Shahadi Wright Josep
Geoff Levy

Meet Shahadi Wright Joseph, The Hidden Gem In Jordan Peele's 'Us'

Shahadi Wright Joseph, one of the scene stealers in 'Us,' talks her latest movie roles and future goals.

Anyone with eyes and ears will know that the big topic of the tail-end of March was the success of Jordan Peele’s new movie, Us. The horror/thriller flick had an explosive official debut at the box office, bringing in $70.25 million its opening weekend. That figure proved to be historic, establishing Us as the third-best horror movie debut in history and the biggest opening weekend for an original horror film.

Stats aside, within the film are supreme displays of talent all packed into the Wilson family. Twitter timelines set ablaze during the weekend already called for the Oscars to “give Lupita Nyong'o her things” come next awards season, and we already dove into the rising star that is Winston Duke. However, one particular young actress deserves a double take.

Quiet as kept, one of the film’s undeniable scene stealers is 13-year-old Shahadi Wright Joseph, who plays Zora and her sinister doppelgänger, Umbrae. Without spoiling the fun for late movie-goers, just know that Wright Joseph packs in the right amount of spunk to round out the Wilson family amid the turmoil.

Before we catch her again in the live action remake of The Lion King—she will be the voice of young Nala—we caught up with Shahadi about stepping out of her comfort zone with Us, what she learned from her castmates, and roles she looks forward to next.


VIBE: First of all congratulations on Us and the amazing work that you and the cast did.
Shahadi Wright Joseph: Thank you so much. It was so amazing. It was great hearing everybody's reactions, seeing everybody get scared.

What was it like the first time you watched it once it was all done? Did you get scared?
I saw it at a private screening in New York. I kind of just flipped out. It was my first time seeing the finished product and it was kind of amazing. I was getting scared to stuff that I had already seen.

I think that people will really like your character a lot—both of them, technically. They're both really entertaining, but Zora is super strong. What were your first thoughts of her when you read her on the page?
I really saw her as relatable to teenage girls right now. That’s how it was so easy to portray her, because she is kind of like me. But I think Umbrae is definitely a harder role to play. You really had to take a moment and just think about the character. It was really challenging but it was also fun.

Yeah I can imagine. How did you go from switching between those two mindsets—Zora and Umbrae—as you were shooting?
It was great because they didn't try to get us to play the same role on the same day, which would have been really challenging. They really just tried to have us play the same role, just one role on one day, so that we can be consistent, because it is really hard to get into your costume change to another role. And also just the mindset, that takes a little while to get into. That is challenging as well. But I think that in total it was so worth it.

The payoff was definitely there. Are you into horror and thriller movies in general, or was this a newer exploration for you?
Oh, definitely. I love horror movies. I like The Shining, The Babadook. I love Get Out, of course. I think those are my top three.

Nice. On top of nailing the scary aspect, you had a really great family in the film. Was it easy to actually feel that chemistry between you, Lupita, Winston and Evan?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think that we really created such a great relationship when we first met each other. We would have lunch together and go to places together. It was really great because we really learned how to be a real family. You can definitely see all the chemistry on camera.

What were some of the funniest behind the scenes moments that you can remember with you guys?
I think it was when we were filming some of our boat scenes. We would be in the boat and I think it was really late, I think it was close to midnight and Evan and I would be dozing off in the boat and Jordan had to keep calling us on the radio.

Was it actually scary, too? To be in the nighttime setting?
Not really. There were some bats that kept flying over our boat but not really.

Would you say that Lupita and Winston remained in character even when the cameras weren't rolling? Winston plays the light-hearted, goofy person in the film and then Lupita's character has her head on her shoulders and is more stern. Did they carry that off the screen?
Yeah, they did. I think that when we were all together we tried to get into our characters, to really feel each one, feel us out. That was a lot of fun, we really bonded for a pretty long time.

What advice or personal takeaways did you take from Jordan, Lupita and Winston?
This is a hard one. I didn't really take specific advice from them but I definitely saw Lupita and Winston while shooting their Red role. They were using method acting a lot and they were really getting into their characters before they would start shooting. I thought that that was really smart and I might use that in the future. But I don't think there was any specific advice that I took from them.

In just watching Jordan Peele do what he does, how did he help you become a better version of your character? Or how did he help you through whatever process you needed on set to deliver the best character you could?
Jordan really helped me get out of my shell to really become Umbrae, because it's a really difficult role to embody and you kind of just have to not think about anything else and just be her. That was the hardest part, because sometimes I would try to be Shahadi or Zora and put it into to Umbrae but I really just had to stop and say, "That's not who I am right now in this moment."

Did you always want to do acting? What was your first exposure to it?
I've always wanted to act. Lupita is such a big inspiration even before I met her, before Black Panther. My first exposure to acting was when I auditioned for The Lion King on Broadway when I was eight and I booked it. Then I just kept going from there.

That's a big first get, too. Let's talk Lion King because that is down the pipeline for the live action. What is the best part of seeing that come to fruition?
I've always been a fan of the Lion King that was probably one of my favorite movies when I was younger. To just be a part of this is so spectacular. I think that I had a lot of fun working with JD [McCrary] and working with John Fabreau, the director. It was really great. I think that it was a really fun experience.

For people now who are die hard fans of the original, people ready to put their critic hats on, what do you think they can expect from the live action. What would you tell them?
I think that you'll definitely love the new animation. Of course the storyline is still the same, but I think that there's a whole new energy to this new one, just because it looks totally different. So I think that a lot of Lion King fans from 1997 are going to come back and really enjoy this one.

Perfect. And lastly, what kind of roles would you like to play as you get further into your career? What kind of stories would you like to tell?
I definitely want to go through all genres. I love horror already, I might want to go into maybe a drama or a comedy next. I guess we'll just see where it takes me. I think this has been such an amazing experience already, being in a horror movie with such a great cast, and I'll definitely remember this forever.

Photography: Geoff Levy
Hair: Cheryl Bergamy
Make-up: Brenna Drury
Styling: Andrew Gelwicks

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
Photo by Matt Kent/WireImage

'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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