Meet The Entertainment Industry's Class Of Now: From Taylor Russell To FLO
This feature is in our March "Next Wave" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT, PHOTOS BY: PHIL VAN; KRISPY PRODUCTIONS; JIMMY FONTAINE; DWAYNE ROGERS; AMY SUSSMAN/GETT Y IMAGES; SAMANTHA DEITCH/BFA; STEPHANE CARDINALE/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES; SHENNELL KENNEDY
THIS GROUP OF TALENT, WHICH INCLUDES ACTORS, MUSICIANS AND DIRECTORS, ARE HELPING TO REIGNITE THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY. HERE ARE EIGHT MUST-KNOW NAMES WHO ARE RAISING (AND EVEN BREAKING) THE BAR.
“Building a person’s life from the ground up has always been fascinating to me.” -JERMAINE FOWLER
Jermaine Fowler’s (@jermainefowler) love for acting began during his childhood while watching Arthur. Now, the D.C. native has starred in revered films like Sorry to Bother You, Judas and the Black Messiah, Coming 2 America and The Drop. This summer, he stars alongside Grace Byers, Melvin Gregg, Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharoah in the comedy-slasher film The Blackening (premiering June 16).
PHOTO BY SARAH FINK
Would you say the role choices that you make are intentional?
I started doing stand-up comedy, and therefore, people see me as a comedian. I think people most times only view me as that one thing. My job is to remind people that comedy is just a symptom. Laughter is a symptom or reaction from something a bit deeper. And I want my work to show that. After Coming 2 America, I really wanted to do films like Judas and the Black Messiah just to show that these are stories I’m in love with as well.
I have always been funny and I’ve always wanted to bring my own sensibilities and charisma, or whatever you want to call it, to whatever film character story there is. I don’t want to follow the same model and the same path as the person before me. I just want to do things the way I feel is right and truthful to me. I’ve always gravitated toward really wild character studies like American Psycho, Whiplash or Fruitvale Station. Films like that, where you just see someone like a taxi driver spiraling and unfolding right in front of you. Those are the stories I’ve been loving right now.
Let’s talk about The Blackening. I am a huge horror nerd. But I also love when it pairs with dark comedy.
So Dewayne [Perkins] and Tracy [Oliver] wrote this movie where they were like, ‘What if everybody in this horror movie was Black?’ What came out was this hilarious and very irreverent film that I was very lucky to be a part of. I got to play this character named Clifton. Every character in this movie is on a spectrum of Blackness. Everyone’s kind of got their own chip on their shoulder; everyone’s got their own personal generalization that not even white people know. It’s a movie for Black people. White people can watch if they want to, but it’s for us.
I remember when they asked me to play Clifton, who is kind of like your Carlton Banks type of Black dude. He doesn’t really fit in. He’s kind of an outcast. I was actually very intrigued because growing up, I used to be called an ‘Oreo’ because I used to skateboard and watch pro wrestling and do things around the neighborhood that not a lot of Black people understood or wanted to.
When I got the script, I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ I was channeling a lot of the people that I knew and a lot of the experiences that I had growing up. I improvised a lot of the lines that you see in the film. It’s a big once-in-a-lifetime cast. I’m a fan of every single one of them. – BIANCA GRACIE
Calmatic (@calmatic) is a proud Los Angeles native whose love for his hometown is prominent in his work. The director is behind music videos like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Rich Spirit,” as well as commercials like crypto.com starring LeBron James for last year’s Super Bowl. This year, he makes his film directorial debut with remakes of ’90s cult classics House Party (which premiered in January) and White Men Can’t Jump (out this summer).
PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
I feel like there’s relatability in everything that you do.
I’m not playing to the industry, but I am playing toward my people. I get more satisfaction out of that rather than rising in the ranks of the industry. Sometimes as people that create content, whether it be film or music, especially Black artists, we forget who our audience is and what we’re doing it for.
Your directing style is very rich and engaging.
