ABOVE PHOTO: Aisha Hinds as Harriet Tubman in the WGN docudrama, “Underground.” (Illustration: WGN)
Interview with Kam Williams
Aisha Hinds is a Brooklyn, NY native who initially entered showbiz in modern dance. She parlayed her success in that field into an acting career which has included a vast array of projects ranging from feature films like “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, “If I Stay” and “Beyond the Lights” to such hit TV shows as “True Blood,” “Prison Break,” “Under the Dome” and “Weeds.”
Here, Aisha talks about playing American icon Harriet Tubman on “Underground,” a docudrama about the Underground Railroad. The second season of “Underground” is set to premiere on the WGN network on March 8th. Aisha also reflects upon her role as Pastor Janae James on “Shots Fired,” a timely TV series debuting on the Fox network on March 22nd.
Kam Williams: Hi Aisha, thanks for the interview.
Aisha Hinds: My pleasure, Kam. I deeply appreciate this opportunity. So, thank you!
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing their questions in with mine.
AH: Sounds great! Delighted to talk with the readers as well as yourself.
KW: What interested you in “Underground?”
AH: I became an instant fan of the show seconds into the opening frames of the pilot. When that drone shot carried us through the main house with Rosalie, played so unflinchingly and brilliantly by Jurnee Smollett Bell, I signed on for the ride. I saw that this show was about to elucidate this age-old narrative in a way that was both edgy and engaging. The artistry on the show is apparent in each episode. From the riveting writing to the purposeful and precise direction, the masterful work of the DP [Director of Photography] Kevin McKnight and his crew, and the layers and depths each actor goes to to ensure we the audience feel a human connection to these characters led me to sign my name on the dotted line. The cherry on top was the pulsating and powerful use of music to punctuate the story.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier would like to know what Harriet Tubman means to you and how you prepared to play her.
AH: She is a legend, an icon, a soldier on the side of justice, a spiritual warrior, and a servant of God, as well as the one of the baddest women to literally ever walk the land. I surrendered to her spirit. She lived such a full, complex, and irrefutably dynamic life that all the craft in the world would be insufficient in honoring her legacy. I did my homework, of course, by inhaling as much literature as was available to find, so that when it was time to shoot I could hopefully exhale her. However, the real truth is that her spirit is so powerful that it consumes you. I was literally reduced to basic breath and blinks while she inhabited my vessel and told her story through me.
KW: Since Patricia is from Canada, she would like to know whether any episodes will be shot on location there and if the series will explore the historical connections between the Underground Railroad and Canada?
AH: Thank God for Canada! In the context of this narrative and beyond, Canada was certainly an additional option for the many traveling the treacherous terrain of the Underground Railroad in pursuit of what was perceived as “freedom.” Once the “Fugitive Slave Act” took effect, the Northern states were no longer safe for those who managed to escape from being enslaved. The second season of Underground does explore Canada’s role in providing a welcoming place for the thousands who were in danger of being captured and returned to their owners, and those who escaped by way of rerouting beyond the American borders. Though this part of history is included in the season, we did not shoot on location in Canada.
KW: Patricia was also wondering whether the show will cover less well-known aspects of Tubman’s life. like the fact that she was a spy during the Civil War for the Union army, and that she collaborated with John Brown to free slaves.
AH: There will be a wealth of facts revealed and revisited in this season pertaining to Harriet Tubman. That is a huge part of my excitement, the fact that this generation will get such a beautifully detailed introduction to a hero and icon that has largely lived in a few pages of our history books and in one-dimensional photographs.
KW: How would you describe the series’ main message?
AH: Each season, the series has explored a theme. This season, it is “Citizen vs. Soldier.” Are we citizens watching the world and its atrocities unfold from the sidelines, or are we engaged in the battle as soldiers, taking a stand and joining the army to fight against injustice?
KW: Tell me a little about “Shots Fired.” Sanaa Lathan was very excited about the show, when we talked about it last fall.
AH: I share her excitement!! It was a project that, interestingly enough, provided a unique opportunity as an artist to engage in the fight against injustice, and explore the ongoing debate and dialogue surrounding who and what lives matter. The show is an autopsy of our criminal justice system, a space where the conversation surrounding the issues in our country is offering a seat at the table to all the voices to be heard, a murder mystery, and grassroots look at our own humanity as we move through the parts and pieces of the story.
