Aramide A. Tinubu | Shadow & Act
Robinne Lee won’t wait for someone to hand her an opportunity. Instead, she’s created a space for herself. The veteran actress, writer, and producer is demanding to be heard. It’s early morning in Los Angeles, and Lee is dropping her children off at school as she talks to me. A jack-of-all-trades, she is obviously is a master multitasker. Her latest film, ‘Til Death Do Us Part just debuted last month and her newest project – a role in Mario Van Peebles’ Syfy series Superstition is gearing up to begin.
Set in La Rochelle, Georgia, Van Peebles latest work follows the Hastings — a family who owns the town’s funeral home and also dabbles in fighting unworldly phenomena and evil. For Lee – the script was a dream come true. “It was just different from the beginning,” she recalled, reflecting back on when she first learned about Superstition. “The way Mario pitched it, he talked about our country going through a period right now when we’re dealing with this new administration, and people being at a low point. The news is so depressing and frustrating. want to have something that is just for pure escapism.”
We all gravitate toward the cinema and to television because, if only for a moment — we can forget about the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives. However, with Superstition Van Peebles was determined to take it a step further. “He wanted to do it in a way that was novel, “ Lee expressed. “We had for eight years, this beautiful Black family in the White House to look up to and see these positive images. He thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Black family who is like that we could see on TV, but in a supernatural realm?'”
Until Jordan Peele’s Get Out – Black characters were rarely taken seriously (or even seen) in the horror/sci-fi genre. Black women, in particular, have been erased from this particular space. Superstition is subverting all of that. Instead of being relegated to the background, Lee’s character Bea Hastings is just as badass and at the forefront of this series as her husband Issac (Van Peebles) and the couple’s grown son Calvin (Brad James). “I liked the fact that she was this pillar of strength for her family, but she had vulnerable moments, “ Lee said of her sharp and fearsome character. “She wasn’t a stereotypical matriarch.”
Superstition is sharp, well-acted and brilliantly written. For Lee, it was an opportunity to stretch into a role in ways that she’d never been able to before. “I’ve never had a role where I could play all those different parts of me that really exist,” she explained. “I’ve never done anything like this in a supernatural genre. Every episode it’s like, do or die. Someone is about to lose a family member or whatever it is, and it’s incredibly emotional. You can’t phone it in; you can’t fake it. It’s very dramatic and physically and emotionally exhausting. But after a day like that, you’re like, ‘We did it guys.’”
Acting isn’t Lee’s sole focus at the moment – the Columbia Law School alum’s debut novel, The Idea of You is also garnering major acclaim. A life-long writer, Lee finally decided to take a leap of faith and share her words with the world. “What I love about writing is, unlike acting I don’t have to wait for permission, “ she said thoughtfully. “It’s not a collaborative effort; I can just sit down and do it at any point in time and have something to show for it at the end of the day. I really, really appreciate that.”
The inspiration for The Idea of You was born out of some late night internet scrolling. “I came across an image of a guy in a van who was adorable, but, like, obviously much, much younger than me, “ Lee recalled laughing. “I was Googling and searching and found out that he was half my age, but that he occasionally dated older women. I joked with my husband saying, ‘I found this perfect guy. I’m thinking about leaving you and the kids, but he’s 20, and he’s in a band. How do you feel about that?’ My husband laughed, and he was like, ‘You’re crazy, but that would make a great book.’”
It was not just The Idea of You‘s narrative that lit a fire under Lee to write it – it was also the themes that she would be able to explore in the novel. “I could explore ageism and sexism and how women that are turning 40 are really coming into their own power just when society starts to see them as invisible,” she said. “We never have agency. We do everything for our kids, our family, our bosses, our husbands, and I wanted to explore what it was like to be a woman coming into her own — inding herself at this late age. I did it in a smart way that is also sexy. She’s reclaiming her sexuality with this much younger guy. I wanted to look at the darker side of fame and celebrity — which I’ve dealt with, and I’ve also seen other friends of mine who are far more famous deal with it on a larger level. I feel like, I haven’t seen much light shed onto it in a very serious way.”
The idea of celebrity and certainly what it means to be a Black woman in the entertainment industry is something Lee has been contemplating extensively. Right now, Black women seem to be making considerable strides. “I see things that Ava doing, or Gabrielle , or Issa , or Shonda Rhimes, and Taraji and Kerry . We’ve made such strides. There are so many more channels now, and there is Amazon and Netflix. There’s just more room for great scripted television, “ Lee explained. “I think it took going through some dark times — it’s been years of #OscarsSoWhite before we could get a year like we had last year with Moonlight and Hidden Figures. We are in the game again, I know a lot of people say that it’s not important to seek acclaim from white Hollywood, but it kind of is. Once you have “Oscar nominee” or “Oscar winner” behind your name it changes the game for you. It changes how much you make; it changes what rooms you get into. Some of us would like to make some money and have some power. When you have power, you can green-light your own projects. Unfortunately, that comes with approval from white Hollywood.”
The news out of Hollywood in the recent days have been a haunting and painful wakeup call regarding all of the work that still needs to be done. In the wake of reports of sexual assaults and harassment in the entertainment industry – Lee hopes that things change for the better for women. “I think that’s pervasive in Hollywood, regardless of race, “ she said. “So often men do this because they’re in power and I think we are probably the most powerless figures in this business, being Black and female. So it’s definitely an issue, it’s definitely a problem. I think as the weeks go by we’ll see who else gets named. It’s not just Harvey out there doing this. We’ll see if it’s like a house of cards and more of them come down. It’s been very triggering to read all these women’s experiences. At the same time, I’m hoping that there’s this community now and sisterhood. To know that so many of us have been through it and some of us are going through it daily — to look out for each other and want to do something about it is positive. It’s a positive moment. I think if we can take it and make it into something more than something that was in the news cycle — we start empowering more women in this business. It’s not just Hollywood either. In the meantime, I will just continue writing and creating projects, ideally for women, people of color and diverse voices. That’s the goal.”
Superstition debuts today, Oct 20 at 10 PM ET. Lee’s next film Fifty Shades Freed will debut Feb. 9, 2018.