Meagan Good Would Like Everyone to Shut Up About How She Looks: ‘I Love Being a Black Woman’
The actress opens up about her journey from child star to director of the new film “If Not Now, When?” being celibate before marriage, and those skin-bleaching allegations.
Meagan Good is keenly aware of the way people perceive her. In the early Aughts, after appearing as the love interest in the music video for 50 Cent’s “21 Questions,” she says she was branded “the sexy girl,” and placed in a number of “hip-hop” films like You Got Served, Waist Deep, and Stomp the Yard. However, since partnering with film producer/pastor DeVon Franklin and co-writing the 2016 bestseller The Wait, about their Christian faith and celibacy before marriage, she feels the public has cast her in a new role.
“People think, ‘Oh, that’s Meagan Good—she’s the sexy girl, she’s hip-hop culture, she was in the ‘21 Questions’ video, she doesn’t have a lot of depth so let’s keep her in these types of characters,” Good tells me. “People then shifted to, ‘Oh, she has a lot of depth. She wrote this book, her husband is a pastor.’ But I’m not vastly different. You just perceive me different.”
Those opinions of Good are likely to shift again with the release of If Not Now, When?, a film about four female friends whose lives have taken them in different directions since high school. There’s Deidre (Meagan Holder), who’s balancing raising a child with being a touring choreographer; the heavily pregnant Suzanne (Mekia Cox), whose picture-perfect marriage to an NFL player is falling apart; Patrice (Tamara Bass), a nurse who’s ready to love again; and Tyra (Meagan Good), a mother battling a nasty addiction to prescription drugs. The film is, more than anything, a celebration of Black sisterhood—a subject Good and Bass, who co-directed the film, know a little something about.
“We met when we were 16 and 19 on an audition, and around the second time we ran into each other I remember saying, ‘Hey Mom—can I go over to her house?’” recalls Good, now 39. “We soon became very close.”
It took the two friends four years to bring their directorial debut to fruition—a journey that included plenty of rejection from Hollywood producers and executives who somehow couldn’t wrap their heads around a drama that centers the experiences of four Black women.
“We had people who tried to discourage us, but we stuck with it and got it done,” says Good.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Good spoke to The Daily Beast about her Hollywood ride and why so many people have her all wrong.
Congratulations on your directorial debut. It seemed like a labor of love. How long did it take for you to make this?
It took us about four years to get it made. Once I read the script and fell in love with it, Tam and I went out, and there were a few places that wanted to make it, but we wanted to make it the way that we wanted to make it. We raised a little money on Kickstarter, but it wasn’t enough, and then we had a private investor come in and started to pitch the project to him and he said, “Stop—you had me at ‘Black women.’ I was raised by all women, and I do feel like this generation needs this story.” And that was that.
I’m curious what sort of feedback you were getting when you tried to pitch the project around town? Because not enough stories about Black women are being made these days.
It’s interesting. The general conversation was, “People don’t want to see a Black female drama.” And we would say, “That’s not true. We’ve had Waiting to Exhale and Set It Off. We just haven’t had it much in this generation.” Yes, we have ensembles and comedies, but we haven’t quite had anything that reminds me of the films we used to have in the ’90s, and we got a lot of pushback. But we thought, no, there’s an audience for this and we just need to find someone who believes in it the way we do.
The idea that people wouldn’t turn out for a “Black female drama” doesn’t seem to make much sense. It just seems ridiculous.
It’s crazy, right? I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told outright that I can’t play the lead in the movie because having a Black female lead is not going to sell overseas. I think that conversation has shifted over time but not dramatically. One of the biggest examples is Black Panther. People try to make excuses and say, “Well, that’s because it was a Marvel movie.” No. It’s because we haven’t had the opportunity to do something like that.
When you were told you couldn’t play the lead because having a Black female lead wouldn’t sell overseas, what movie was that for?
You know, I don’t want to say. It’s actually happened just off the top of my head on three occasions, but I’m sure it’s happened more than that. One that comes to mind immediately… I don’t want to say, because I was ultimately the lead in a film that he produced, but it was about nine years later. And he’s a lovely guy so I think he just believed it based on the myth, and the general perception around Hollywood.
I’m glad that perception’s getting blown up. Speaking of perception, when you talk about films that center on Black women, Hollywood has historically inundated us with images of Black women in dire circumstances—tragedy porn, so to speak. So it’s great that your film centers the stories of four middle-class Black women going through everyday struggles.
That’s a fact: It often is either the tragedy, or the cookout, or the comedy, or living in a certain ’hood—things that are culturally true experiences but can sometimes be caricatures and a lot of the time doesn’t represent every Black person. I grew up in Santa Clarita, California, and was one of one Black family growing up there. I dealt with a lot of racism and bullying, and coming into the industry, I was exposed to a lot of different people from a lot of walks of life. When I was 18 and I got my first serious boyfriend, he lived out in L.A., and when I went out there it was a culture shock for me, because I’d never seen that many Black people in once place. I was used to being one Black person in a sea of white people. I think that not every Black person’s experience as a human being is represented in film at the magnitude that it should be. And a lot of things that the film explores are not just Black women’s experiences, but I think it’s unique that you get to see it through their lens—women not being able to have babies, women not sure if they want to be a mother, women dealing with addiction and it’s not a drug you go buy off the street.
