Throughout her career, Anika Noni Rose has had the opportunity to play strong empowered women in virtually all mediums.
Rose — who has played supporting roles in “The Good Wife” and landed a Best Featured Actress Tony Award in 2004 for “Caroline, or Change” — takes the lead in the new BET series “The Quad.” In the show, which premieres on Wednesday, Rose plays Dr. Eva Fletcher, a newly appointed president of Georgia A&M University. Dr. Fletcher is a multifaceted and complicated woman, who, despite her strengths, is underestimated in the landscape of collegiate life.
amNewYork spoke with Rose about the legacy of powerful women.
How important is to hear black voices of power on television?
I think it’s important to see strong black voices in mainstream situations because that’s a place where it’s lacking the most. I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do on a network like BET because you should have more leeway and more understanding about what it is that you’re trying to show and say because of the cultural connection.
How have you maneuvered finding projects that are both inclusive and strong in their message?
I’ve been lucky in the roles that I’ve had. Jukebox on [“Power”] … she was empowered and she was showing a side of black lesbianism that we don’t get to see. She was also very sensual in spite of being a badass. I was honored to represent that part of black culture. I’ve been very lucky with the diversity of the roles in which I’ve been able to do. Now, am I satisfied? Would I be happy if I was finished today? No, because there are things that I haven’t been able to do. In “The Quad,” I’ve been able to be someone who’s very sensual as well as being very type-A and very business, but I want to do action, and I miss comedy.
There is this problem in comedy where it has to be an all-black cast marketed toward one demographic, and one film’s success or failure is a hindrance on the next all-black comedy being greenlit.
It’s asinine. In addition to that, I’m funny with my white friends, too. I’m funny with my Latin friends, I’m funny with my Asian friends, and we’re all funny together. So, to think that something has to be all-something is silly in itself. In comedy itself, I think there’s room for intelligence, and I think we’ve closed the door. Very often when you talk about “black comedies,” what comes across my desk are things that make you tired, because of the lack of brain cells.
Your character on “The Quad” is being called the Michelle Obama of university life. What do you think Mrs. Obama has done for the visibility of women in power?
I think she couldn’t be smarter. She’s clearly an empathetic person. She’s funny, she’s not afraid to make fun of herself as proof of the Mom Dance [on “The Tonight Show”] and other things. She’s classy; she has managed to throw epic shade without mentioning a name. She’s phenomenal. I think she’s done amazing things not just for women of color, but also for women in general, in showing capability. I think she has been the most well-rounded first lady that we’ve seen. She wasn’t just fashion, she wasn’t just brains, she wasn’t just a charity and she wasn’t just arm-candy. She managed to do all of those things and to do it to the nth degree.
“The Quad” shows that women don’t have to act a certain way to assert their power. How does it feel to play a character who represents a more realistic portrayal of a woman?
It’s freeing! I’m thankful for it because there are so many tropes that we could be rolling around in, because it’s nice to say, “No, let’s do something else with that. Let’s be someone else.”
From the start, Dr. Fletcher is underestimated in her position. Because of that, what challenges would you like to see?
I feel like she’s dealing with a lot of challenges now. The men in her school are such a damn drag. Women are often dealing with that insecurity and that fear of a woman with a brain. If you’re a woman with a brain who’s also nice to look at, they really don’t know what to do with themselves. I think that we’re showing that really well and that’s a really honest portrayal. When we talk about women in schools, there have been four or five women presidents who have been fired in the past year and it’s all been really undercover ugly stuff. One woman’s contract, they wanted to have final say of who she could let into the house that she’s living in on the campus. This was a grown woman with a home. Nobody would presume to do that to a man. It’s a pandemic in which we’re living in where men think that they have the right to tell us not only what we can do in the workplace but what happens with our check, and what happens with our damn ovaries. It’s presumptuous and it’s tiresome and it’s them working on fear and it shows just how small and fearful they can be. I hope we can continue to make art and make it freely because I see where the axes are falling.
On TV: “The Quad” premieres on Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. on BET.