How Marlow Wyatt Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
…Underrepresented narratives need exposure, then it is left up to the people whether it becomes popular or not. When the powers that be make decisions for the people without allowing them to see all that is available, we end up with the same stories told by the same people — which is not a true representation of the majority of the US population. The culture is slowly changing for the better. I want to be one of many who help speed up the process…it’s time.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marlow Wyatt.
As an advocate of arts programs for youth, actor and playwright Marlow Wyatt founded The Girl Blue Project, a free empowerment intensive for low-income teen girls and girls in foster care. She developed a curriculum utilizing the performing arts, yoga, group therapy and money management to build self-esteem and teach life skills to girls 14–18 years old. Marlow wrote, directed and produced over ten theater productions and received a Pine-Sol/Ebony Magazine Powerful Difference Award, a Spirited Woman Grant and 2 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Discretionary Grants for her service through The Girl Blue Project.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a volunteer at an elementary school in Los Feliz and I was assisting a young Black girl with her reading. She was in the 5th or 6th grade but reading at a first-grade level. Her mother wouldn’t allow her to stay back and the teacher was stuck because he could not focus on her needs and teach the rest of the students. She had no idea what was happening. All these adults and an education system were failing her, in my opinion. They wouldn’t or couldn’t fight for her and meet her where she was. The system didn’t provide her with what she needed to thrive. They had the resources but didn’t use them to best serve the students, which was their sole purpose for having a job in education. I knew I could create a curriculum to assist the current system that exists in education. I was really bothered by the way children — girls in particular — were being educated. I didn’t want to criticize or judge; I wanted to use my talent as an artist to make it better. During recess, I noticed the girls were not active. They mostly sat around the tables on the playground as the boys played and explored. The teacher used that time to smoke. I didn’t blame him; I knew he was overwhelmed and underpaid. After a few weeks of volunteering, I developed The Girl Blue Project. I had some experience working with youth programs in college at Howard University and used all that I learned to create a curriculum for a summer program that would address the needs of young girls and help them become better students and better humans.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I would say the most interesting story is that it is because of The Girl Blue Project that I became a playwright. The program culminates with a theater showcase which I had to write out of necessity. I wrote for and about the girls in the program. I was listening, and I learned to understand and craft skits and monologues for them that empowered them. One of the first pieces I wrote for Girl Blue is “The Village.” It was so popular we used it every year. It became the most requested, and each group of girls looked forward to performing the piece. It resonated with them as it is a message to adults and the powers that be. It is a powerful statement on how we raise our children in America.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was not knowing that becoming a non-profit was necessary for me to fund the program. I never paid myself, and this was a free program so I never thought about needing money. It makes me laugh to this day at how naïve I was. I just thought once people know about the program they would donate without question. I’m an artist, so taxes and insurance and all those things were an afterthought. Thank God for Public Council who took care of all of those things for me… pro bono.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
I believe artists frame the culture. I write plays that reflect the world around me as it exists, and sometimes as I want it to exist. My plays are American plays but are usually relegated to the sub-category of Black Play because I’m Black and/or the protagonist is Black. I am working toward opening the minds of American audiences to understand that stories written by BIPOC (not a fan of this anagram) artists are American stories. Any culture that has contributed to the America that exists today should be represented in all aspects of American culture; especially theater. I’m working with organizations like Latino Theater Company and Support Black Theater to cultivate narratives written by playwrights who are writing authentic American experiences that have not been popularized in mainstream venues…yet. People don’t have to look like you for you to connect; it’s called having a human experience. Something becomes popular only when it is seen by the masses and then the majority of the people connect to it. But that cannot happen until there is exposure. Underrepresented narratives need exposure, then it is left up to the people whether it becomes popular or not. When the powers that be make decisions for the people without allowing them to see all that is available, we end up with the same stories told by the same people — which is not a true representation of the majority of the US population. The culture is slowly changing for the better. I want to be one of many who help speed up the process…it’s time.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
When you do what you are called to do you never really consider the impact you may have on a person. It’s like parenting I suppose. You give your best and hope for the best. I get calls and emails from many of the girls from The Girl Blue Project. But one, in particular, is Emerald who was 13 when she came to Girl Blue. She didn’t come from the best of circumstances, but she was smart and filled with hope and promise. She always keeps in touch. She is now married and has a Masters and Ph.D. Just this year she honored me as her Shero during Black History Month for my mentorship and service. It was unexpected and heartwarming. I knew my work through The Girl Blue Project was not in vain.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
It’s human nature to connect to our reflection I think. Children do it all the time, but we seem to forget or de-value that adults need that same energy. We need to see people that look like us or come from the same circumstances as us so that we are inspired to activate the greatness within ourselves. People admire and emulate celebrities or film and TV characters. It puts those in the entertainment business in a very powerful position. We say we want an inclusive world but in order for that to happen we need to use our gifts and talents to show the world how to do that by what we present to them in film, TV, videos, advertising, etc. That will only happen when those who control the purse strings in the boardrooms and executive offices are diverse as well. Unfortunately, our society looks at entertainers as role models instead of teachers and politicians. We have a wider reach and we can positively impact the culture when we make the choice to do so. People and Culture before profit; do it for the people, do it for the culture!
