Professional wrestler Kia Stevens turned heads in the first season of Netflix’s 1980s-set comedy “GLOW” as Tammé Dawson, a mother by day and champion in the ring at night. In the second season she got to dive even deeper into Tammé’s challenges to be a role model for her college-age son while adopting the sports persona of Welfare Queen on local access television. The fourth episode of the second season saw her son’s first glimpse at his mother’s new life and gave Stevens the chance to show just how detrimental portraying such negative stereotypes can be.
Stevens: “These are things that black women, and black people in general, had to go through in order to gain employment in the entertainment industry. We wanted to illustrate the profoundness and the extremeness of it — how far people had to go to be in the entertainment industry and how far they would go in exploiting their own people to get their foot in the door.
“She tells her son that everyone’s offensive — ‘If everybody is doing it, why can’t I do it, too?’ — and I could identify with that because in my first opportunity in wrestling I had to take on the name Amazing Kong. As you know, being black and being Kong is kind of problematic! I had to really weigh the consequences of that. As I was thinking, an N.W.A song came on, and I was like, ‘If Ice Cube and Dr. Dre can be N-word Wit Attitudes, I can be Amazing Kong. I’m going to become so successful that people will hear that name and they’ll have to respect it.’ And I also thought about King Kong Bundy, and how as a white man he was free to be a Kong. I want to have every freedom that every white person has. If that means being free to be a Kong, then I’m going to change the vernacular of what that word means.
“I took all of that experience and I applied it to what they wrote for the episode: She’s going to create a character so adored that when they see her they have respect for her. She’s a hardworking woman — she’s the polar opposite of what she’s portraying on screen — so if this is how she’s going to break into the business, she’s going to commit to that and she’s going to take it to the stratosphere.
“A week before we started shooting [director] John Cameron Mitchell brought us in for meetings, and we talked about the relationship between her son and herself. Being that she had her son young, they kind of grew up together; he’s really the only man in her life, and they are best friends, as well as parent and child.
“I loved John’s process of getting together beforehand to talk about the material. I felt my experiences were heard and incorporated into the material, which really put me in a safe space to act all of this out.
“The very first day of the episode we started with the wrestling and then went straight into the emotional part. Her son witnesses what is a low that contradicts the conversation I’m sure they’ve had about minstrel characters and black pride and how to hold yourself with that pride and how to deal with the double consciousness that all black people have in America. I think when she sees his face she feels shame, this real sense of, ‘Oh I did wrong.’
“To go from performing to please people to, ‘Oh my gosh I feel vulnerable and naked right now’ so quickly was my biggest challenge. I rehearsed that scene by myself like 1,000 times — if I wasn’t filming I was rehearsing for it.”