'insecure' actress amanda seales is educating hollywood about white privilege
She talks to i-D about confronting Caitlyn Jenner and navigating Hollywood as a black female comedian.
Photography Michael Schwartz/Getty Images
As the "married one" on Insecure, the character Tiffany Dubois is known for telling it like it is to her single friends. Yes, her words can be blunt, but they usually come from a place of undeniable truth. The same can be said about Amanda Seales, the actress, comedian, and former musician who plays the decisive diva. Case in point: in June, Amanda confronted Caitlyn Jenner about her white privilege during a dinner hosted by Katy Perry and live-streamed on YouTube. The surreal dinner, attended by a mishmash of disparate Hollywood figures like Margaret Cho and Sia, went viral and Amanda's beloved clapback to Caitlyn, "I'm not hostile, I'm passionate," is now being printed on t-shirts.
"That moment changed my life," Amanda says, adding that she'll never tire of talking about it. "I got introduced to the world at my best, which is me being honest about something that really needs to be said in a very poised, intellectual way… while looking fierce as hell!"
In fact, right before talking with i-D, Amanda had created buzz again for sharing her unfiltered thoughts. While talking with the infamously rowdy hosts of The Breakfast Club, she delivered the full, untold story behind her falling out with former tourmate Marsha Ambrosius (and that was just the beginning of the tea spilling). It was a little too easy to be honest during the interview, Amanda says. She knows the Breakfast Club gang from her days as a hip-hop radio host (she's also done stand-up comedy, hosted shows on MTV and VH1, and acted in the throwback 90s Nickelodeon show My Brother and Me). When we talk, the Breakfast Club interview has just been uploaded to YouTube and the comments — some good, some bad — are flooding in. "I played myself," says Amanda with an exaggerated groan. "I read the comments when I know you're never supposed to read the comments!" She slides down her seat in feigned exasperation.
But she's just joking around. Amanda is actually remarkably unbothered. Unbothered by her rise in popularity, unbothered by the critics, and unbothered by the obstacles she has faced — and will continue to face — as a black female comedian trying to make it in Hollywood. "A lot of people come to me and are like, 'You're not worried? You're not scared?' No. It's me being honest and truthful that has even gotten me to this point," she says with an assured nod. And her unique brand of honesty is working. She was recently in talks with networks to develop her live comedy show Smart, Funny, and Black (which has included guest appearances from Issa Rae) into a TV show. "I have so much more to do and say. This is only the tip of iceberg."
What can we expect from your character Tiffany this season, now that you're a series regular on Insecure ?
We're going to get a chance to learn about Tiffany and her life with her husband. I feel like this season she just gets to be more of a gal! Last season, I think she came off a little shady. She's not. I think she's just different from [the other characters'] way of living. She's judgy, but who isn't?
What do you think your character adds when it comes to representation of black women on screen?
Tiffany and her husband are a functioning couple. Issa said, "I want to have a couple that is functional on the show." I feel like, especially in the world of reality TV fuckery that we see, we don't get enough examples of folks just getting along. Conflict doesn't always have to come from a ratchet or hateful place. Tiffany speaks a certain truth, but it doesn't come from a hateful place. It's just who she is. We need that!
How does it feel to be on a confidently black show like Insecure right now?
I think what Insecure does is more based on demonstration than conversation. W.E.B. Du Bois once said that everything black people do is political. Just existing as a show on such a major network is challenging the status quo and power structure.
As a black female comedian trying to develop your own television projects, what obstacles do you come across?
There's the overarching problem of anytime you go into a room with a project [executives] are like, "Are white people going to like it?"
They explicitly ask that question?
Yeah. Recently, I've just gotten over it and been like, we're just gonna address this head on. I said, "Listen, this fear is not based on anything factual. If anything, there have been numerous examples to counter it. Black art and black popular culture are consumed all over the world. So… what are you talking about?" It's like, there's nothing more black in this world than N.W.A. and they're one of the biggest rap groups in the world.
Let's talk about your conversation with Caitlyn Jenner.
That moment changed my life. When you're an artist, you get to talk about what's important to you… but you're in someone else's space. You don't necessarily control the narrative. This time, I got the rare opportunity of being my 100% self.
What brought you into that group? Because when I was watching I was like—
—How did this happen? Katy was looking to promote the album in unique ways, because she's been having a lot of questionable moments too as of late. She wanted to show her desire to learn and not just be confidently ignorant. Because there a lot of people like that. When I was approached about it, they were like, We need someone who is gonna be honest and cut through the fat. Without someone like that there, it would've been nice and sweet. But the point of the entire dinner was to challenge each other, and a lot of those individuals don't want to. It's like, you're trying to be sweet about very sour issues.
Were you surprised by how things went? It was very tense.
Yeah, challenging or be challenged doesn't mean you have to be disrespectful or dismissive. Caitlyn scoffing when I said black people have had the government in their lives forever and that we have had a different experience in America, that's disrespectful. Her being dismissive by saying she doesn't want to be in the conversation because I'm being "hostile"… get out of here! What I have to say is just as important as what you have to say.
Right now, a lot of people might just know you as "outspoken." What's something the world would be surprised to know about you?
I'm a huge Harry Potter fan! Gryffindor for life.