Interview By Atibia “Broadway” Williams
Tequilla Whitfield Is Filled With Girl Power, Spirituality and a Hunters mentality!
“It’s God’s purpose to disturb the comfortable; God says let me put this obstacle in your way and see how you respond.“ Although in my conversation with Tequilla, this is how she closed out the interview, I thought it appropriate to start with that phrase. With such a profound statement and that philosophical mindfulness, the tone was set for me to embrace Ms. Whitfield’s extraordinary individual journey.
Tequilla is a rising star in Hollywood who just completed her first feature film, Hidden Figures. Playing the role of Eleanor, a human computer, this role was more than a part to play for Tequilla, it was the opportunity to work with an extraordinary group of women: Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, versatile and vivacious “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson, and the iconic songstress Janelle Monae. Hidden Figures relates to her own journey to push forward despite facing enormous odds in making a professional career out of acting.
Tequilla’s story begins with a difficulty in communicating and expressing her thoughts clearly. Tequilla grew up with a speech impediment. Just imagine being in elementary school and unable to clearly articulate your thoughts and imagine how other children would have reacted? Needless to say it was a more than a struggle, it was fear and anguish and it was that very speech impediment that placed her on her journey towards acting.
Tequilla is an only child and was born in Germany, where her parents who were in the United States Military were stationed. As military families often do, her family relocated back to the U.S and resided in the state of Georgia. Forced to learn how to entertain herself and being the only child, her creative juices began to spark by creating characters for her toys.
Her mother noticed while visiting her fourth-grade class Tequilla was asked to act, as she played each character the stuttering decreased. Those toys helped to give life to a gift that would eventually align Tequilla with her destiny. Although at the time, Tequilla was also receiving speech therapy, her parents encouraged her to do what she does best which is to act. Tequilla became more confident and it was evident that she found solace while in these characters – the stutter was not noticeable at all.
Success builds confidence, and the level of confidence was noticed by her parents who continued to support and encourage her to continue through high school. As Tequilla reflects on her beginnings, she understands that God inserts blessings disguised as burdens and it takes a fortuitous act to spark that blessing in the most unorthodox way – her challenge introduced her to her gift.
Life, of course, was not without its struggles and hardships, and Tequilla often had to draw on the wisdom and strength of her encouraging parents for guidance, and in the midst of it all, it is her faith and spiritual connection to God that has kept her firmly grounded. Always searching to grow and build her craft, she is always on the hunt. The passing of her mother was an especially difficult time for her. Struggling with loss and the finality of death creates a space that without her optimum faith and solid foundation, the pain would have been unbearable.
As we fast forward to her later life, the journey continues for Tequilla as she embarks on a role to play a double for actress Terri J. Vaughn. Terri, a veteran actress from shows like Steve Harvey and Meet The Browns, became Tequilla’s mentor, friend, prayer partner, and support system. When Taraji was promoting Hidden Figures, she made a profound statement, “The power of women sticking together will change the world.”
This statement resonated with Tequilla, as she talked further she described how Terri took her under her wings. Terri is a “phenomenal person who poured so much light and love into me that I am forever grateful.” Terri has remained a constant in her life and plays a central role in Tequilla’s development as an actress. Terri prayed with Tequilla prior to her audition, as well as prayed for her throughout the filming of Hidden Figures, giving her consistent guidance and support.
As I spoke with Tequilla about her story, I felt as if I were front row at a TED talk, so many “quotables” as we like to say in the hip-hop world, it was like listening to a poet and a preacher delivering spiritual lessons on positivity and how it attributes to success. Tequilla states that “‘performing is her ministry’ and the ‘Huntress’ moves in a codified modus operandi as a woman with a plan to spread that ministry to the masses.”
“Aren’t women amazing?” Tequilla said to me with a cheerful expression as we had our conversation about life, goals, and her career. Of course, I said yes, not because I felt compelled based on her statement, but because I’ve been blessed to have exceptional maternal women in my life, as well as friends who are also amazing, so I can identify completely with her views. Yes, it was important for Tequilla to be cast in the film furthering her career, but in order to encompass the true spirit of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary, a solidarity between cast members was equally as important.
Dorothy Vaughn, the character in Hidden Figures, stole a book on coding because, in the segregated south, black people weren’t privy to information that was available to their white counterparts. Dorothy not only studied and learned the coding language of FORTRAN, she then proceeded to teach the twenty women colleagues that worked along with her the new coding information. Dorothy ensured that they could all remain relevant with what was to be considered NASA’s future technology.
The spirit of Dorothy’s sisterhood was embraced as the mantra on set by all the actresses. While Tequilla played her role as Eleanor, being on set with such a dynamic cast was admittedly daunting for her, but that all went away when she was met graciously with a smile daily by Janelle, was encouraged by Taraji and was told by Octavia “I don’t want you to feel less than on this set, you’re a part of this movie as much as any of us are.” Those words of encouragement were a breath of fresh air for Tequilla. A profound spirit of girl power as Tequilla reflected, “those three exceptional women truly walked in the spirit of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary.”
The connection between destiny and struggle merged at that moment, remembering that child who experienced difficulty communicating due to a speech impediment and seeing that same person now blessing the big screen. Tequilla admits to this day, she still deals with her impediment when feeling an array of emotions or when she simply gets too excited, but nothing is too challenging for a huntress as she keeps the encouragement of her parents close to her heart.
Christmas was a very special holiday for Tequilla’s family, and the joy of that holiday was lacking because of the passing of her mother. With the film releasing in select theaters on December 25th, and the original releasing at the kickoff of the new year on January 13, 2017, Tequilla still felt blanketed by her mother’s spirit through the duration of creating Hidden Figures.
It was a serendipitous moment when it came to the release of the film on December 25th, she felt utter joy and a state of spiritual euphoria because it was confirmation that her mother was her “agent in heaven, and God was truly her manager.”
Before her mother’s passing, she told Tequilla “I have done everything in my life that that I wanted to do.” Armed with those words of encouragement, Tequilla ambitiously pursues life with a passion for the craft. She constantly seeks, whether by reading books, holding classes, finding a stage to perform or creating her own content – the desire for greatness burns deep within her, so she takes it upon herself not to wait but hunt for opportunities.
She wants it all, she reminds me of Frank White in King of New York, “From now on, nothing goes down unless I’m involved. No production, no pilots, a skit goes down at an open mic, I want in. Don’t get comfortable waiting for auditions, now it’s my turn.” Her vision clear, her mind, heart, and soul prepared, Tequilla is truly walking in her path to success.
Hollywood has been under the scrutiny of lack of diverse roles, and although it is still an uphill battle for those changes to come. The wave of diversity through films such as Hidden Figures topping Rogue One in the box office proves Tequilla’s point that acting is “not a color but a talent.”