Shaunette Renée Wilson
Photography by Erik Rasmussen
Written by Jennifer Parker
Styled by Jason Rembert
Makeup by Nina Soriano
Last year, Shaunette Renée Wilson and her Yale classmate, Sean Patrick Higgins, wanted to do something creative. They came up with the idea for the short film, White Flags, about consent and what it means to be a part of today’s dating culture. They chose a theme that’s very much in the zeitgeist and palpable, but the film takes a more far more intimate perspective.
Today, it’s impossible not to recognize Wilson. The Ivy League grad stars in the Fox medical drama, The Resident, and played a member of Wakanda’s special forces unit, the Dora Milaje, in the Marvel mega-hit Black Panther. After a turn on Showtime’s Billions and the role of a dreamy mother in A Kid Like Jake, Wilson is currently part of an elite ensemble of actors in Hulu’s latest Into the Dark paranormal episodic series: Treehouse.
The following is an excerpt of my conversation with Ms. Wilson, who spoke from her home in Atlanta. A New Yorker since the age of two (she was born in Guyana), Wilson lives in Atlanta while working on the set of The Resident.
Black joy existed. It wasn’t just about oppression and injustices.
Not Saying No Doesn’t Mean Yes
We wanted to show a more immediate and day-to-day kind of experience with dating and consent and for women who find themselves in uncomfortable situations surrounding sex and how no or not saying no doesn’t mean a yes.
It’s traumatic for women as they’re experiencing their lives, from not being able to voice within those moments because of our culture, men are the aggressors. It’s hard for women to have a voice in those circumstances. We wanted to show a little bit more the ambiguity of that, a little more subtlety, not the overt aggressors that we see in the news.
I think the story that we told is important in that it is about this micro day-to-day dynamics and connections with people. It’s not your boss. It’s not the head of some broadcast or a producer. It’s the guy that your girlfriend said you should meet, and things were going really well, and you’re so into him and then the night comes and there’s complete miscommunication and with other. So many women … even people that just read the script … have been like, “I’ve totally been there.” For guys, they don’t know, and that, too, is a part of the aggression and the trauma and the abuse.
On What Drew Her to Her Role in The Resident
I don’t think we’ve actually ever seen someone like Mina on TV. She’s a dark-skinned, black woman from Nigeria who’s extremely intelligent, extremely talented, gifted skilled and knows her craft insanely well. Having that much intelligence and specificity was pretty alluring for me to inhabit and represent that kind of individual. What’s so nice is that the writers have given her a little bit more of humanity, so we were not just seeing this harsh, angry person who’s very curt and blunt, but she has a wide variety of expressions and that has been even more delicious to explore and luxuriate in of like, oh yeah, this is a 360° human being, so let’s give her some failures. Let’s give her some hardships and see her express herself emotionally. Let’s give her a love interest and see how she deals with romance and her heart and so that, I think, has been exciting.
On Future Projects
I am shooting another short down here and this is something that I’m going to direct. I wrote it myself and I think that’s going to be another huge learning curve and experience because I’m not interested in just being an actor. So that’s my focus right now, doing that short and working on an anthology series with another friend about black women throughout the history of America. We take real stories and inspirations and turn them into these hour-and-a-half-long episodes and highlight a decade with a particular woman and just go through the history of America, like black joy existed. It wasn’t just about oppression and injustices. There were a lot of accomplishments that black women made and I think right now, it’s kind of like a prime time to see those stories actually be realized and this is actually coming from something that was truthful in our history that no one really knows about.