Nathalie Emmanuel On Her First Leading Role & The Liberation Of Cutting Her Hair
Landing her first role as the lead character in a film has been “surreal” for English actress Nathalie Emmanuel mostly because she remembers all the times she considered giving up on her dream career.
The Emmy-nominated actress, best known for portraying Missandei in HBO’s Game of Thrones, appearing alongside Kevin Hart and John Travolta in the former Quibi series Die Hart, and acting in the most recent films from the Fast & Furious franchise, is set to star in the horror film The Invitation. The film is out in theaters as of Aug. 26.
Emmanuel, 33, said the starring role is made all the more special by the fact that she’s working in a genre that doesn’t typically have diverse leading characters. “The idea of playing a female lead as a woman of color and in the horror genres space, it's just sort of, not really something that you see,” she tells xoNecole.
The actress wouldn’t give too much of the Dracula-inspired film away, but she described the premise as “the worst-case scenario of doing a DNA test and finding out your ancestry.” Emmanuel portrays Evie, an only child who has lost both of her parents when a newly discovered relative invites her to a seemingly glamorous destination wedding.
“It's on the backdrop of this very wealthy aristocracy in Britain, and the sort of power structures involved intersecting with a woman who is a Black, mixed-race and working class,” she says. According to Emmanuel, it was the female-centered lens through which director Jessica M. Thompson tells the story that originally drew her to the project. During her childhood in England, the actress says her parents were very protective of the media she consumed, but she says she got into vampire mythology later in life.
The Invitation is a long-time coming for an actress who first landed her first role in a West End theater production of The Lion King at just 10 years old. In 2013, she landed the role of Missandei on Game of Thrones while working in retail. “I was working in retail, and I was folding clothes and cleaning and doing things to get by,” she reveals. “After a long time of not getting seen for things or being cast in anything, you start to doubt yourself, and then you have to decide whether you're going to keep going or give up. That’s happened many times.”
Emmanuel is on the cusp of a new time in her career, but she’s also switching things up in her personal life, too. Earlier this year, she documented the emotional moment when she cut her signature curls and posted the video on social media. “There was something really empowering about shedding this thing that had so many complex emotions attached to it and just kind of starting again,” she says. Today, she wears her hair in a cropped cut, with her curls framing the top of her face. Cutting her hair is a decision Emmanuel says she’s been considering since she was a teenager, although the motivation has changed.
Despite being complimented as an adult for showcasing her natural hair on television, Emmanuel says struggled with feeling like her hair was a “problem that needed to be managed” as a teenager. “The first time I asked my mom, I was maybe 14 or 15. And she was right to say no, because I think it came from a place of frustration or seeing what was considered beautiful and not being that,” she notes.
As an adult, work demands and the comments she got from fans kept her from cutting her hair initially. “I was so proud of that and so happy that I could be that for somebody because I had such a long journey to that place myself. So I then I kept it because I wanted as many people as possible to feel good about their natural texture.”
Emmanuel is hoping to continue to inspire Black and biracial women, although this time on her own terms. With this new film, a forthcoming season of Die Hart (now on Roku), and a starring role in the forthcoming film Megalopolis alongside Adam Driver, Laurence Fishburne, and Forest Whitaker, she’s hoping to continue to showcase her range as an actress, too. “I've done the comedy stuff a bit. And now I'm doing a bit of horror. I've done the dramatic stuff, the fantasy thing. The more I can diversify my body of work, the better."
The Invitation is out in theaters now.
Featured image by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
More Women Are Taking The 'Girlfriend' Title & Exclusivity Off The Table In Dating — Here's Why
Nearly a decade ago, Chris Rock famously coined the phrase, "Men are only as faithful as their options." And as if to be a vexing prophecy, the concept provokes an all too familiar frustration within the dating scene to this day: havingtoo many headaches and not enough options.
Ask any single woman in their mid-twenties or early thirties navigating the trenches of their love life, and you’ll be met with the disappointments of failed situationships and lack of commitment. While on the other end, men seem to freely date a roster of quality women without a single care about the emotional rubble they leave behind.
It begs the question of whether men have known all this time that finding “the one” all comes down to a numbers game.
Felicia Gloria, a social commentator and YouTuber from Toronto, Canada, thinks so.
After a breakup with her long-term boyfriend and a few years of dating in her late twenties, Felicia came to the realization that the system of modern dating was no longer serving her. “I was meeting guys who would be interested in me initially, we’d date for a while, and it wouldn't go anywhere,” she tells xoNecole. “I was just sick of becoming attached to these men and then going through the pain of breaking up.”
The cycle of micro-breakups caused her to alter her approach to dating, one that was rid of emotional attachment, fantasy, and aimless hookups — a method she calls “rotational dating.”
"Rotational dating is when you don't date one person at a time. You date multiple people until someone gives you what it is that you are looking for," she explains. While every woman's end goal in dating may differ from babies to boyfriends and bills being paid, Felicia's happy ending starts with a ring.
Meaning, the 'girlfriend' title is off the table, there's no exclusivity, and you date multiple men at a time until one promises to have your hand in marriage. "If you do want marriage and you don't want to have your time wasted, there is no reason for you to go through a trial period with a man as a girlfriend," she says.
Radical? Some may believe it to be, but with the state of the dating market being where it stands, a shift could be necessary.
"I feel like traditional dating benefits men more than it benefits women because men are not on the same crunch for time," she shares. "So by them being able to have a girlfriend, they get to have sex, companionship, and all the benefits that they would have in having a wife. Meanwhile, women their age are trying to settle down."
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
But dating with the intention of marriage isn’t a new concept. Many women find it more beneficial to date with the goal of long-term commitment over short-term gratification. And with this shift in mindset, women could regain a sense of balance so that their romantic life becomes less about how they can find their soulmate in every man they meet and more about vetting suitable partners they’d like to spend the rest of their life with.
“Women have been conditioned and programmed to not do this because it disempowers them. If they had all this power and were engaging with multiple men, it would mean that men would have to step up to win a woman’s attention,” says one TikTok dating coach.
Since rotational dating leads with the intention of receiving a proposal in order to sign on for full exclusivity, it’s normal to find that some men won’t always be enthusiastic to get with the program. But as men naturally fall by the wayside, the ones whose intentions align with yours should then be prioritized.
“The most fundamental thing to vet for is if this person wants to marry you. And the only way to know if a person wants to marry you is if they propose to you, they could say anything. When men love women, they will propose,” Felicia says. “You have to be willing to accept that a lot of guys are going to say ‘no’ to you because of this. And a lot of guys are going to think you're absolutely wretched, and maybe some women will as well.”
While it may seem extreme to make such a drastic shift in your approach to dating, it could be an option that may serve you in your love life if your current approach just isn’t working. When you reach a certain age and stage of life, you begin to reanalyze what’s serving you and where there could be an adjustment. And if your long-term goal is to be married or you just don’t have any more talking stages left in you, could it really hurt to seek a ring over, say… endless coffee dates?
“I think the failure of an engagement is actually a success of rotational dating because it shows that you did what it took to get to that certain point,” Felicia says. “At least you can look at them and say, ‘You know what? It wasn't meant to be, but we gave it our best shot.”
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Featured image by Dean Mitchell/Getty Images