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
As a community/society we can take charge of our own neighborhoods and towns. We know what is lacking more than any government leader that does not live in our community. Act more, talk less. Organize and stay consistent and use the skills of each individual in the neighborhood. A protest means nothing without follow-through and action. Act instead of reacting out of anger. Form collectives to keep your neighborhood clean, watch over the children, create activities and events specific to your needs. Patronize your local shops so that they thrive and don’t succumb to gentrification. Those that are thriving in the industry, whether it is financial or their influence, can invest without expecting an immediate return or a return at all. Stop making charity part of a publicity campaign and invest in those who have spent their hard-earned money investing in you by watching your TV shows, buying your music and tickets to see your films and concerts. Be active even when the cameras aren’t on.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership means to be the voice of or to represent the collective needs and greater good of those he or she was chosen to lead. It is a public service not a right. It is a title that comes with much responsibility and the choices made by a leader affect the masses. But the people must make their needs known as well whether it’s by voting or volunteering. We tend to be apathetic and only lash out when leaders make choices we don’t like. Leadership is a collaborative effort. It’s just that there has to be a front man.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- No one can want more for you than you want for yourself. People often blame others for their own shortcomings, but your family and friends can only see your potential. You have to have the desire to grow into your gifts.
- The world does not revolve around you or your ideas. You can show them better than you can tell them.
- Success and fame are not necessarily the same. You define what success is. As I mature, I no longer want the fame I desired when I was young. In some cultures, it is considered a curse. I am successful because I get to make a living doing what I love, and I genuinely love what I do. I am the happiest I have ever been and it doesn’t matter who knows it.
- Money is not the root of all evil. It is the abuse of money that causes lack and limitation. Capitalism breeds greed and criminality. People do strange things to get money order to survive and it never ends well. I embrace wealth and invite money and abundance into my life to give me the freedom to do great things.
- I’m enough. At whatever stage in my life, I wish I would have known that. I don’t have to achieve anything to be enough. My existence on this planet as a living breathing human is enough. My understanding of ambition kept me in a state of not-enoughness. I realize now that my achievements are not a by-product of ambition.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want to build boarding schools for homeless youth and youth in foster care and develop curriculum that is a balance of mind, body, spirit and life skills. Everyone needs a foundation — a solid place to be and belong. I achieved that with The Girl Blue Project, but it was a summer program and we did not have housing. The classes, nurturing and life skills empowered our girls to go out in the world and make better choices for themselves. I want to build a school that also teaches farming and has shop classes with a curriculum that is focused on opening minds and creative thinking, not conditioning. I hope to connect with Tiffany Haddish and some other people I know who were in and out of foster care and figure out a way to build a school that gives the students dignity and an education and life skills.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a few, but I would have to my favorites are “In nothing be anxious” and/or “Be still.” When I want something or set out to do something, I often become anxious and try to control everything and everyone involved. It seems the only thing I manifest is chaos. But it is when I am still and listen to my voice that I achieve the goal and receive more than I ever imagined. They are simple quotes but have always worked for me. “In nothing be anxious.” and “Be still and know.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
At this point in my life it would probably be Jay Z or Warren Buffet. I don’t know either, of course, but I like the social changes that Jay Z is a part of when it comes to injustice and I want to participate in that in a big way. He is like a stealth bomber; both he and Beyonce seem to get things done under the radar. I admire that. I want to build the boarding school, discuss the future of The Girl Blue Project and talk about other ideas that will impact education in this country and worldwide. How rich are we really when we have a system that fails its most vulnerable citizens and the next generation; especially when we have all the resources needed to do so? For America to have first-world status with third world problems is unconscionable.
How can our readers follow you on social media?.
You can follow me on IG: @marlowwrites. I also have a website: marlowwyatt.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!