exclusive: felicity's tangi miller on playing minority student & affirmative action
In another edition of the-fall-of-Americas-political-climate with
Haberno Hitler Trump as our president, there was a report from the New York Times earlier this month saying that the Department is taking on affirmative action in college admission that is giving minority student an unfair advantage. Affirmative Action, by the way, guys, is defined by Webster Dictionary as "An active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women." The DOJ shut down the claim. However seeing the kind of person that Trump (and the people he hired on his team) as well as backlash from white people & Republicans due to colleges & universities continuously becoming more diverse, I wouldn't be surprised if this is actually occurring.
It made think about a primetime soap opera from the 90s that I'm currently binge-watching on Hulu titled Felicity with the sole black character Elena. One of the effects of affirmative action is some minority kids feeling like they got into a college not because of their scholastic achievements but for the need to fill a quota. Elena Tyler was a freshman in the first season who hoped to not be seen as the "poor black girl" despite the fact that she's a wiz in her academics. Here is the clip where she confronted Felicity at her job at the fictional Dean and Deluca.
Miami-native Tangi Miller, the actress who portrays her (and earned an Image Award nomination for it), took the time out her busy schedule as she is promoting her new film promoting the directorial debut of her new film Diva Diaries (#goals) to answer some questions over email correspondence.
KC: I know you've been very busy promoting your new film Diva Diaries but have you gotten a chance to catch up with the recent news about the Department of Justice trying to investigate colleges' affirmative action policies that could “discriminate against white people"? I ask this as you played the smart and stylish Elena Tyler on Felicity wants to be at the University of New York-based on her own merit and not because she was black and underprivileged.
Can you take us back to 1998, to when you shot the scene where you came to Dean & Deluca to confront Felicity for looking into your character's student records?
TM: "I remember my character being offended, and I remember wishing we could tell that story differently. I received a minority scholarship, which was less money than the non- minority scholarship. My department gave me the lesser scholarship because I am African American. When I earned the larger scholarship, that had nothing to do with my race. To subsidize my income, I was allowed to work on campus to earn the balance of what I would I have earned if I had been given the scholarship I deserved."
KC: How did you mentally and physically prepare for it, as an actress?
TM: "I was able to pull from my real-life experience and the disappointment I felt, having to be put in minority box."
KC: In what way has your role as Elena Tyler had an impact on people?
TM: "I don't know that I can speak for other people, but in 98 there where not many one-hour dramas, coming of age shows, featuring college women or women of color. I wanted this character to have integrity, intelligence and add to the overall story. JJ Abrams was masterful in keeping this character in the storyline and giving her back story that would allow audiences to believe her in this world. I hope she served as a role model, with positive images and her experiences where believable and learning experiences people watching enjoyed."
KC: Has anyone ever came up to you in the streets or reached out via social media to tell you how much she resonated with individuals who were like her or dealt with a similar situation? Be care to explain?
TM: "Yes, it's really nice when people are moved by you and they see the truth for themselves, I enjoy it the most when mom and daughters tell me they’ve watched together."
KC: I read that you attended an HBCU: Alabama State University majoring in marketing. Still, were there similarities to Elena Tyler as a college student did you share? Was it challenging to play a black student then but one that is at a mostly white school?
TM: "I think Elena was more uptight that me, lol. She never wanted a "B" I can live with a "B". Alabama State University (ASU) was amazing. It wasn't difficult at all to be a minority in college on TV. I was in graduate school at the university of California (UCI). The focus of the show was the college life experience, studying, rooming with classmates, etc. Many issues were the same for me at both universities."
KC: Was the episode where Elena was livid at Felicity for "winning" the mini-fridge supposed to be a hint for the "Drawing the Line" episode that was to come?
TM: "I'm not 100% sure... I would guess yes, because the outline for the show’s season and episodes are done in advance. The writers work on future episodes and the over story, sometimes is a year or more in advance."
KC: Diversity and Inclusion is one of the most popular initiatives in today's society. I read in a Vibe Magazine article that the Felicity executive producer wanted to make the show more "real" as many of WB's programming had few persons of color apart of the cast. How would you say your experience was being the token black person on the cast?
TM: "I don't know that I would call my character a "token", but I can say it was most important to me that you believed my character would be in this world and she needed back story. Felicity and Elena where pre-med students. That's how we became friends. Elena had a past, which included her father, childhood friend and she dated and had a long-time boyfriend."
KC: We're you able to have a say in how you wanted your character to be portrayed?
TM: "As an actor, one doesn't have control over storylines, but I felt included in developing Elena. I shared my experiences as much as possible and happy to writers that were interested in giving all the characters’ back story. We all had families and experienced that with each other like you would in real life. I feel felicity gave an honest look a college life."
KC: Re-watching the show, I see they were very progressive regarding Elena not perpetuating stereotypes of a black girl that I regularly see in television and movies.
TM: "Thank you, we had an awesome team and a very cool cast."
KC: If there was to be another prime-time college soap opera in 2017, what do you think creators should do to make it relatable and inclusive to everyone?
TM: "There is no one thing, it starts with the story and setting. I'd start with focusing on an area of study that is diverse. Maybe a college style Fame. I believe it's most important to tell an honest story, then cast accordingly."
KC: Some people are for Affirmative Action. Elvis Diaz from Columbia University said to Mic.com "Affirmative Action just gives an opportunity to those individuals that are trying and were given the short end of the stick. Let’s not forget this country was founded on racism, bigotry and the oppression of people for the benefit of others. This is just trying to amend those horrific acts that occurred since the birth of this nation that still affects
us to this day". Meanwhile, some people have gone as to sue the college for claiming they didn't get in because they were white. Personally, I had a harder time initially getting into a four-year college because of being a special-education student, not being afforded the same resources that a general education student would. Where do you stand on Affirmative Action?
TM: "Unfortunately, I believe we need affirmative action because many people are not inclusive and they will not be, if not forced. Based on my experience, I would wager that many more minority that are over qualified are getting the short end of the stick, than non-minority in regard to college entry."
KC: Perception is a funny thing, and it's not uncommon for individuals to make snap judgments. What would you say to the soon-to-be [disadvantaged] college students in dealing with how their classmates will perceive them?
TM: "Hold your head up and get your degree. I believe the majority of minority people that receive scholarships deserve them and more."
KC: Finally -- because I always wanted to ask -- had Elena not been killed in the car accident and graduated from the University of New York, where do you think she would be today? Do you believe she would give back to those who grew up disenfranchised as she did? Explain?
TM: "I used to think about how this character would develop, if we could follow character for longer that their TV life. She would for sure be a doctor, maybe with a private practice in her community. Elena was super smart and very passionate."
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