A lot can happen in two years. Loved ones can be lost, and new connections can be made. A little over two years ago, I was shuffling back and forth between my grandma’s house and my boyfriend’s apartment on a freelance gig. Two years ago, in October, to be exact, I interviewed Naturi Naughton- Lewis.
As a fresh set of calendar pages rip away, Naturi and I cross paths again. So much has changed, and I anticipated her to be as sweet and humble as I remembered. After exchanging salutations, I couldn’t help but congratulate her on all she’s accomplished in the time since we last spoke. From her popular role in Power to jumping into the director’s seat and becoming a wife in the wedding of her dreams, two years looks good on Naturi.
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“Two years later, it’s so funny. I met my prince; I’m a wife now. So much of my life actually has changed in the last two years,” the Power actress reflected. “I just want to promote growth in all of us. If we can continue to be kind and to grow as human beings, that’s all the job that we need to do, really, at the end of the day. No matter what your career is, just keep growing.”
Actors Gon’ Act
When I asked her about the most empowering role she’s had the fortune of taking on, I had an idea of what her response would be before she shared it with me. “Well, pun intended, Power has been one of the most, I would say, powerful projects,” Naughton-Lewis said confidently. I knew it.
In addition to its cultural impact in television, and pop culture, she loves how the show has shifted the tectonic plates in the crust of entertainment as a whole and the challenged representation of Black folks in a show. Above all, Naughton-Lewis has a particular passion and special place in her soul for her character Tasha St. Patrick.
“Power also gave, I think a lot of people an opportunity to see a brown-skinned girl being a leading lady who was sexy, who was strong, who was a mother, and a beautiful wife,” she said. “I feel like that show changed my life, but also really influenced a lot of the culture today.”
The power of Tasha’s character transcends off-screen and into the hearts of many. Naughton-Lewis even recalled a few times when fans approached her about living through Tasha’s storyline on the show — a ride-or-die mother fiercely navigating life post-romance with Ghost. Through it all, Ms. St. Patrick always made her presence known and is never afraid to show some teeth for the people she loves.
“She’s a badass, and she, I think, empowered a lot of women,” Naughton-Lewis explained. “Tasha is just the strongest, fiercest mama bear that you could have around. When it came to her relationships, at the end of the day, family was everything, and she was a fighter for her family. Tasha is the ultimate, I think, wife, the ultimate mother, the ultimate Black woman who holds it down when it comes to the family – and I think that definitely was powerful.”
Naughton-Lewis found it remiss if she gave Tasha St. Patrick all the accolades without giving the same energy to Courtney A. Kemp, producer, showrunner, and creator of what we know today as the Power Universe. “The role was written to be, I think, fierce and unapologetic, which I love about Courtney Kemp. She really gave Tasha a voice. She wasn’t just a prop; she wasn’t just a pretty side piece. She wasn’t just a peripheral story as the wife. She was a centerpiece, and I think making that choice makes her powerful in itself.”
She continued, “A lot of times in television shows, we see women, particularly Black women, as one-dimensional. Tasha was strong, but she was also vulnerable. She was sexy, but she also had insecurities. She was a fighter, but she also was very loving and nurturing and cooked breakfast every morning for the family. She had so many different layers, and that’s powerful, especially on television as a Black woman.”
The Power of Naturi
Owning her on-screen roles comes naturally to Naughton-Lewis, but one thing that she claimed to be one of the most challenging roles she’d ever had to step into was motherhood.
During the interview, the actress-turned-director apologized for having to answer a few calls from her daughter Zuri’s school. After speaking to the school nurse, Naturi returned to our call, ready to resume the interview in her power talent mode. Still, I had assured her that family was always a priority and to move how she needed to unapologetically.
“Something happened during gym class and the school nurse, [and] I just had to take that,” she explained. “My daughter’s in kindergarten, and there’s always some instances happening in kindergarten, falls and stuff, but thankfully she’s okay.”
When asked about what legacy she wants to leave behind for her beautiful daughter, Naughton-Lewis started by noting that raising a five-year-old Black girl to feel powerful in a world that was created for Black women and girls to fail is “crucial,” to say the least. “It’s not always easy because even now we struggle with making sure the images of brown girls and brown boys are positive and making sure that we are careful about what those projections are,” she told me.
Naughton-Lewis and her husband, Two Lewis, shared that they work together as parents and stepparents to let Zuri know that she has a voice and is always encouraged to use it. By creating this safe space within the household, she is making sure that young Zuri can stand ten toes down on her own opinions and thoughts as opposed to being easily influenced or impressed by what the world expects of her or wants her to think, say, and do in the racist, sexist clog machine known as America. From her beautiful brown skin to the curls and coils in her hair, Naturi always wants to remind Zuri of the beauty and power she inherited just by being born a Black girl.
“I let her know that she’s her own princess, and she doesn’t have to look like anything else that’s out there,” she added. “It is challenging at times, I’m not going to lie, because there’s so much commercialism that celebrates other races and not necessarily African-American culture. So we have to do the work on our own. We have to do the work on our own, and let me tell you, it is work, especially with girls.”
Proudly boasting about Zuri being “so smart” and “so confident,” Naturi consistently encourages her daughter’s opinions and engages in conversations to continue to flex her confidence as a young Black girl with a voice that deserves to be heard. “I would rather that than she be just this influential person who doesn’t have her own spine. I think she will be okay, and all we have to do is continue to guide her steps and keep God in it,” she said.
“I make sure that Zuri knows how beautiful she is, but really not just on a physical level. It’s about your heart being beautiful and how you treat people. We talk about kindness and how to be a good person, and that is what makes you the prettiest and most beautiful princess in the world. That’s what I want her to know.”
