lot from Taurus and vice versa, and these two are usually willing to learn and grow with each other. What makes things work here is they both value relationships in life, so the two of them will like to spend time together. Although, there tends to be a lack of basic chemistry in the relationship between Gemini and Taurus that is needed in order to lead to a committed relationship.
GEMINI + GEMINI
A Gemini and Gemini relationship is wild. This is a relationship that is like a roller coaster ride for both of them, and the potential for longevity is slim. However, a lot of fun will be had, and communication between the two will be this relationship’s strength. The challenge with an air sign and air sign couple is that the relationship is often flighty, and unless there are other factors in the birth chart, it can be difficult for these two to settle down. This relationship may seem like a good idea in the beginning, but it may eventually become a burden to one or the other. Nonetheless, they will have a good time together.
GEMINI + CANCER
Gemini and Cancer is a rare type of relationship that you don’t see often. Although Gemini is typically the initiator in their relationships, Cancer will most likely be the one to make the first move here. Cancer finds Gemini intriguing and interesting, and Gemini senses this from Cancer and wraps them in their web effortlessly. Over time, Cancer may find Gemini too hard to grasp, and Cancer is the type of lover who needs more constant devotion and love than Gemini is willing to give. Both of them tend to act on impulse, and this relationship is typically one with a lot of emotional and mental upheavals.
GEMINI + LEO
Gemini and Leo make great best friends and lovers. This is a connection that is often formed from friendship in the beginning and then leads to a deeper kind of love. Leo finds Gemini sexy and intriguing, and what the other signs complain about in Gemini, Leo feels like they can handle. After a time, however, Leo may find some of Gemini’s motives and intentions too shaky for committed Leo, as they truly need someone who is all in. If Gemini is in that place and is willing to give their love and devotion to Leo and vice versa, this can be a beautiful relationship full of mutual respect and good times.
GEMINI + VIRGO
This is a relationship that is based on communication. Gemini and Virgo have a unique mental connection as they are both ruled by the planet of communication, Mercury, and they are both mutable signs. This relationship may at first seem unusual to outsiders and even to them, as they are both very different people when it comes down to it, however, the more they get to know each other, the more they like what they see. All in all, though, Virgo may not have the tolerance to make this something long-term, and Gemini may find Virgo too uptight. Both find it difficult to see each other in their futures, but both appreciate the energy of understanding and freedom in the relationship.
GEMINI + LIBRA
Gemini and Libra have a relationship that is full of love. This is a couple that likes spending time together, and they both find each other attractive on many different levels. Libra is the romantic, and Gemini is the charmer. Libra likes the flirtatious energy that Gemini gives, and this is a couple that doesn’t grow tired of each other. They are both highly intellectual, and the communication between the two of them is something special. Gemini will have to watch out for their wildcard tendencies to make this relationship work long-term, however, because Libra will begin to find all the things they thought were charming about Gemini distasteful. This relationship has a lot working for them to work, but balance will be necessary.
GEMINI + SCORPIO
This is a relationship that isn’t for the weak. The sexual compatibility between the two is there, but the mental connection, which is needed for Gemini to get into a relationship in the first place, isn’t. Scorpio needs an emotional connection in a relationship; Gemini craves a mental one. These two are both creative individuals, and they tend to have a bond over music, art, or theatre, however, personality-wise, they will often have disagreements and misunderstandings between each other that make it difficult for the relationship to grow into anything. It seems worth it at first, but these two soon realize there isn’t enough in common to keep them together.
GEMINI + SAGITTARIUS
Gemini and Sagittarius have a lot of fun and laughs together. When in a relationship, they both love to explore the world together, hang out with friends, and build a life that is exciting to live. They are all about creativity and personal expression, and they aren’t the type to hold each other back in any way. This is a couple that can spend hours talking, and that is willing to get to know each other on many different levels. Since these two are sister signs and reside on opposite sides of the Zodiac Wheel, their differences can feel too strong to bear at times, and this relationship can only work if they learn to love and respect each other’s perspective instead of changing them all the time.
GEMINI + CAPRICORN
Gemini and Capricorn are an unusual pair, but anything is possible. The main challenges that arise in this type of relationship are Gemini’s need for freedom and Capricorn’s need for stability. These two both want completely different things out of life and will have to find ways to meet in the middle to make the relationship work. Gemini and Capricorn both have very different energies, and they don’t necessarily mesh well when they come together. Gemini is known for its charm, however, and not even Capricorn can deny that type of spark, so there is a potential for something to happen. All in all, this is one of Gemini’s least compatible matches in Astrology.
GEMINI + AQUARIUS
These two are often found in both friendships and romantic relationships. They get along well, and everything comes naturally to them. Gemini and Aquarius are the type of couple to turn a fling into something more serious. They often meet on the internet or through mutual friends, and these two tend to have a lot of common interests and perspectives. This is a progressive couple who won’t be into societal norms that come with relationships, and they are more likely to do things on their own terms, making their relationship a unique one. Gemini and Aquarius have a lot of love for each other, and this is a couple with strong compatibility.
GEMINI + PISCES
Gemini and Pisces are another more common duo for Gemini. Pisces tend to see with rose-colored glasses when in love, and Gemini admires this type of fantasy world that Pisces opens up to Gemini. Gemini, being their curious selves, finds themselves lost in another world with Pisces, and they feel inspired here. However, with the different perspectives, shifts of energy, and mutable behavior, things can change quickly here, and this relationship either turns out to be a beautiful one or a complete disaster. If this relationship is built on solid ground and not empty promises, then it can work out for the best.
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