Desreta Jackson…Young Miss Celie

Actress Desreta Jackson

Onyx Contributor Dr. La’Veda Wallace-Page:

Recently, I had the most remarkable opportunity of accessing the mind, heart, & experiences of one Desreta Jackson; the actress who masterfully personified Alice Walker’s tormented & distressed young Celie in the movie The Color Purple.  Her representation of the issues plaguing her character concreted the circumstances & context of the film and set the stage for countless “tour de force” cast performances.  The film went on to receive 20 nominations & win 14 wins from prestigious organizations including The Academy Awards & The Golden Globes.  Her portrayal of the subjugated Young Miss Celie made her face one of the most recognizable in the world.

From a purple colored vulnerability to her black silk voice & every place in between, Desreta Jackson is indeed a self-actualized Icon.

Wallace-Page:  Desreta, how does your story begin?

Jackson:  I was born in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.  At the age of nine I came to the U.S. with my mother.  After we arrived in Los Angeles, we lived on skid row until my mother was able to save enough money for an apartment in Watts, California.  Eventually we did, and to avoid involvement in gang activity, my mother enrolled me in acting classes.  After only a few weeks of classes, I got my first audition with producer Reuben Cannon which led to a screen test with Steven Spielberg.  He fell in love with my detailed interpretation of Celie and cast me immediately.

Wallace-Page:  Having been a part of such significant work as the The Color Purple, what changed for you?

Jackson:  I’ve noticed that when a script or a role calls for strong acting abilities or requires the capabilities to show effective emotional range, my name is mentioned.

Here’s something else I wanted to share.  When the film first came out many people, even in the industry, did not know that it was me [as Celie] in the first part of the film.  I always assumed that it was because the casting & directing were so great.  Whoopi & I did look very similar and the transition from my role to Whoopi Goldberg‘s role was excellent.

Wallace-Page:  And the movie still continues to be a significant moment in your life, as I hear you recently received the 2011 Prestige Award for your contribution to African American Film History.

Jackson:  It was an honor to be among some great legends that day.  I acted more like a fan than an honoree.

Wallace-Page:  Let’s pause here for a moment & take another look at your portrayal of young Celie:

The Color Purple

Wallace-Page:  Let’s jump ahead & talk about some of the work you are doing now.

Jackson:  Well, I just finished producing & directing a commercial with a core cast and crew of 30 people.  I hired a wonderful seasoned DP who had been in the industry for over 20 years & in our production meetings he was concerned if I would be able to shoot the project in the first time frame I suggested along with wearing so many different “hats”.  He wanted my shot list early to work out any additional shots he thought we may have problems with, so I sent it to him on the day of production.  Not only did we have to admit he didn’t need to alter any of my shots, but we came under time by wrapping 20 minutes early.  So, yes I picked up a few tricks from Spielberg & of course going to film school helped as well.  The commercial is set to air for Christmas.

Wallace-Page:  You have a new film in the works, Along The Dirt Road…tell us about that.

Jackson:  This is one of those RARE positive strong black woman roles where you can understand her choices & fight along with her on standing her ground.  The film story is about an American family that is torn apart by betrayal, abandonment, & infidelity living in a small Louisiana town during the 1960s.  The husband & father, Raymond Jackson brings home a new born son that is conceived from an adulterous relationship.

Shortly after, he vanishes, leaving his wife Angela to raise their daughter Rae & his “love child.”  While Rae is faced with the overwhelming reality of growing up without her father, Angela struggles to raise two children on her own during a difficult time of racial tension in the South.  I want to bring Angela’s plight & strength to life.  I want people to see her & understand her on a 3 dimensional level as they were able to do with Celie.

Wallace-Page:  And how did you come by this project?

Jackson:  I was contacted by letter directly from the producer of Along The Dirt Road, Danny Pearson, asking me to consider the role & providing me with the full script.  He made me feel as if I was the only actor in the world that could do her (Angela) justice (of course that might not be true) but that’s how he made me feel…lol.  Being a best-selling book & so beautifully written, I saw the love & quality of what was being put together, thus here we are now.

Wallace-Page:  I hear in that statement a departure from the shallow vanities of Hollywood and a return to the kind of work that resounds through the ages, the very elements that seduced us all early in life.

So let’s move on to another area of your life, in addition to being a film icon, we can also add entrepreneur to that list.  So let’s talk about BlackSilk Products.  Tell us about the vision for that.

