By Taroue Brooks
Ester wants to be seen, deeply seen. We all do. It’s woven into the fabric of our existence. An existence that, unfortunately, doesn’t allow everyone to be seen in the same way. Issa Rae Presents ‘King Ester’ is a remarkable, hit web series that exhibits how beautiful Ester, a trans woman from New Orleans, and girls like her genuinely are. Written and directed by Dui Jarrod, the series explores the intersection of race, poverty, and family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Executive Produced by Angelica Ross, the much-celebrated series continues to defy expectations. The Daytime Emmys recently announced its Pre-Nominations, which shortlisted the series lead Rowin Amone in the Outstanding Lead Actress category, as well as Janet Hubert, in her heart wrenching supporting performance. Additionally, the series made the shortlist for the Outstanding Digital Drama Series.
Heart & Soul caught up with Mrs. Hubert, series creator Dui Jarrod, and actress Dane Figueroa Edidi to find out their thoughts on the Daytime Emmys Pre-Nominations and the road ahead.
What keeps you all motivated in such a competitive industry?
JH: I don’t believe in competition, what is yours will be yours, I have always followed the belief that- what is meant for you, will be yours. The cream always rises to the top no matter how you shake it. The business has changed. It is no longer about real talent, but thankfully there are those who still breakthrough with REAL talent, and not just social media followers. I am at the age where I don’t really give a damn. I do what I want now, not what I have to do. I have four pension plans now. I am good to go wherever I want to go.
DJ: I agree with Janet in that I don’t look at creativity as a competition. I more so see it as my purpose. In remaining in line with that purpose, I stay motivated by the many different stories that I want to tell. I continue to travel and experience things. That allows me to remain open and energized to write and direct.
DFE: This is a tough question. Mmm, I guess I would say what keeps me motivated is clarity of purpose. Part of that clarity helps me assess when is the time for me to rest, when is the time for me to surrender to the Muse, when is the time to pursue a certain project or write a certain play, and when to say, “no.” Also, surrounding myself with other fierce artists/ beings who are invested in liberation and community—knowing that I have the right to agency and autonomy. And a desire to craft a better world.
Tell us about your role in the series ‘King Ester.’
DFE: I play Patra. She is Ester’s sister, coworker, and advisor. She is a nurturer. What we gather from the dialogue between her and Ester; she is the caretaker of her mother. She is a sex worker who been working for a long time, and by the end of the series I feel she finally believes there is a chance to acquire a better life somewhere (whether through sex work or other means), but her willingness is activated through a desire to survive. I was also a story consultant on the series.
KE: Mignon, is a raw, living in the raw world kind of mother, far from the uppity mom I usually play. She is dying because she smokes and drinks herself to death. She knows these things are bad for her, but she does not give a shit. She has lived her life according to her. She loves her children no matter what people think. I identified with her because I will kill for my son…in real life to protect him. Her daughter is trans, and she does not care- like a mamma bear, she will always love her and be there for her daughter. She just wants them to love each other as brother and sister, to be family. She is gritty, and I loved playing her. I like roles that challenge my ability to do dialects, and this one was one of the most difficult I have had to date. I am an actress. I am not afraid to be ugly, to go without any makeup. I was honored to play this character for the brilliant writer, team, and production, that is ‘KING ESTER.”
DJ: I had the pleasure of writing, directing, and executively producing the series. And it was a pleasure. I’m not asserting there weren’t hardships, but the fellow producers, actors, and crew brought such beautiful energy that the difficulties almost don’t matter. It has been an incredible journey, and all the recognition has been spellbinding.
How does it feel to have the buzz around ‘King Ester’ being Pre-Nominated for The Daytime Emmys?
DJ: It feels affirming! The Emmys are The EMMYS! It’s a massive platform for any creator to stand on, and in many ways, it can become THE game changer for your career. Look at Lena Waithe and James Bland. I’ve worked hard as hell and sacrificed a lot of shit to get where I am. I want to be nominated. I want to win. I’m grateful I’m no longer afraid to say that.
JH: Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really care about accolades and awards. I want this for the production team. I really would like to see Rowin win, she went there, to a place many seasoned actresses would never go. She was warm and giving- I want this for her. Call me jaded, fine, but I am past the point of caring, I know my worth. ‘King Ester’ gave me a chance when Hollywood wouldn’t. I am honored that people like my work, but there is no competition, we are all winners already just having been on the shortlist.
DFE: To me it feels incredible. Everyone who came together to pour their gifts into the making of ‘King Ester’ came with open hearts, a knowing that we were giving birth to something magical, and a willingness to be vulnerable within the making of said magic. There is no other series like ‘King Ester.’ And shout out to my sister Rowin Amone (Ester) upon whose shoulders the series rest and on whose axis everything turned. One of my hopes is that it helps us get a season 2 as well as opens doors for this incredible cast of actors.
Janet, tell us about your children’s book and where it can be purchased.
