Marsai Martin of Blackish fame is the youngest executive producer of a major motion picture and has a development deal with Universal Pictures. The teen shares her secret to remaining calm, and one of dream projects, with CHICA.
Given that she just inked a deal with Universal Pictures to develop scripted projects at 14 years old, one might expect Marsai Martin to behave a bit more like her character on the TV show Blackish, the self-assured, witty, no-nonsense Diane Johnson, an internet meme machine some call the best part of the show.
At the moment when she became the youngest executive producer in Hollywood, did the thought ever cross her mind, even for a second, that she was kinda, sorta in the process of conquering the world? We half expected a dry, casual Diane-style “I know I’m dope” type response.
Instead it was preternaturally mature and wise: “I try not to get to into my own head about it, because this is all just blessings. One step at a time.” It’s her friends and family that keep her grounded, she says, but she admits that it’s also mental thing. It would be easy for her to think “I’m all that,” instead she thinks, “This can all go away.”
Speaking of being grounded. She’s 14, so we had to ask if she’d ever been the usual kind of teenage grounded, aka punished. “Well, I don’t ever get grounded to be honest, because my parents are always with me. I’m home-schooled. The majority of my day is mostly with adults. So I don’t even have time to even be rebellious, which I don’t be rebellious, you know, ’cause I know what will happen.”
Let’s face it. She’s not a normal teen. But she’s not even a normal child actor and star. She has creative control of her projects — starting with the big-budget studio movie Little, in theaters April 12 — which she developed over three years and helped to cast. Little stars Regina Hall as Jordan, a powerful but nasty tech boss who lands on the wrong side of some black girl magic and ends up in her 13-year-old body. Issa Rae, of Insecure fame, plays her long-suffering assistant.
Marsai first pitched the movie when she was just 10. While the 1988 classic Big with Tom Hanks served as an inspiration (note the name Little), there were no body swap comedies featuring black people. She saw a void in the industry and sought to fill it.
“When I was young, well, like younger, I would only see Skai Jackson from Jessie on the screen, then I grew more and said wait, there not really a lot of young black folks. Especially not with the glasses or who looked like me.”
Her parents and her Blackish family, notably Kenya Barris, both played a role in shaping her thoughts on showbiz representation at a young age. “We live in a world now that things are kind of changing and we have, like, Black Panther. Which is very inspiring to people like us.” It wasn’t always as such. Back when she was first cast in Blackish, her parents “were complaining about a time where there’s not a lot of people who look like me,” she says. “So I wanted to create something where everyone was just comfortable with who they are, and would know that they can do anything.” The representation in Little isn’t only on screen. From director Tina Gordon to original writer Tracy Oliver, the creative team has lived “black girl magic” experience.
While Lindsay Lohan was closer to 17 when playing an adult in Freaky Friday, it wasn’t really a stretch for then-13-year-old Marsai Martin to play a thirtysomething. She’s around adults a lot. But becoming Jordan didn’t require much prep because Martin had a part in creating the character. “And it was a time span of three years though of where that plenty of time to figure out Jordan and, like, who she was. And it wasn’t just me, it was Regina also…. So we were talking about it and just having a great time doing it. So I didn’t really have to get prepared for it cause I already knew what was coming.”
Little addresses the theme of bullying. When Jordan goes back to being little, she feels like she has to relive the bullying moments of her young life, as Martin explains: “When she was younger, she got bullied a lot just for being herself. And she took that and became the bully because that was a way to protect yourself from being hurt again. She learns thats it’s not the case. and that if you are just yourself, you can be anything you want and you don’t have to be accepted or, like, you don’t have to change yourself to be accepted.”
As for the cyberbullying Martin sees in her own active social media life, she says, “Yeah. I don’t read comments often because a lot of people would say what they want, but it doesn’t really matter because I am still in my own lane doing what I love. Yeah. And I got my parents so they protect me along the way. So yeah, they look at the comments for me.”
She’s mentioned in a past interview that she’d like to meet Drake (she’s already met the Obamas, Oprah and Beyoncé). We had to ask. “No, no, I actually haven’t met Drake yet, even though I really want to even though we follow each other on Instagram and stuff.” Yes, he’s mentioned as a potential collab. Doing something with Rihanna is also on her radar. “Actually bringing people who aren’t in this industry and pulling them from the other side. Pulling them into something different.”