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'Insecure' Actor Jean Elie Talks Infidelity, Expectations And Why He's Team Lawrence

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We love a man who isn't afraid to speak his mind and keep it all the way real, and when it comes to love and relationships, Jean Elie certainly doesn't hold back. It's no surprise that Elie caught our attention on HBO's Insecure as Ahmal Dee—Issa's smart-mouthed little brother who appears on the last few episodes of Season 2.

But while we certainly appreciate having a little eye candy on the show, we have our eye on Elie for other reasons. Beyond the humor, the Haitian-American is proving himself to be one to watch, snagging credits on ABC's American Crime and visually directing music videos for Timbaland co-signed artist Brandon Tory. Not bad for someone who just a few years ago decided to quit his day job and hopped on a one-way flight to Los Angeles with only $1,000 in his pocket to pursue his acting and directing career.

That kind of ambition alone makes us just a bit curious about the actor after the cameras stop rolling, so we sat down with Elie for some real talk about his insecurities, his thoughts on cheating and why he prefers tomboys over supermodel types.

What was it like when you found out that you landed the role of Ahmal Dee on Insecure?

I was shocked! (laughs) It literally took two weeks before I heard anything back. And usually if I don't hear anything back within a week, it's out of my head. Then, I got a phone call at the most random time of the day and they were like, “Hey, Insecure called and said they want you to play Ahmal." Then my boys were like, “Yo, what's wrong?" And I was like, they called and said I got the role for Ahmal, to play Issa's brother. I was like, this is crazy. Like that's nuts. What does this even mean? What happens next?!

What are you most excited about with playing Issa's brother? Where would you like to see this role go?

I would love to see him extend into a third season. I'd like to get more back story on his character, to see what he gets himself into-what his MOUTH gets him into because he has a smart mouth. I'd also like to see what his life is like outside of Issa and his beef with Kelli. Like, what's going on with that?

Insecure deals with a lot of the modern complexities of dating. Molly and Dro, in particular, have blurred the lines of their friendship and have become lovers. Do you think it's ever okay to blur the lines or do you prefer to just keep friends as friends?

It's cool to blur the lines, but it's more important to have a conversation. As awkward as it may be, have that conversation to know that this is what it is and this is what we're doing. Being with your friend can make it the best experience in the world, you know? Because it doesn't have to be about sex, you're actually enjoying each other's company. You're able to be honest and open with one another. Communication is key in any relationship – as long as you have an open channel to talk to one another it'll always work out. But you also have to accept the fact that someone's going to end up hurt in this situation if you guys don't make it an official thing some time down the line. Especially if that conversation isn't had.

Molly's professional life is flourishing. But her personal life and her love life is kind of trash – especially with her making the decision to hook up with a married man. Is there something to be said about ambitious and successful people and their dating life? Do you think it's hard to balance being successful while also trying to date successfully?

Yeah, I think anything is possible. It's not impossible, but it's hard. Molly is a strong, black, independent queen who does her own thing but she's also flawed like everybody else. I think once she gets rid of expectations, which is what we all should do, we'll all do better.

Expectations on relationships, on careers, on anything that we have – it usually ruins things. We have an idea of what things should be instead of really accepting what it is. I try to get rid of my “should." Everybody has their own time. Everybody has their own process. Things will happen when they're supposed to happen, not when you want it to happen. Especially in relationships. I try my best not to look for something. I let things come to me.

"We have an idea of what things should be instead of really accepting what it is. I try to get rid of my 'should.'"

So, you're not sliding in any DMs?

Nah, I'm not sliding in any DMs. But I am liking the 100th picture though. I will scroll down your whole timeline (laughs).

How do you navigate dating and finding a genuine person to spend your time with?

My friends, they help hook me up. I don't like those dating app situations. I've tried a couple of them before and I always end up with some type of weird person (laughs). Like you really have to read people's bios and some people don't have them. I went on a couple of dates with this one girl and she was talking a mile a minute – she was looking for a sponsor. So, my homegirls usually try to hook me up. Sometimes the relationship works, sometimes it doesn't. Usually my relationships start off as just friends, which is great, so it's like alright, I know you're not crazy. I know you're actually doing the things you said you're doing. But again, sometimes things just don't pan out.

Are you dating right now?

Yeah, I'm dating, but I haven't found anything serious yet. I'm still out here mixing and mingling (laughs). I have to feel like we're best friends and I can really talk to her about anything. I don't believe in cheating, so once I get in a relationship, that's the relationship I'm in. Nothing can come between me and the person I'm with, which is why we have to be super honest with each other. A lot of the time relationships fall to the wayside because people don't communicate properly or they start talking in circles and they end up breaking up. I try to be as honest as I possibly can with whoever I'm talking to.

"I don't believe in cheating. Once I get in a relationship, that's the relationship I'm in."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

One of the songs on Insecure's soundtrack this season is called “Supermodel" by SZA. SZA also has a song on her album CTRL called “Normal Girl" and those two are arguably juxtapositions. What kind of woman attracts you more? Are you more drawn to the Supermodel IG Famous types or the girl-next-door Normal Girls?

I like the normal girls, the girl next door. I like them a little tomboy-ish. I'd like a girl that's nice, cool, pretty, cool with her family even if she still has to work some stuff out, likes the outdoors, and someone that can joan around with me (laughs).

What would make a woman stand out to you?

I love when a woman doesn't feel like she needs somebody to make her complete. If she doesn't feel like she needs me, then that makes me want to be there for her. If a girl is doing her own thing, that's attractive too. I don't want her to need a man in her life, I want her to want one. Because if the want is mutual, then everything will work out.

The name of the show is called Insecure and for good reasons. What's one insecurity or fear you have when it comes to relationships?

My fear is that I might leave a person in fear of my heart. Or that I might get scared and feel like this is it. I don't believe in cheating, but I've seen a lot of cheaters. If I get married, it's a wrap for me and her and I don't want that to happen. So, in fear of that actually being something that happens to me, that keeps me from locking stuff down.

There was a meme floating around Instagram that read: “If the love doesn't feel like 90's R&B, I don't want it." But what does Jean say?

90's R&B is cool. It's amazing (laughs). If the love doesn't feel organic, if it feels like we're forcing it – then I don't want it. If it doesn't feel like a natural thing, like we grew into it, I don't want it.

"If the love doesn't feel organic, if it feels like we're forcing it – then I don't want it."

Fun Facts:

Now Listening: Brandon Tory, Chance the Rapper, SZA, DRAM, Childish Gambino

Best Impersonation: Barack Obama

Favorite Food Places in LA: Comfort LA, Wurstkusche, The Federal

Favorite Food: French fries

Currently Binge-ing: Narcos, Viking, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones

Neo-Soul or Trap Music: Neo-Soul

Team Lawrence or Team Issa: Team Lawrence (his reasons were kind of legit ladies, cut him a break)

To tie you over until the third season of Insecure, be sure to get your fix of Jean Elie on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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