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Nicole Ari Parker reveals Black boss women on ‘Soul Food’ changed the way she saw the industry forever

For Women’s History Month, Nicole Ari Parker spoke to REVOLT about the female characters she’s played in her career, how decision-making Black women on ‘Soul Food’ shifted the way she looked at the entertainment industry, and more. Read here!

Nicole Ari Parker

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In today’s political climate, playing a cop, detective or any type of law enforcement officer is sensitive to the Black culture. One could possibly agree that as a Black actor or actress, it would be an arguably controversial role to be casted into. But, Nicole Ari Parker rose to the occasion and took on the challenge of playing Deputy Superintendent Samantha Miller on “Chicago P.D.”

In her recurring role, Parker will be tackling the difficult topic of police reform during the Black Lives Matter movement. On her Instagram page, she took the time to thank “all the brave men [and] women who protected the Capitol” against the rioters in Washington, D.C. back in early January. “Here’s to the brave officers who take an oath to protect and serve,” the actress wrote in her caption. “I just play one on TV,” she continued as she followed up by sharing her story of growing up in Baltimore and watching a female officer “de-escalate” a situation without the use of unnecessary force or taking someone’s life.

REVOLT caught up with Parker about her latest role, what being an actress in Hollywood, and more. Check out our conversation below!

Tell me about your role on “Chicago P.D.” as Deputy Superintendent Samantha Miller.

I love that you’re saying her whole name because it trips some people up. It’s a mouthful, but the wonderful thing about that is she’s earned that mouthful. She’s worked her way up for probably 20 years on the force. She is an insider trying to affect change and she knows what her cops go through, but she also knows what’s going on inside with a lot of cops and how we have to stop the hemorrhaging, and we have to get into it. The writers of “Chicago P.D.” have really decided to tackle that and I’m happy to be part of exploring that story.

What would you say is the importance of a strong Black lead such as Miller who’s fighting police reform during the Black Lives Matter movement?

I think the reality of her [becoming] this high ranking of an officer as a woman, as Black woman, is remarkable. To represent that on television is very important because there are Black female deputy superintendents throughout the country and it is not easy. It is one of the hardest jobs that exists. The interesting part, though, is seeing how she has to make this choice to work with [Hank] Voight and she’s decided to forget him to understand how much she respects him, and for him to trust her. She also does have an agenda on making some really necessary changes inside the department, but she can’t do it without them. She cannot do this by herself. It’d be like kicking a mountain and wanting it to crumble.

What do you believe is the significance of her being a woman in this role, and how does it make her character that much more determined to get the job done?

The costume alone is so decorated when she’s in her officer regalia. You don’t get there as a woman unless you are not tough as, but tougher than the boys. She has seen it and done it all, and she had to be recommended and chosen to get to the next level by her ability, dedication and excellence. The fact that she’s a woman triples the amount of respect because she had to fight crime and her administrators, partner, and team and have an inner resolve, and focus that is unmatched in a lot of professions. I feel very badass playing her. I lose a lot of battles in my house, but I’m not losing this one.

When it comes to women empowerment, specifically in the entertainment industry, how would you define it?

Part of the gift of being a woman is the intuitive impulse that gets developed. Sometimes it’s natural and we’re born with it because we all have that maternal instinct whether we have children or not, but also from safety. We learn very early on when we enter a room how to be aware of our surroundings and really protect yourself. Part of having that serves the character like that because when she walks into a room with fellow officers, and at this high ranking, she has been able to feel, not just experience, hear and see what’s been going on inside of people, but she intuitively understands power dynamics.

Being a woman and finding that balance between wielding her power and respecting power is really important that this role be female. That’s gonna be the journey to reform, to change. No one is trying to destroy a system that is designed to protect and serve, but somebody has to respectfully put it back into the right perspective from all sides and I think only a woman can do that.

You mentioned the word “protect.” As a Black actress, what have you seen the industry do — or not do — when it comes to protecting Black women? How do you think protecting Black women should look like?

Such a great question. For the last 20 years, a lot of people have become part of the entertainment industry on the other side. Female directors, female writers, Black female directors, Black female writers, studio heads, decision makers, casting directors in the writers’ room, producers. It’s not a mistake that the stakes are higher at the same time that Eriq La Salle is executive producer of the show. I think that he kicked everything up a notch in terms of inclusion, perspective, urgency, dangerous storytelling, dramatic exploration of what’s really going on, and I think that’s because of his gaze and perspective. I think it’s important that this kind of voice be on all sides in order to protect Black women and the narrative around them.

Throughout your career, what have been some of the most empowering roles that you’ve ever played?

I really enjoyed theatre, so being on Broadway was my greatest joy for many reasons, but Soul Food was great and that was a great example of Black women behind the scenes in decision-making positions because the stories that were told were given a lot of depth and humanity, and weren’t this one-sided strong Black woman narrative. There was a strong Black woman who hurt, a strong Black woman who loved, a strong Black woman who’s not always strong. That really trained me and it was really eye-opening for me about how television can do it when it wants to. It can really shape the visibility and understanding of people when you give the full picture in the writing.

Who are some of your favorite power players in the industry representing and fighting for Black women?

My peer group of actors that came up. I feel so blessed that I came up with Regina King, Gabrielle Union. Vanessa Williams, Malinda Williams, Sanaa Lathan, Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina Hall — I’m just really proud that we came up during the ranks where craft really mattered and we’re still in it. I’m proud of all of us. Taraji P. Henson, Tasha Smith — don’t get me started. Taraji just came out of the box with “Empire” and she had us all glued to the TV, and made it possible for many of us to come through that show while she was there. Most of the people from that group are all still working and Salli Richardson Whitfield is directing now, Tasha’s directing now. It’s just incredible.

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