I think it really just comes from just being in L.A. If you were to just Google a picture of South Central Los Angeles, I’m sure it’s going to be a very desaturated photo with a low rider and [Converse] Chuck Taylors. It’s going to be this hard, gritty font. The stereotypical aesthetic of Los Angeles. But that’s not what I remember growing up. I remember being in different neighborhoods, where all the houses were these beautiful, bright colors where it’s almost like people painted their houses whatever color they wanted.
They weren’t thinking about what’s the trendy color of the time. You got lime green houses, pink houses, yellow houses. Even just going to school and seeing girls at school and they got the gold nameplate jewelry and the way the sun hits the brown skin. Those are all things that I have a very detailed memory of. That’s what beauty is to me. That’s what L.A. is to me. That’s what the world is to me. I’m looking at the world through this particular lens, and that’s what feels right to me.
I try as much as possible to bring those tones into my work. I don’t really do things that are too moody or too desaturated, because the thing about it is—especially on the West Coast or in L.A.—if you’re having a bad day, and you’re sad and down and out, it still might be sunny outside. The grass is still green; the ice cream truck is still coming through banging music. The world doesn’t stop when you want it to stop. So I think no matter what the mood is, I try to make sure that my work reflects those tones.
Film still from the House Party reboot (2023) PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
Let’s get into White Men Can’t Jump.
L.A. is a place where there are a lot of dreamers and a lot of opportunities. When those dreams don’t come true, you still have to be a normal person. The movie navigates the journey of a basketball player who was supposed to make it and didn’t. This one person could potentially help them achieve their dreams, but their ego gets in the way. It’s a very fun but real story about ego, and how sometimes you got to put it aside to do what you really want. To film it in L.A. was a dream come true. We shot it in a lot of neighborhoods where I grew up playing street basketball. It was fun referencing those memories and bring them to the big screen. – BIANCA GRACIE
“We’re hoping to break the cycle.” -FLO
FLO (@flolikethis), the London girl group comprised of members Jorja Douglas, Stella Quaresma and Renée Downer, has revived the earworm sonics of the ’90s while still giving a fresh Gen Z twist. After charming the world with last year’s debut EP, The Lead, the trio are now prepping for festival season and working on their debut album.
PHOTO BY SHENNELL KENNEDY
R&B is having such an exciting revamp with a new wave of artists, including yourselves. Do you have any favorites?
Some of our favorite artists at the moment are Destin Conrad, Bellah, Jvck James and Dylan Sinclair. They’re doing classic R&B in such a fresh way. They each have their own authentic sound in a sea of repetitive music.
I’m in awe by how tight your harmonies are and would love to know your process on how you’ve perfected them. It’s definitely an art form in my opinion.
Thank you so much! We’ve been working with our vocal coach, Josh, for around two years. He’s been instrumental in us perfecting our vocals and finding the perfect blend between our voices. Plus, we’ve been together for over three years, so it’s been an organic sonic progression.
Your music overall has a great balance of detailed storytelling and catchy production.
You want to take people on a journey when they listen to our music. It has to build and grow into something climactic. That’s the beauty of music—its ability to transport you to places you’ve never been and similarly tap into those emotions we’ve all felt.
You all bring different elements to the group that all gel together both in performance and your friendship. I’d like to know your thoughts on the importance of groups maintaining their artistic individuality.
There are definitely three sides to FLO, and each of our personalities adds to the group. It’s important to us that the audience can relate to the music, so we all aim to bring something different to the table to maximize the chance of someone, somewhere connecting.
What do you all think you specifically bring to the group?
RD: I’d say I’m the organized one in the group. I like knowing everything is in order.
SQ: I bring the bants! Definitely the comedic relief.
JD: I bring the crazy 100%.
When speaking about vocals, Stella brings an incredible tone to every single track, Renée’s voice is like silk—she nails all our lows— and Jorja’s technicality perfects our sound.
It’s been too long since we’ve had an all-Black girl group that dominates both the pop and R&B lanes—and your lyricism highlights that empowering womanhood.