You mentioned bullying, and it plays a role in the film as well with your daughter’s character being bullied by her classmates. How did that affect you growing up?
Emotionally, growing up where I did, it did two things: It made me extremely determined and learn to almost be overconfident—to have a mindset and attitude of, “They just don’t see it yet, but they’ll see it one day”—and on the flip side, it gave me a deep desire to want people to love me, to see who I am, and to see the core of me, beyond what you see externally.
In the film, there’s a character—Suzanne—whose football player-husband cheats on her repeatedly. And you of course dated an NFL player [Thomas Jones], and the bad behavior of NFL players is something you’ve previously explored in The Game and on Law & Order: SVU. So in watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of what may have happened to you.
Well, mine was different in the sense that I’m not aware if I dealt with any infidelity. As far as I’m aware, he was faithful. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that it was dysfunctional, and emotionally abusive, and like two planets colliding in a way that wasn’t good for my mental and emotional health. It was one of those situations where the arguments would get so bad, I would find myself walking on the side of the freeway at three in the morning convinced that I was walking to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, even though I’m from California and don’t even know where that airport is. So, it was less like Suzanne and more emotionally traumatizing for me. I felt like I gave so much to that relationship. I was cooking, and cleaning, and doing all these things that I felt a wife should do—and I didn’t feel that it was reciprocated. I’d never done that before because of how my mom and dad separated when my sister and I were 4 and 6, so I grew up thinking, “You can’t need a man and you need to financially provide for yourself.” That was the first time I’d been extremely vulnerable to someone and allowed myself to depend on them, and when it was all said and done, I felt very foolish. I felt very much like, “See? That’s what happens when you let your guard down.” It’s something that I had to work with when I met my husband, because my guard was way up. It took us years to work through that.
In your book The Wait, you wrote about how there was a period of chastity that you underwent because your guard was up and you were wary of trusting other people.
I think I trusted people to a point. I definitely trusted friendships, but in relationships, I never trusted a guy to the point where he would have the power to hurt me. It was something I had to disable to even let my husband in. It was interesting—I had no idea that DeVon was celibate when God told me to be celibate, and I was concerned, because I thought, “What will happen if DeVon and I get together? Is this going to be an issue?” and a friend told me, “You know, he’s celibate, too.” I thought it was so interesting, that God would tell me to do something and then set it up to fall into place as it should. It was deep. It was definitely a leap of faith, and being obedient, and being like, “God, you’re gonna work this out.”
How did it work out for you?
Pretty damn good! We’re going to be in year nine of marriage and year 10 of being together, and he’s pretty much the best thing that’s ever happened to me—besides Jesus. And I feel very fortunate to not just love him but to like him, and to be excited about what it’s gonna be like when we retire, what it’s gonna be like when we’re old. I do believe that celibacy has been a key factor in how well it’s worked out because of what I was able to discover in the time that we were dating. It wasn’t about being dependent on someone because I’m connected to them physically; it was really about intimacy—mentally, emotionally, spiritually—and what we want out of life.
Eve’s Bayou is such a brilliant film—and an underappreciated one. That must have been a very challenging character to play at such a young age, a character who’s being abused by her father.
It’s one of the projects I’m most proud of. A lot of people don’t know that originally, when Kasi Lemmons was making the film, I was playing Eve. I was 10 in the table read, and really thought it would be the thing that would make people see that I could do drama. But it took four years for the funding to come, and by then I was just old enough to play Cisely. That project was transformative for my life as a young woman, and my career. I didn’t realize there weren’t a lot of female directors in general, and there were barely any Black female directors at that time. Because I was so young, I thought that was the way it was, and it made me believe that anything was possible. And the character was complex, because it wasn’t only her father abusing her but her coming on to her father and saying, “How do I save this family? How do I keep him here?” Figuring out her mindset the best way I could at 14 years old was very challenging and scary. Sam [Jackson] was just terrified, like, “I don’t want to do it!” It’s not as widely known as it should be, because I think it is a very special film. At the time, you didn’t see a lot of Black people with generational wealth on screen. I think it’s a cult classic.
I couldn’t agree more. You know, there’s a scene in If Not Now, When? that I wanted to ask you about. It’s the opening sequence, where the girls are in high school and trying to convince the star basketball player to go to prom with one of them, so they begrudgingly don skimpy outfits and perform a dance to a hip-hop track. It struck me as a commentary on the roles Black women in particular are often made to perform to satisfy the male gaze.
As a young woman, when I got to about 20 or 21, people still thought I was 16 years old. I was a child actor desperately trying to make that transition to adult roles, and one of the things that was a big key for me was doing 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” video. It provided a massive shift for people to suddenly see me as a young woman, a sexy woman, as someone who’s capable of being intimate with a grown man. Then, for the first part of my twenties, I really was embedded in hip-hop culture because of that video and how people perceived me. It’s interesting, because you do often have the Black woman being presented that way. I didn’t think about it that way when I shot the movie but I think that’s because it’s so culturally embedded that you don’t even think about it. It’s part of your experience as a young woman—trying to be seen—and it’s unfortunate, because you see the outgrowth of that now on social media with young women. It was a unique thing in my age bracket where you had the video vixen who was almost as famous as a supermodel within the Black community, gracing the covers of magazines, being paid thousands of dollars to host parties, and showing up to events. It’s a very interesting observation and one that I agree with.