KW: The plotline sounds very timely, although it flips the script by having a Black cop shooting a White teenager.
AH: Sadly, this plot is one that doesn’t lack source material. It’s a narrative that has been timely for a very long time. In such, when Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood began to assemble the cast, which is a rather large ensemble of very talented powerhouse players, everyone wholeheartedly signed up to stand in service of this story, knowing and understanding how important it is to exhaust and explore its many facets.
KW: What’s it like playing a pastor and what role does your character play in terms of keeping the peace?
AH: It was such a delight to express a part of myself that has long been reserved for my own sacred journey through life-spirituality. Digging into the depths of my heart to widen its capacity and unpack what it would mean to carry the burden for an entire congregation and community that looks to you for answers and guidance during trying times was both a joy and a revelation. Pastors carry a tremendous responsibility. Pastor Janae is a lifelong Gate Station resident, a community activist, and a powerful pastor vested in the lives which have been entrusted to her by way of The Chosen House, her small neighborhood church. Throughout the 10-hour event series, she finds herself in positions that challenge the government, expose deeply-rooted conflicts, and contemplates effective methods for her community to resist in the face of blatant injustice. Her journey also demands she take an autopsy of her own humanity, examining what she is driven by and what she cares about ultimately.
KW: AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
AH: “Biggie : Voletta Wallace Remembers Her Son, Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G.”
KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
AH: One that comes to mind was being double-parked outside of my grandmother’s house in East New York, Brooklyn while my mom ran inside for a moment, and I moved the gear on the car from PARK to DRIVE… and the car started to move. I was so scared. I was way too little to know how to drive, and so I quickly threw the gear back into park and the car stopped moving, thankfully. This was back in the day when the gears were controlled by the stick that was next to the steering wheel as opposed to in a center console area like most modern cars. Needless to say, my mother let me have it.
KW: The Morris Chestnut question: Was there any particular moment in your childhood that inspired you to become the person you are today?
AH: Yes, one of the first memories I have was watching Whoopi Goldberg perform her one-woman show on Broadway on HBO. She moved seamlessly through an array of spirited and soul-stirring characters, each one holding a mirror up to me and allowing me in many ways to see a reflection of myself on screen. I felt validated and valued, and here was this woman inside my television screen who gave me a voice. It didn’t immediately register with me that this was what I would eventually be doing with my life for today’s generation. It was also incredibly serendipitous that I would later learn I shared a birthday with Whoopi. I went on to be inspired by many other artists and forms of art, and was soon directed to a place that would help harness my experiences and develop my voice within the craft, LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York City.
KW: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?
AH: My Granny.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
AH: Definitely! I had praying grandmothers who bathed me in “The Word” and filled the atmosphere with worship. Though I developed my own personal spiritual relationship later in life, the foundation they laid is what my faith was built upon. I am indebted to them always for cradling me in the heart of Christ and encouraging my passion to press towards the mark of the high calling on my life, wherever that takes me.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
AH: Stuffed snapper.
KW: Craig Robinson asks: What was your last dream?
AH: Tuh, that is based on the assumption that there’s actually time to sleep these days. We living in a time where we all got to STAY WOKE!
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
AH: An opportunity to honor the legacy of the lives drawn into the lines in my face, the broad of my nose, the dark of my eyes, the fullness of my lips, and coal in my complexion.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
AH: A just world.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
AH: My nephew’s laughter!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
AH: None that I can honestly think of right now, which means the folks have asked some great questions thus far in my lifetime.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
AH: Does this come with a free shipment of clothing from them?! I got questions about your questions!
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
AH: Remakes are awesome, especially when it honors yet adds a new component or dimension to the original. But truthfully, we have so many stories, lives and subjects to explore that I’d love to keep pushing towards new knowledge.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
AH: Study and know that we are always a student of the craft well after we’ve completed any course of study… and approach the work as a servant, not a star.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
AH: As a small piece of the puzzle sent here to serve a bigger picture.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
AH: Here you go! I got more questions about your questions. [LOL] Is someone volunteering to put something IN it, if it’s empty, or naw?
KW: Thanks again for the time, Aisha, and best of luck with both TV-series.
AH: I appreciate you taking the time to give me a space to discuss the work and the journey to and within it. Thank you so very much, Kam.