Teyonah Parris

What does it take to get on Barry Jenkins’ call sheet? Candice Frederick speaks to the woman who knows.

Issue 30

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Films

“Hollywood can’t be one group of people being able to tell their stories all the time.”

“Divine destiny” is the phrase that first comes to mind when considering Teyonah Parris’ career. The 31-year-old actress has made her way up from trying her luck as a “ham” in beauty pageants in her native South Carolina to being sought out by some of the biggest power players in Hollywood.

But to call it destiny would be to undermine Parris’ own talent and tenacity: It’s a combination of hard work blended with a Juilliard education and a supportive black sisterhood that has led her to groundbreaking acting roles in the films Dear White People, Chi-Raq and If Beale Street Could Talk and, on the small screen, in Mad Men, Survivor’s Remorse and Empire.

Parris recalls that her flair for captivating an audience came to her suddenly. She was a young girl growing up in Hopkin...

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