Black girlhood is often overlooked— not only in mainstream films but also in the archive of Black Cinema across the diaspora. Now, with the new movie Little — helmed by Tina Brown and starring Black-ish's Marsai Martin, Regina Hall, and Issa Rae, Black girls are being brought to the forefront of mainstream cinema.
Set in the present day, Little follows Jordan Sanders (Hall) a ballsy no-nonsense businesswoman in the tech space. On the eve of the most significant presentation of her career, Jordan wakes up in her penthouse apartment as her 13-year-old self (Martin) Forced to rely on April (Rae) her long-suffering assistant to keep her secret and her business up and running, Jordan must confront some tough truths about her present and her past.
Last July on a sticky hot day in Atlanta —Shadow and Act got the opportunity to visit the Little set. As the soundstage door opened, we found ourselves in Jordan’s office, a brightly lit space that had the CEO’s face and presence all over it. As filming continued on set, we chatted with Regina Hall and Issa Rae about working with Martin, Black women's stories and what it means to be the H.B.I.C.
Photo Credit: Eli Joshua Ade/Universal Pictures
"I watch little Jordan go through her journey and then I'm kind of at the end result of the journey," Hall said of her and Martin’s shared character. "We have things that I do as an adult that I have to watch her do as a child -- so that you can see nuances. It's interesting to watch someone have your experience and your character's arc. Marsai is so incredible and great; I can't believe she's only 13. She still has the innocence of a child, but she’s so bright. Her work ethic and her sense of direction are so impressive."
Hall credits her connection with her character to Girls Trip scribe’s Tracy Oliver’s stellar writing. "So much of it is built into the script already," the Support the Girls actress revealed. "They did an amazing job writing the movie so some of that is just seamless. It's who the character is on the page. But then there's the nuances and behaviors that Marsai and I worked on, so the audience feels connected to it being the same person."
In addition to working with Martin, Hall also got to work with her good friend Issa Rae. Little is their second feature together, following 2018’s The Hate U Give. Rae was enticed to join the project not just because of the women that were involved, but also because it gave her a chance to stretch in a different direction creatively.
"It’s a different tone, and I feel more uninhibited here versus with Insecure or even Awkward Black Girl which are my vision," she explained. "It’s been so nice to be in someone else’s vision. I just have to show up and do my job; I don’t have to have the answers. No one is over here asking me questions. This is such a rich, warm project it just feels like being at home."
Though Little does have some of the same elements as the Penny Marshall 1988 classic, Big starring Tom Hanks —many of the themes are very different. Since we live in such a connected and wired society, it seems like bullying has only gotten more severe and dangerous. Therefore, it made sense for this issue to be the main topic of the movie.
"I think if anything we just wanna make it relatable," the Insecure creator explained. "Bullying doesn't stop at a certain age. For my character, April, it's about standing up for herself in the face of it. I think for the character of Jordan, it's about analyzing her behavior and getting to the root of what makes her act that way. It is a serious issue, but we just wanna show the multifacetedness of it."
Photo Credit: Eli Joshua Ade/Universal Pictures
Working with Martin was also a gift for the Awkward Black Girl creator, and she wanted to make sure that the bright-eyed and commanding young actress had the space to express herself. "I’m not the type to be like, 'Girl let me tell you,'" Rae explained. "I would never want to hear that when I was 13 or 14. So I love to let her be and encourage her. The choices that she makes even comedically, she has such a bright future. I am just so in awe of her and so proud of her. I’m adopting her as my play cousin."
Hall agreed wholeheartedly with her co-star’s take on Martin. After twenty years in the business, she’s overjoyed about some of the strides that have been made for Black women and girls. "Where Marsai can go is so different because she's coming up in a time and generation where it's even more expansive," she explained. "There are fewer limits, but you also need to be very conscious of what sits right. We're in a time where people want to be like and act like and do like, but there's no one like you. So it's really rediscovering and always continuing to remind yourself of your true space."
Throughout her life and career, Rae has learned how important it is to use her voice. To this day, Black women in Hollywood and other industries aren’t often given the agency to speak for themselves. It’s something Rae had to learn to do.
"It’s constantly like balancing," she reflected. "I don't want to speak up too much and be seen as difficult. In Hollywood, once you have that label, it's so hard to get work. You're always trying to navigate that. For me, I think going in; it was just about not rocking the boat. I was like, 'I barely got here, so I can't speak up.' After a while, it was just about, 'Oh no, fuck that! I do belong here, and I have something to say.' I would be mad at myself at the end of the day if I did not speak up. Honestly, I only have an obligation to be true to myself in this industry. Otherwise, what's the point? So I've definitely gone through that. I've had examples of amazing women who have encouraged me to do the same. I wouldn't be where I am now, I wouldn't be the boss bitch I am if I hadn't spoken up."
For her part, Hall is thrilled to continue to play multifaceted characters who give a voice to so many women’s experiences. "Women are living in an interesting time where they're working, and they're multitasking in a way that is really incredible and extreme," she explained. "Maybe sometimes it's hard to meet counterparts who can match that skill. The balance of being powerful and still in our feminine space and when I say that, I mean the space of femininity, not male or female, the space that is living, that is giving, that is incredibly loving and patient. I think it's important for women to watch a character go through both —to realize that Jordan can run her company. I love April and Jordan’s relationship and how it evolves. It's not an easy thing to always see someone with amazing ideas while recognizing they don't have to be a threat -- they can be an ally. I love watching other women, and I realize how incredibly powerful we are united. A support system only makes us stronger."
Little will premiere April 12, 2019.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide