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Keshia Knight-Pulliam is not the same little “America’s Sweetheart” that you remember from one of your favorite sitcoms. Now, she has returned onscreen to revive her role as Miranda in “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” as her character navigates through familial experiences including a divorce from Lance Gross’ character Calvin Payne.
When she’s not on TV, Knight-Pulliam is a mother to 3-year-old Ella Grace, in whom she is instilling self-love, kindness and confidence to prepare her to take on whatever the world may throw at her as a young Black girl in America. Whether it be as the founder of the Kamp Kizzy Foundation or co-founder of VC fund collective Fearless Fund alongside industry vet and best-selling author Arian Simone, the talent is doing it all to set the prime example of Black women winning during these unprecedented times.
REVOLT spoke to the star about her character Miranda on “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” the importance of protecting Black women in the entertainment industry and more. Check out our conversation below!
How do you relate to Miranda and how can we see her grow with the return of the “House of Payne” cast?
Miranda, of course, is a mom as well as I am and even of her character’s evolution, she is a go-getter, the hustler both literally and figuratively. Over the course of this season, I can’t give away too much, but it ended with me not knowing and me asking for a divorce from Calvin. People in families grow and evolve in different ways and we have different challenges. What I can say about “House of Payne” is that love is always at the center of everything with the family. I think that’s why people do like it because we have the ability, like all great sitcoms, to address serious situations with some levity and humor where people can watch our shows, laugh and escape for those moments that they’re watching it.
As a Black woman who started out as a child star, how would you say race has played a factor into your career as an actress?
As an actress, you’re not living in a bubble. You are part of our world and the experiences of this world. The reality is no matter what your socioeconomic status is, what your profession is, if you’re someone who’s well-known, famous or works an everyday job, systematic racism is real and everyone has experienced it on a variety of different levels. You don’t escape it because of your career or because you’re famous; it’s part of it. Now, the good thing about where we are is we’re holding a mirror specifically to the U.S. where it’s like you can no longer pretend this is not an issue and does not exist. Gil Scott-Heron said, “The revolution will not be televised,” but it’s being televised right now. By having the ability in such a mass way to show people what’s going on, it’s creating a space where you can no longer pretend that it doesn’t exist, and now it’s time to act and do something about it.
We all have a piece in this puzzle because Black lives have to matter. A lot of people are saying “all lives matter,” but they can’t matter until Black lives matter. It’s that simple because those are the ones that are disposable. Those are the ones that are being murdered in the streets without repercussion, accountability, or being charged in any kind of way. There’s a multiplicity of ways which can go into addressing this because it didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in one fashion. Everyone has a piece in it whether it’s the characters you play and shedding a light on it as an actor.
I’m also an entrepreneur so me and two of my girlfriends got together and we started a five million dollar VC fund last year called the Fearless Fund, which is addressing inequities from a financial standpoint in terms of investing in minority women-owned businesses. There are so many ways that you can do it and leverage, but it’s really about moving the needle in real ways. No longer can you just put up a social media post about action just so you can appear to be on the right side of history.
How have you personally seen Hollywood accurately — or not so accurately — portray the livelihood of the Black experience?
It’s a complex thing and I’ve always said it’s about telling all the stories. Not just telling the slave stories, not just telling the maid stories, but telling the stories of Wakanda and all of the different amazing people from doctors, lawyers, activists and poets. It’s about showing the full range. It’s so funny, I remember when I was going to Spelman [College], someone said to me, “Going to Spelman is just a bunch of Black women. That’s not a realistic world being surrounded by people who are all the same.” I had to say to them, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know two Black women who are exactly the same.” Yes, we’re united in our skin color, but our nuances, personalities, experiences, upbringings and so many things shape who we are — not just being a Black woman. That doesn’t make us one note.
Would you say there’s a glamorization of Black trauma of Hollywood? Do you see the narrative slowly shifting or do we have a lot of work to do?
Yes, absolutely there’s a lot of work to be done. At the end of the day, I feel like the best places for us to begin telling those stories because only we can and making sure that it’s not just the people who are in front of the camera, but diversity and Black people have to be in all facets. A lot of people just see the finished product of a television show or movie, however, reality is there’s hundreds of people behind-the-scenes in a variety of different jobs that bring it to life. It’s having that reflected in every layer of the process.
That’s also one of the things that’s good about working with Tyler. You see yourself from the top down. From hair and makeup, from camera operators to grips to executives to writers, all of those things and all of that matters in terms of representation.
