Marsai Martin on Growing Up in the Spotlight and Finding Her Voice (Exclusive)
By Latifah Muhammad
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As Hollywood’s youngest executive producer, Marsai Martin is doing pretty well for herself. The teen launched her own production company, Genius Entertainment, and landed a first look studio deal with Universal Pictures under which her 2019 comedy, Little, was released. Martin is also shopping around an unscripted series on “trailblazing” Black women -- and she’s still in high school.
For the latest episode of ET's Unfiltered, the 16-year-old Black-ish star dished on her favorite makeup looks while speaking candidly about growing up in the spotlight, and finding her voice.
“I’m blessed to actually have the platform that I have,” Martin tells ET. “Being a Black girl, even in [a] white, male-dominated industry, you have to use your voice. You have to speak your mind for your audience.”
Having spent most of her life in front of the camera, as Martin gets older, she’s hatching her own ideas, and paving a way for other young Black creatives.
“Back when I was in Texas, I didn’t see young Black girls who looked like me. I just thought they weren’t allowed to be on screen, and I don’t want anyone to feel that way,” Martin points out, before adding that she wants people to “really use their talents for the greater good” without worrying about “what they look like and how people will see them.”
Raised in the tiny town of Little Elm, Texas, Martin showed a talent for performing as a toddler. If you’ve seen her adorable throwback performances of Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” or Drake’s “I'm on One,” it’s no wonder that she landed an agent at just five years old. Martin moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 2013, but she hasn’t been blinded by the bright lights of Tinseltown.
“I feel like I’m still the same me and that’s what I love about myself,” she says. “Going into Black-ish and national commercials, and even pitching Little at a young age, I was, like, nine or 10, and honestly I feel like at that age, I just didn’t care about how people would look at me.”
“I had a vision and I just went towards it,” she continues. “I just saw it as a fun game. Even pitching Little, I was like, ‘I’m just talking to my homies... the heads of Universal.’ I really loved how back then, my mind was just carefree, fearless, do whatever without hesitation, and I feel like that’s how people should be these days. I feel like everyone is so on [their] toes, and don’t really want to use their platform because there’s ‘cancel culture.’ I want to do things because they make me happy, or make me feel good, and came from my headspace. I feel like everyone should think that way.”
Before she landed on a hit show, Martin didn’t see much representation, or diversified depictions of Black women. For that reason, she feels it's so important to tell Black stories.
“People are really realizing that Black women don’t get the same recognition as the ‘normal’ standard of beauty,” she says. “‘Normal’ is everyone, honestly. For me, it's very important to have a diverse cast to where everyone sees themselves in anything that they do.”
Martin says she's grateful to be on Black-ish with Black hairstylists and makeup artists, and to be “working with people that really care about Black women.” Before Black-ish, Martin’s mother, Carol, doubled as her fashion stylist and hairdresser. According to her mom, Martin was expected to show up to set with her hair already done because studios didn’t care enough to hire Black hairstylists. The hair issue is one that several Black actresses have addressed before, though it seems that Hollywood has yet to fully take notice.
In the six years since Black-ish premiered, Martin has gone from a relative newcomer to blazing her own trail (Beyoncé even wished her happy birthday this past August), and she hopes to build an iconic career.
“I do feel like I’m on my way to being a legend," she says. "A legend means leaving a mark on the world and people not necessarily, like, knowing your name but your impact has changed their everyday life.”
Undaunted by the negative critiques that come with being in the public eye, Martin feels “most beautiful” without makeup, and spending time with loved ones.
“It makes me feel proud to be who I am," she explains. “That’s what comes with beauty as well, being proud of who you are. Not regretting anything. Just really being yourself.”