Ironically, as powerful as she’s gearing up her daughter to be, she shared with me that motherhood itself made her feel powerless when she was thrown into it without instruction. As if life could ever truly prepare you to be a parent, right?
“A moment in my life when I didn’t feel powerful was probably when I gave birth to my daughter. That was crazy. In 2017, I felt strong, but it’s a powerless feeling becoming a mother and a very, very sacrificial feeling – and a lot of people don’t talk about that,” she noted of the year that Zuri was brought into the world. In addition to not going where you want to go and doing what you want to do when you want to do it, Naturi also admitted to feeling a sense of powerlessness in her relationship because of her inability to control how her partner loved her and what they did to demonstrate it.
Describing her first few months of motherhood as “really scary,” Naturi wasn’t too confident about the “emotional aspects” of being a first-time mom, and what to expect for the future of this tiny human she was now responsible for with her entire being. “Becoming a mother is a choice to surrender oneself, which is not a powerful feeling. You want to be in control of yourself, your life, how much you sleep, how good you feel, how much you get to work out, where you get to travel, when you get to take a job,” she sounded off passionately.
“Sometimes you have to say no to certain jobs because you are beholden to someone who needs you. This is why I applaud parents, particularly motherhood because you have to surrender your body, heart, mind, time, and spirit in a different way than a father would. I definitely applaud people who make that choice. When I made that choice to become a mother, and this may not be popular to say, it was the moment when I realized that I had lost a lot of power, but I gained so much. You do lose a lot of the power to choose the life you want. You are now surrendering yourself to a whole human being, and that in itself is the most vulnerable feeling a person could have, but it actually makes you more human.”
Naturi’s New Role
Naughton has big plans this year and doesn’t plan on playing small. In all aspects across family, love, and growth in both personal and professional avenues, she expressed that she has a good feeling that 2023 would be a “powerful” one. Included in her plans is tapping into the director role and womaning her own production company. Particularly for Black and brown folks, Naughton-Lewis wants to use her platform to give light to the non-monolithic experience and highlight the stories that we fight so hard to be heard. Coming down the pipeline as an opportunity to tell these stories is a film titled 88, co-starring Brandon Victor Dixon, which made its debut at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Naughton-Lewis stars as Maria Jackson, the wife of Femi Jackson, who is worried about her son’s safety due to racism in America.
While discussing her 2022 directorial debut in Behind the Smile, the petite beauty honed in on the power she feels empowering other actors and actresses.
“It was really empowering to help other actors and guide them on the journey to a great performance. A lot of times when you’re in front of the camera, you’re worried about, ‘how do I look? Is this okay? Am I doing this right?’ I released all that pressure and need for approval, particularly physically. Sitting in the director’s chair gave me an opportunity to be in gratitude of all the different departments and all the different pieces of the puzzle in order to make a great film or TV show.”
“When I was on Power for all those years, I learned that being a director is hard work. I shadowed directors like Rob Hardy, one of my favorites, and asked questions while learning a lot from directors and seeing how each department is your teammate. You’re the director, but you’re really a collaborator, and as long as you are working together with others well — I think that’s the part that I really appreciated when I directed my first short film. I learned a lot. I also appreciated guiding actors because I understand what it’s like to be the actor, but I also now get a chance to be a part of a collaborative team behind the camera, like the DP, the gaffer, the lights, the sound department, and the set design. Every department is your teammate, and it just makes you even more appreciative of how to make a film.”
The Power In Submission
While being a boss can have its perks, and no one can deny the feeling of power in purpose, there’s also power in taking a step back. After being in the entertainment industry for most of her life, it’s easy to believe that Naughton-Lewis has experienced a bought of exhaustion, frustration, or even overall annoyance with the industry at large.
But what do you do when you’re in the center of it all, and you don’t feel like you have the time to stop being powerful? What about those moments when you feel like your back is against the wall and no one is there to pull you out from under? Where does the strength come from?
According to Naugton-Lewis, “Being powerful doesn’t mean doing something. Strength can look like surrender. “Sometimes you got to be like, ‘All right, you got it, God. Whatever you take me through, there’s a reason and purpose.’ There’s also purpose in our struggles so remind yourself of that. I’ve been kicked out of a girl group, 3LW, and I didn’t know why God took me through that, and I was very, very hurt, but He let me go through that. I was depressed. I didn’t feel beautiful. I felt like my career was over. Best thing that could have happened to me, but God knows, and I didn’t. Again, I had to surrender to that moment. Then I went to college and became a regular girl, and that was what I needed in my life.”
She continued, “If I didn’t go through that breakup of the group, I wouldn’t have known there’s so much more to me with everything that happened throughout my career and life. I have a daughter from a previous relationship that didn’t work out. I was devastated and heartbroken about that, but that breakup was the best thing that could have happened to me because I got the blessing of my daughter, and I also became available to meet my husband two years later. Sometimes just allow the pain and struggle to happen. Everyone’s like, “Oh, we got to get through the pain. We got to do stuff.” No, allow it to be where it is, and then you can work your way through, but sometimes it’s necessary to be the better person.”
And grounded in her power, she has remained. Naturi Naughton-Lewis has done it all, from being in a top-charting girl group to the leading lady on a record-breaking television series. Still, the most admirable attribute of her star power is her resilience. Her storytelling has never waivered, and her resilience has never lessened. Throughout it all, no one has ever questioned where she pulls it from, but if she has the strength to remain powerful on and off-screen.
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