“When They See Us” and “This Is Us” actor Asante Blackk reminisced on the brief time he recently shared with late actress Ja’Net DuBois as they worked on the live rendition of the ’70s sitcom “Good Times.”
DuBois, who played the Evans family’s neighbor Willona Woods in the original series, died in her sleep in her Glendale, California home on Tuesday, Feb. 18. She was believed to be 74.
“I remember it was the day before we were getting ready to go live and we were all in rehearsal — dress rehearsal, in the makeup, trailer and everything. I saw her and at first, I didn’t recognize her,” Blackk told the audience at the “Black History: Inspiring Stories on Television” panel hosted by the Television Academy. “She said, ‘You were so amazing in ‘When They See Us.’ And I go, ‘Thank you so much.’ Then she goes, ‘That’s when you say, “I love your work too.”‘” The crowd erupted in laughter at the bittersweet joke.
He closed his comments on the late actress saying, “She was just a huge ball of light that lit up the stage for the time that we were rehearsing. She’ll definitely be dearly missed.”
Other panelists at the event were “Always in Season” director and producer Jacqueline Olive, “Queen Sugar” showrunner Anthony Sparks, “Good Trouble” actor Zuri Adele, and “Family Trouble” co-executive producer Adrienne Carter.
In addition to the moment they spent reflecting on DuBois, the group of speakers also shared some of the experiences they’d had navigating Hollywood — often times being one of the only faces of color in the room.
Sparks, who first earned his way into the TV industry as an actor, shared his personal story that first made him want to be a writer: “I came into television writing both as a creative choice and a political choice,” he said. “I was definitely feeling the frustration of being told that I did not exist by directors and casting directors over and over again. … I was being told that even though I’m from the South Side of Chicago, ‘People from the South Side of Chicago don’t look like you. They don’t sound like you. They don’t talk like you. They don’t walk like you. So, what am I supposed to do with you?'”
He went on to explain how the stereotype plagued his acting experiences, but he knew that his experience as a black person was not as monolithic as others would choose to believe.
“I come from a lot of people who are just like me. I like to think that I’m special, but I’m not that special,” he joked. “So, don’t exceptionalize me in such a way that you remove my humanity.”