Kellita Smith understands the power behind Black Hollywood. The comedic actress has been busy booking roles, but also advocating for Black ownership.
Smith has worked in film and television for over two decades. She played the quirky wife Wanda in “The Bernie Mac Show,” along with recently becoming the first Black lead for any SYFY Network series in “Z Nation.”
Her robust entertainment career includes roles in “In Living Color,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and recently Bounce TV’s “In The Cut” which heads into its 6th season.
Smith spoke to The Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper over the phone about Black ownership, overcoming struggles, and motivating other people of color within the industry.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL NEWSPAPER (LAS): Thanks for speaking with us. When was the moment you realized that acting was a career choice?
KELLITA SMITH: Well, I was fired from four nine-to-five jobs back-to-back. I happened to be in a relationship with a basketball Hall of Famer at that time. He showed me what it means to commit to your dream. He disciplined himself and eventually got into the NBA. I wasn’t sure what I wanted but I wanted that same type of passion he had. I took an acting class and everything changed.
LAS: What happened when you took the acting class?
SMITH: It just clicked! I was awful at first but I knew I wanted to do it. When you are passionate about something, people’s criticism sounds like direction. But that’s not true. I was in my early twenties. Those are impressionable years. I was still trying to find my voice. I learned that habit is character building.
LAS: Can you talk more about character building?
SMITH: It starts with a thought. Then that thought follows an action. That action inspires a habit, and that habit develops character. Once you have character, it will take you to your destination.
LAS: That sounds inspirational to hear! What keeps you grounded even during your dark times?
SMITH: Fear and excitement are the same feeling. It’s just how you see it. I think the most beautiful thing to experience is some form of art. You witness what’s coming out of you is not just you, but it’s the love that’s coming out. It’s like a quote I heard. Love the art itself and not yourself in the art.
LAS: How has your history growing up shaped your career now?
SMITH: It started early. I went to a school founded by the Black Panther party called the Oakland Community Learning Center. The women of the party were our caretakers. One woman in particular, Erica Huggins, encourages us that the skin we are in is everything. That was instilled in me. I lean into those moments. I understand I’m on the back of other people. There are people who laid their lives down so I could be here.
LAS: Speaking of Black history, what is the current state of Black Hollywood now?
SMITH: We have to start putting ourselves in stronger positions. It’s the only way we are going to get the images we want. We cannot expect another culture or race to be responsible. We cannot throw the rope over and then pull the rope back. Don’t be so greedy and make it all about you. When people fall, they usually fall alone.
LAS: From your perspective, it seems that Black ownership is a number one priority.
SMITH: Right! We all need to own something. That includes football teams, basketball teams, food, and banks. It’s all about ownership.
LAS: What advice would you give to an actress of color who wants to work in the industry?
SMITH: I would say develop one’s character. It really comes with discipline and some pain but it’s all about how you perceive it. What happens to you rubs you a certain way because in order to create a diamond, you must add pressure and heat. Every woman is a diamond but you must uncover it. It’s not about being like me. It’s about finding your own uniqueness and finding the God within you.