How has Hollywood protected Black women’s mental health in the entertainment industry?
We have to protect ourselves. I feel like it starts with us and protecting one another, and not always necessarily relying on it to come externally. Yes, it should be globally where people are protected, where all people are taken in the same regard. But, we know that’s not the case and we also can’t wait around for someone else to do it.
How do you believe we, as a society, can do better when it comes to holding ourselves accountable and protecting women?
People have to ultimately be authentic, honest, and not be afraid to speak their mind. We have to just ensure that women are feeling covered and that it’s a space where we can speak our truths, and it be valued and believed. I can’t give you one thing that needs to happen because it’s an overall shift in mentality and thought process. This is not an easy fix, this is not a “pinpoint this issue.” You can have this conversation over and over like, “What comes first? The chicken or the egg?” If everyone is accountable for how they show up, then it becomes a collective of people showing up differently. I’m just a believer in it starts in-house and it starts by being that example, being the change you desire to see and [it] starts with you.
You’re also a mother. Black mothers today are in danger when it comes to dying during childbirth.
That’s why it’s important to have people like us in every hospital and in the medical field. My doctor was a Black woman, and she was awesome and amazing. There’s a specific kind of care that comes when you’re taking care of your own. We have to be advocates for ourselves. When something doesn’t feel right, we were born with the best gift [of] our intuition. We have to follow it, speak up on it, and ensure and demand that we’re being heard and not be afraid. Being an advocate for yourself is really important. It’s a shame because it shouldn’t be. But, we need to now, knowing that it is, identify it. What are we collectively going to do?
I say to little girls out there that there’s so many amazing jobs. My non-profit, the Kamp Kizzy Foundation, is in its tenth year and it’s all about self-esteem and empowerment for youth. When I was little and you asked kids what they wanted to be, “I wanna be a doctor,” “I want to be a policeman,” or all these different jobs. Now you ask kids what they want to be, and they want to be famous. It’s about exposing them to the variety of jobs and career paths that exist based on their interests, living their purpose, and understanding the value in all of those different jobs.
Tell me about your experience at the hospital while giving birth to your daughter. How did that open your eyes to the need of protecting Black mothers?
Yes, that was a whole situation I talked about on my “Kandidly Keshia” podcast. I don’t live in a bubble. Just because I’ve been an actress my whole life doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced racism and situations like that previously. Part of what I did was speak up about it and that’s the other piece of it. You have to share your experiences because so often people want to share their highlight reel, but they don’t want to share all of the different things that occur. Part of telling that story is ensuring that if another mother has that situation, it also empowers her to say that this isn’t okay.
When it comes to your daughter Ella Grace, what ideal America do you want her to grow up in?
I can’t control the entirety of America and, of course, we always want the best for our children. There’s no doubt about that. My focus is on ensuring that whatever world, she’s ready for [it] and I prepare her, so that she can thrive in all situations. That’s my job as her mom. Not to prepare her for the world that I lived in, the world that’s present, but the world that will come. My desire is having this changing shift and we start migrating to a place that is inclusive [and] where Black lives truly do matter. I’m showing her through my actions as a woman what it looks like to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. To not be afraid to live her best, most powerful, boldest, most loving and spiritual self, and that’s all I can ask. I make sure that I set the example to show her that all things are possible. As long as that happens and she enters this world with joy, love, kindness and knowing her abilities, I’ve done my job.
How would you say Generation Z’s activism compares to how vocal your generation was when you were growing up?
I don’t think there’s a comparison because it’s a different world that they’re living in that we lived in. Part of how people can be vocal is because they can be heard and everything is so instant. There’s this connectivity that didn’t exist when I was little. I remember when cell phones came out — there were no cameras. This access to information is this whole new ball game and it creates this whole different space. I don’t feel it’s fair to compare in that way.
You are a proud Spelman graduate. What do you have to say to anybody who doesn’t believe in the power of HBCUs?
If you haven’t noticed, I don’t dwell in low-vibration energy. I’m not going to go there with people (laughs). All I have to say is “Kamala.” There are too many names that you can show. The truth of the matter is if you look at how many amazing people have graduated from the HBCUs and gone on to do amazing things, the proof is in that. Myself from Spelman College to Stacey Abrams, Lance [Gross] graduated from Howard, Phylicia Rashad — that shifts into entertainment once you get into other arenas. The bottom line is, and what I know from experience is, that HBCUs create the best of the best in our community. Period.