ESSENCE’s July/August 2021 issue features GRAMMY nominated singer Jazmine Sullivan and EMMY award-winning actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on its two covers dedicated to the “ESSENCE Festival of Culture” and “Summer Screen Kings” respectively.
In the piece, Jazmine’s Tale, the singer and ESSENCE Festival of Culture Presented by Coca-Cola headliner (which will stream across two weekends June 25-27 and July 2-4 on ESSENCE’s website and on ESSENCE Studios) slays in bold colors and white-hot looks from Stella McCartney, Fendi, Cong Tri, Aliette, Alix NYC and more. She opens up to Insecure co-creator/writer/producer Issa Rae about the importance of holding space for Black women, therapy and the freedom of sharing her own journey. She talks to Rae about:
- ON HAVING A MASTER PLAN…OR NOT: “I wish I could say I had a master plan, but I really didn’t. I was just doing what felt natural, and luckily I had gotten with a record company and with people who allowed me to do that. But for me, I just wanted to express myself in the most natural way, and that means me writing my stories. So many of the songs at that time came from a lot of the childish stuff I was going through. For example, busting windows out of an ex’s car and literally going straight from doing it to not being able to sleep. I was restless, because I was still in the moment. And so I just started writing about it. I let my girlfriends hear it, and they were like, ‘Girl, do your thing—whatever this leads to.’ And it led to my world opening up in such a different way…”
- ON TELLING BLACK WOMEN’S STORIES: “Before now, I had really just been concerned about expressing myself and getting my story out there—and people have connected to that. But for this project, it was important for me to share the stories of the women I love and hold dear to my heart. I feel like they are just as banging and dynamic as me. And I want to give space and opportunity to women, period…”
- ON MAKING SPACE FOR OTHER BLACK WOMEN: “I feel like we get caught up in thinking there’s ‘only one’ of us. There can only be one R&B superstar; there can only be one rap girl at a time. That’s not true. God was not stingy when He was giving out gifts. And you’re not the only person. There are many other women, especially Black women, who can do what you do. And let’s all create spaces for each other to get out there and do that…”
- ON FINDING THE RIGHT THERAPIST: “The first five minutes I was holding back tears, because I was like, ‘Wow, this is the first time I’m actually speaking about my feelings. And it’s not in a song. It doesn’t require notes. I don’t need to impress anybody with what it is that I’m actually doing. This is the first time.’ So I was holding back tears even doing that. But after that first five minutes, I was surprised by how much I was enjoying speaking to somebody, and somebody listening to me, and I didn’t have to perform to do it. But finding the right therapist is a process—because I went to therapy one time, years ago, and I hated the experience, and I feel like it stopped me from going for a long time. And then I found this new lady, and it’s a totally different experience. So you have to find the right person for you, that you actually want to open up to. But once you do that, a weight lifts off of you—just from speaking, just from telling your story. And that’s what Heaux Tales was. It’s like, ‘Tell it, girl. Tell it. Set yourself free.’”
In the piece, Summer Screen Kings, it’s obvious that leading man Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is here to stay. Given the space he has carved out for himself in Hollywood, the meaning of his name (which, roughly translated from Arabic, means “Graced by God”) seems particularly prescient. At 35 and a towering 6 feet 3 inches tall, Yahya’s imprint in Hollywood continues expanding. Weeks away from the release of his first leading role in Candyman (in theaters August 27), Yahya will also star in The Matrix 4, the newest installment in the Matrix franchise, as well as his third action flick, Ambulance, next year. As he heats up the issue in designers including Fendi, Hermes, Gucci and more, he talks to ESSENCE Senior Entertainment Editor Brande Victorian about what really drew him to acting, his definition of sexy and whether a rom-com is next on his list of achievements:
- ON WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE SEXY: “I don’t think sexy tries. Ease is sexy. It’s nice to have a little bit of mystery, and if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s not for me to say whether I’m attractive or not. It’s for me to have self-confidence. Confidence is sexy…”
- ON HOW HIS CURIOSITY DREW HIM TO ACTING: “I wasn’t itching to be a star or anything like that. I wasn’t thinking about movies or television. I just started following my curiosity…I got here by staying curious, by staying humble, and also knowing that there’s so much more that I want to do…I think I’ve done a lot on other people’s terms. I’ve been able to step into projects that were already written before my name was attached, and I’m so thankful that I was able to step in and support those projects. But now I’m at a place where I’m looking to come into rooms with my own ideas, and develop those ideas and tell my own stories. I think that’s the next chapter…”
- ON WHETHER A ROM-COM IS IN HIS FUTURE: “We need more romance…We have adventure. We have action. We’ve got a lot of stories about trauma, because trauma is very present in our world right now. But we also need love. We need more straight-up, old-school romance. I don’t mind putting my hand up and stepping into that place to say, ‘I’ll be your man, girl.’ I don’t mind that at all…”
- ACTRESS/DIRECTOR REGINA KING ON YAHYA’S DEDICATION TO THE WOMEN IN HIS LIFE: “That man talks about his sisters and his mother with so much love and so much appreciation…I think that was one of the reasons why we connected so well. It doesn’t always work that way with actors, that you feel safe enough to be so forthcoming with your personal life, but we did that literally day one. His love for the women in his life, he leads with that…”
ESSENCE’s “Summer Screen Kings” package also features hot actors Don Cheadle (Space Jam: A New Legacy), Omar Sy (Lupin), Aaron Pierre (OLD) and Mekai Curtis (Raising Kanan). For more on this issue, which hits newsstands on June 29, visit ESSENCE For more information on the virtual ESSENCE Festival of Culture Presented by Coca-Cola, visit ESSENCE’s Festival website.
All Photos: Brad Ogbonna