You had the line “I love you like a fat kid love cake” rapped to you in that music video, so I gotta ask: How do you feel about that line?
[Laughs] I just thought that was really clever. I thought that was… a really good line.
But if someone said that to you in real life you’d probably be like, “What the fuck?”
Someone has said that to me in real life!
Was it used as a pick-up line?
More than once! Yeah…
Oh my God. I’m so sorry. You’d mentioned your faith earlier, and I’m curious when you decided to become a born-again Christian, and what it’s been like for you navigating Hollywood as a born-again Christian?
I got saved when I was 12. Because of where I grew up, there were a few people that did look out for me, and one of them was a young woman named Alicia. In junior high, she looked out for me whenever I would get bullied, and she ended up going to this youth group I ended up going to. We were at youth group one night—Alicia, a good friend of hers Barbara, her older sister Joachima, her friend Gina, and they were babysitting a little girl named Jessica, who was 4—and the five of them got into a car accident. Joachima died instantly; Gina died later that night; Jessica, the little girl, was put on life support and died about a week later; and Barbara had really bad brain damage. Alicia came out the least scathed but had to undergo a lot of surgeries and trauma. We went on a youth retreat and Alicia got saved. I was so confused as to why someone would get saved after what she’d went through but her example really influenced me, and I ended up getting saved too.
In the beginning, I was a straight-up Bible-stomper. Like, I remember telling my sister at 14 that I was disappointed that she had lost her virginity because I really didn’t want her to go to hell. I was that person. Nobody told me when they lost their virginity, and I was just extremely judgmental. And then I went through a season of feeling like I was trying to do everything right and couldn’t quite get it right, and then I was upset with God, and then I rededicated when I was 19. All the while, I was doing the cover of King magazine in an itty-bitty skirt and a bustier. If you read those interviews, I would always talk about Jesus but I don’t think people took notice of it until DeVon and I got together, because he’s a preacher and talking about my journey with celibacy blew up that conversation.
It sounds like people saw you posing on the cover of King in a bustier and therefore thought you couldn’t be born-again.
It’s interesting, because if you’re able to track down any interview I’ve made it a point to always mention God. That’s the reason for everything. I was never the best, the prettiest, or the most talented, but everything I’ve done is because God has allowed it. When DeVon and I got together, I really came under fire from a lot of Christians and folks in the church. First, it started off with the commentary of, “Californication actress marries Hollywood pastor.” Well, his day job is actually as a film producer, and I was on a seven-episode stint of Californication and have done so many other things, but of course you want to describe me that way. That was a precursor. And then it was the BET Awards, and the blue dress that I wore, and at the eleventh hour when they switched me from giving out a rap award to giving out a gospel award. And then I got home and saw that I was trending on Twitter with all these Christians just dragging me. I was like, “This is horribly painful because it’s the one community that’s supposed to be the safe community, and that represents the core of my identity, that’s attacking me.”
It was a full-on assault, and it went on for years—when I got dressed up for Halloween, or for any event. I never stopped being who I was, but I definitely had the trauma of “I know I’m going out in front of the firing squad.” I’m never going to stop having control over who I am if I feel I’m right with God, but I hate that I feel I’m bracing myself for impact. The next year for the BET Awards, they reached out to have me present, and the script was me and Nick Cannon, and he was going, “Hey Meagan, I see that you wore a different dress this year—a lot more covered up!” and I’m like, “Ha-ha-ha!” I called them and said, “I don’t feel like this is funny. For one, that was not a funny experience—it was traumatizing—and two, I’m not going to go up there and act like I’m apologizing to someone when I have nothing to apologize for.” Their response was: “You either say it or you don’t present.” So I was like, “OK, then I won’t present.” And when I got off the phone, I cried. I was like, “Would you do this to Gabrielle Union or Taraji? You have this perception of me, and it’s crazy that you want to hold me to what that should be.” I’m not going for it. No one will ever control what I do or how I do it; it will always be spirit-led, and how I feel God feels about it. It took me a long time to not feel so hurt and be so affected.
And as far as the backlash goes, there have recently been people accusing you of skin-bleaching. I saw that you said on Instagram it was due to an unlicensed aesthetician who gave you a bad skin product. That’s a pretty damning allegation, because they’re essentially accusing you of being ashamed of your Blackness.
I love being a Black woman. I love even the struggle. I remember being in my early twenties and looking at some of my friends who were very frustrated with the commentary of, “You may not play the lead because you’re Black, and that might not sell our movies,” or this or that. I thought, “I can be bitter, or I can be better, and I can accept that when I accomplish something, I haven’t been given a damn thing. Nothing’s been given to me. I’ve worked tooth and nail for every single thing that God has allowed.” I take pride in that.