Jackson:  Shortly after I did The Color Purple I had a run in with a delusional fan.  It was so life changing  traumatic for me that it made me a very private person.  Even to this day I don’t do many red carpet events, press, etc.  I just wanted to act & be left alone but being a Hollywood actress & not liking attention is an oxymoron.  I was already unhappy with the way Hollywood was casting actresses with my complexion so the decision to leave wasn’t  hard.  I decided to pursue the other talents I loved.  Such as braiding hair, which I’ve been doing professionally since I was nine years old.  Therefore, hair itself was always a significant part of my life.

Wallace-Page:  What is your goal with the company?

Jackson:  BlackSilk developed because i would experiment making my own shampoos, conditioners, & hair oil until one day I invented a combination that allowed me to press my daughter’s hair silky straight & shiny without going to a salon.  It was also so easy; her naturally thick hair wasn’t a two day event anymore!  I was suddenly washing & pressing her hair in 20 to 30 minutes with ease.

I began using it with my clients & they loved to use it just before their hair was braided.  We would notice that the dirt didn’t build up as much and they lost less hair when it came out of the braids.  We knew we had something special but didn’t quite know how we could bring it to market without losing control of my product, brand quality, & the brand itself.  For us, it was a priority over publicity.

Wallace-Page:  You were also recognized by Innovate Health & Technology Breakthroughs for your contributions to helping improve the health of African American hair & have been called the new Madame C.J. Walker of the millennium.

Jackson:  It makes us feel like we are doing something right to be recognized.  We still have a long ways to go to become a household name but I do see it happening soon & holding its legacy on its own for generations to come.  We are not just another hair care line that pushes out whatever is the next hot topic of the month.  We carry some with all natural products to some with low chemical density but they’re all designed to solve a problem from the core and not be a quick fix.  We don’t believe in perms or harsh chemicals and we will never have it on our line.

Wallace-Page:  In our conversations you were telling me about some of your philanthropy.  I do understand that necessity for us to give back, so tell us about your motivations for making a difference.

Jackson:  I lived in Watts, California before I did The Color Purple and here after the success of the film made me financially secure, I didn’t move out of my old neighborhood.  Consequently, I would see two sides of life everyday.  Quincy Jones would send a limo & I would attend events or go hang out with his kids:  QDIII, Kidada etc, & Oprah would call and ask if I was interested in flying out and doing some charity event here & there.  When I came home sometimes I would have to fight my way to my house or defend my little sisters.  I fought so much I got damn good at fighting.  But I didn’t only fight in the streets.  I would fight for registration, rights, & community developments; it went to the point that I started investing my own money & building new homes in my own neighborhood.  Then getting involved with organizations like Beyond The Shelter, a homeless program, and working with the social workers there to transition their people into the homes I built.  As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

Wallace-Page:  Let’s talk about the fighting, this was amazing to me…is it true that you made history by becoming the first woman to rank up to 1st Degree Black Belt in the ICMAA of Mixed Martial Arts Combat?

Jackson:  Yes.  I have been studying the art form of Kempo Karate since I was 16 with the BKF (Black Karate Federation) under Mr. Rahh, Charles Rhodes, & the legendary Cejo Steve Muhammad whom trained & sparred with the famous Bruce Lee.  When my teacher Mr. Rhodes became a 10th degree Grand Master it was required for him to start his own organization and then he started the Inner City Mix Martial Arts in 1994.  Since then no woman has been ranked to 1st degree black belt until April 18, 2013 when I became a black belt.

Wallace-Page:  So you are the kind of sister not to be messed with.  I’d like to see “Mister. M-I-S-T-E-R, MISTER” try something now or anyone else for that matter.

It’s our tradition to close out with words of wisdom, so what would you say to others looking to be the next household name or a major player in his/her field?

Jackson:  My advice for my fellow thespians, “Stop acting to live & start living to act.”  I resolutely believe “One will never find a great role until one becomes a great actor.”  To my fellow directors & producers remember, our decisions can & will shape the conscious and unconscious mind of our future generations.  Don’t allow money, ego, or greed as well to be our motivator but the desire to bring forth just & honest work and in the process we might just stumble onto something GREAT!  With all these things, success & notoriety will be ones rewards.

Wallace-Page:  Thank you Desreta for you time & insights.  We wish you the best with your endeavors.

We have seen the commitment & intensity that she brings to every project that she undertakes.  I’m certain we can expect no less from this new movie.  Find a way to show your love to Desreta & support her.

You can find more information on her new feature at:
Along The Dirt Road

Or at:
Along The Dirt Road Film

To find out more about her company go to:
BlackSilk Products

Dr. La’Veda Wallace-Page
 Sickle Siren
 Navigating Sickle Cell

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