JH: My children’s book is called ‘JG AND THE BC Kids.’ We are in an animation deal with Toonz Animation in India, as co-producers to the project along with Ericka Nicole Malone Entertainment. Script by Mark Young, writer of ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven 2.’ I am excited as this is really my baby that I have tried to bring to our kids for over 20 years. The movie will be based on my book ‘A Sneaker Feature.’
What advice would you give someone that desires to be an actor?
JH: Have a backup, times have changed, be skilled in your craft…study your craft, make sure you are skilled in singing, dancing, and acting, be a true triple threat, you will work more. Unless you get lucky and get fast-tracked. Don’t do reality TV; you will have to sell your soul. Never compromise your dignity. Above all, don’t give up, and don’t sell your soul to reality TV whatever you do, you will never gain respect from the acting community.
DJ: I would say, know why you want to be an actor. My friend Rhavynn Drummer once said, “Do you want to do the work, or do you want to see yourself in the work?” That shit was profound to me. When I audition actors now, I see it. I know the difference between people who earnestly want to do the work and those who simply want to be seen. I never cast those people. There was no pretense on the set of ‘King Ester.’ None at all. All the actors were about the work from Martin Bradford to Lindsey G. Smith to LJ Scott to Omar Washington. The focus was on the work!
Janet, tell us about your voice over projects.
JH: I was doing voice work long before becoming a public figure: Doritos, MTV, Con Edison, Discovery Channel, etc. It is wonderful to be able to go back from whence I came. To have clients choose me for my voice work and not be saddled with celebrity. Who I am has nothing to do with being chosen for a voice spot. I will not tell you what spots I am doing because I don’t feel the need to do so. I will let you figure that out. I love doing character voices, and I do all kinds of accents, French, Spanish, Irish, West Indian, African, etc. Clients don’t have a clue who I am, and I love that. You can also have a broken leg, and they don’t care, no worries about aging, dressing the part, no having to jump through hoops for directors and casting folks. It is freedom, and I love it. I did so many on-camera commercials in my time as well. Primarily, McDonald’s, Burger King, Microsoft, and many many more. My latest account that I am very proud of is for Bayer’s THIS IS WHY WE SCIENCE campaign.
Tell us about working with Issa Rae.
DJ: We worked with Jahbrille Henning and Rich Stevenson, who work with on the digital side of their organization for the distribution of the series. Early on, it was clear that Color Creative was adamant about highlighting diverse voices and using their existing platforms to bring new stories to the forefront. I’m stunned I became one of those voices.
I have a profound respect for anyone willing to use their access and agency to lift another creator. I feel the same about Angelica Ross and Janet Hubert. They didn’t have to work with us on this. But they connected to work and the purpose, and everyone wins if even one person’s perspective is elevated by watching the series. I appreciate Issa and her team. They’re just as excited as we are about the Daytime Emmys Pre-Nominations and shortlisting. Whatever success is garnered, we whole-heartedly share alongside them. I encourage everyone to subscribe to their Patreon account. There are a lot of valuable resources and information for creators there.
Furthermore, go check out ‘King Ester’ on Issa Rae Presents Youtube Channel. The story still moves me. I’m certain it will do the same for you. Thank you, Taroue and Heart & Soul Magazine, for sharing our voice.
Dane, what are you doing with your time while we are experiencing this pandemic?
DFE: Mostly, I am writing, writing, writing. I have written a new play called Between Time about two people in Baltimore whose windows are separated by a small alleyway. They fall in love during the Quarantine. I also wrote a new 10-minute play that was micro commissioned by Woolly Mammoth called ‘The Diaz Family Talent Show.’ I am still working on my latest novel that takes place in the year 4000 called ‘She of the Fallen Earth’—and prepping for the release of ‘The Black Trans Prayer Book.’ I am doing lots of research about sex workers in Baltimore from the 1700s to the early 1900s.
And I am literally hoping a lot and allowing myself to be angry when I want to about the state of the world and letting myself work through my sadness when I need to, and I am imagining a lot—a better life for us all.
‘King Ester’ has made it to the ‘Blue Ribbon’ round of the Daytime Emmys, please support ‘King Ester’ in the following categories:
OUTSTANDING DIGITAL DRAMA SERIES (Category 2) – Issa Rae Presents ‘King Ester’
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DIGITAL DRAMA SERIES (Category 29) – Rowin Amone
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DIGITAL DRAMA SERIES (Category 33) – Janet Hubert
OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DIGITAL DRAMA SERIES (Category 50) –
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DIGITAL DRAMA SERIES (Category 57) – Dui Jarrod
Emmys & Television Academy members, please don’t forget ESTER!
#emmyforester #shedeserves #daytimeemmys2020
For more information, please ‘King Ester’ @kingesterseries across all platforms.
Dui Jarrod Screenwriter. Filmmaker. Content Creator.www.duijarrod.com
King Ester“Before the reign, came the rain.”www.kingester.com
BET’s Brooklyn. Blue. Sky.”Today’s Forecast: Shade”www.bet.com/brooklynbluesky