Tatyana Ali certainly has done her fair share of work and growth since her days of playing Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. With a career that has continued outside of her legendary childhood role, Ali has also had success starring in films and television shows, and continues to make great music with her powerful vocals.
VIXEN caught up with the 36 year-old artist to see what’s been on her agenda, and found that although she played a sheltered rich girl on television, Tatyana certainly is a socially conscious and morally-driven woman, who knows a bit about celebrity culture, women’s empowerment, and finding her center.
Vixen: As someone who’s had success in entertainment, how do you manage to stay grounded in such a pressure-filled industry?
I think it’s mainly because I grew up in a time before gossip blogs and TMZ. The concept of “celebrity culture” is much different than it was when I was growing up. But I also think it’s because some things about my life are privileged information for family and friends, so only do certain things or say certain things to people. As someone who likes to play different characters and identities, I think it’s important for me to present myself in a way where people will believe any character I play; I like to think that, in the public eye, I’m at a place where people don’t know so much about me that it’s hard for them to perceive me any other way.
What’s your advice for women trying to break into an industry be it entertainment or otherwise?
My number one piece of advice is to seek out role models and mentors who have the type of career you want to have. Women should always be supportive of each other, and it’s equally important to seek support. Whatever your dream may be, don’t sell out in order to make it happen. Be confident in your goals and aspirations and remember you don’t always have to be the face of a company or brand. No matter what your craft is, know that your skills are valuable.
Do you feel society still underestimates the power of a woman, or do you think they’re starting to get respect?
I think women are being taken more seriously as power players. Though there are still strides we can make as a society: women’s pay isn’t up to par to what it should be to a man’s. I think that’s a very real issue in every industry. And we must also remember and take into consideration the treatment of girls all over the world. The school girls in Nigeria are still missing and sex trafficking is such a huge issue abroad and even in America. We need to remember women all over the globe whenever we discuss feminism or women’s rights or what have you. It’s up to these women in power positions, from female celebrities to CEO’s, to stand up and saying we’re all worth fighting for. To the women with privilege and power: it’s up to us band together and remember to not get isolated in our own little worlds. We need to band together and take unification and ourselves more seriously. It’s up to us to be global.
Women’s empowerment seems like something you’re passionate about. What work do you do to give back to women?
I love working with community organizations and schools, sitting on panels and having dialogue. I partner with Boys and Girls Clubs across the country. I also work closely with the Peace Corp, as they have a global initiative for women’s empowerment, and I especially like the work they do with working towards closing the gender gap. I wish I had those kind of resources as a young girl – I think they’re so powerful and beneficial. Empowerment was like water for me when I was younger and I try to do as much of that work as I can.
In the 60s women got into the workplace. Now we need to come together and create a lasting change. It feeds and affirms my work – the types of roles I play. It makes me conscious of the stories I tell and the work I do, because not only do roles speak to me, but I want to use those roles as a vessel to speak to others. Films and shows tell us so much about who we’re capable of becoming, and I want to show that young woman that they can become anything they put their mind to.
When you speak to these young women, what is the one thing you hope they take away from your panels and workshops?
I hope they walk away with: knowledge that fear is a real thing. Don’t be ashamed of fear. If you can spend time with what you’re afraid if or tackle it head on, those are the times where you find out just how strong you are. Whatever you’re afraid of doing or saying – if you sit in what you’re afraid of, you’ll find the most growth. If the thought of something I’m considering or want to do incited fear or nervousness, to me that means I should definitely try to do it. You may fail, but it won’t be the end of the world.
Many young women, especially in the social media age, feel the need to be perfectionists. What do you say to those women who don’t step out on fear because they can’t handle failure or rejection?
Don’t be afraid to do the work involved in doing what you want to get. Everyone has had to do some work. Celebrity culture makes it look so easy. Reaching your goals requires doing the work to achieve.People don’t see all the work you did, even if in the end you get told no or it doesn’t work out how you planned. People don’t see all the ‘no’s’ that it took to get to the one ‘yes’. But don’t ever quit working. Just pick yourself up, seek that support, and go again. Keep your focus on the goal and not those ready to tear you down.
When I do empowerment work with girls I talk about [the word] “affirm.” Have people in your life that only affirm you. They can encourage you when you’re right and tell you when you’re wrong. I also meditate. When I’m feeling out of sorts or overwhelmed, I go to my meditation to reinforce a sense of self. Sense of self-confidence. Sense of self-love. Having that me time that allows me to reflect and re-charge and really be in tune with myself. I think it’s so important to have time for you. As women, we give our time to so many people in our lives. We have to remember to save some time for ourselves and keep ourselves inspired so we can continue to change the world.