It’s massively important. We’ve always said lack of representation is the driving factor to why we haven’t seen all-Black girl groups in a minute. We’re hoping to break the cycle. It’s also just nice to know people still have taste! – BIANCA GRACIE
FLO members, from top: Renée Downer, Stella Quaresma and Jorja Douglas PHOTO BY FAITH AYLWARD
“My goal is to match every story with sonics that brings it to life and give it a whole world to live in.” -JOSH LEVI
Josh Levi (@joshlevi) is a bona fide triple threat. The actor, dancer and singer first got his start in Friday Night Lights and Nickelodeon television shows The Thundermans and Game Shakers before entering the music industry. He received praise in the R&B world with 2022’s DISC TWO EP and after voicing Aaron Z from the fictional boy band 4*Town in the Pixar animated film Turning Red (the soundtrack’s “Nobody Like U” led to his first Billboard Hot 100 entry). Now, he’s unleashing the deluxe version of DISC TWO in the second quarter of this year.
PHOTO BY JIMMY FONTAINE
How do you think your artistry makes you stand out among the rest?
I don’t really approach music in a linear way or even from a specific genre. I just tell stories and create what I hear in my head or feel in my heart from all the different influences I have.
“Ego” is a standout on this deluxe version. I enjoy when artists play around with their interpretation of sensuality.
‘Ego’ is my true, authentic story. It couldn’t be any more true to my approach with anything, especially with women. I don’t care to play games and I also don’t really force anything. I’m just a very chill person.
Can you discuss the importance of creating engaging stories through song?
I think people listen to music to hear themselves or see themselves. So I see my job as a storyteller as a blessing and I approach it in a very authentic and honest way. Everything I’ve ever written about is something that I’ve gone through or something that actually happened to me. I’ve also always been a word guy and have loved language, so my goal is to match every story with sonics that brings it to life and give it a whole world to live in.
You have a very clear-cut vision of how you want to shape your artistry.
It’s one of the most important things to me. I think I’ll probably die working to make sure both my integrity and independence as an artist and creative are protected and sought through to the end. I feel like without this, you are at the mercy of everyone else’s version of who you should be, which is a nightmare for me. – BIANCA GRACIE
PHOTO BY OWEN KOLASINSKI/BFA.COM
In just a few years, Taylor Russell (@tayrussell) leaped from an unknown Vancouver native to Hollywood’s newest “it” girl. The actress has experienced a whirlwind of a career, which first began when she starred in Netflix’s science fiction series Lost in Space in 2018.
After that, she proved that she could be both an indie darling and box office commander with 2019’s A24 Films-produced Waves (which won her a Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor) and the psychological horror Escape Room.
But what really propelled Russell’s Hollywood presence was her starring role in the acclaimed romance horror film Bones and All (directed by Luca Guadagnino of Call Me by Your Name and Suspiria fame) alongside fellow actor du jour Timothée Chalamet. Russell’s captivating onscreen energy hypnotized critics and movie fans alike, and also scored her a Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actress at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. She is also a writer and director who has won several awards for her 2020 documentary film. The Heart Still Hums, including the Palm Springs International ShortFest Award for Best Documentary Short.
What makes Russell (who’s cited Sissy Spacek as her favorite actress) so intriguing is her freespirited and genuine nature. Despite being thrown into the spotlight so rapidly, the mainstream fame seemingly hasn’t dissuaded her. And it’s not only Hollywood that has noticed this—the fashion world has also been enamored with the actress.
Russell became Loewe’s global fashion ambassador and was personally selected by Creative Director Jonathan Anderson to open its spring/ summer 2023 show in Paris. She also modeled for the luxury house’s precollection campaign shot by Juergen Teller.
Fashion fans and critics alike are constantly anticipating what daring outfit she’ll rock next, which has since included everything from Prada to Schiaparelli and Alexander McQueen. Whether it’s on the big screen or on a red carpet, like many, we’ll also be holding our breath awaiting Russell’s next big move. – BIANCA GRACIE
PHOTO BY DWAYNE ROGERS
“I’ve always been a fan and into her music,” actress Nafessa Williams (@nafessawilliams) says of the late Whitney Houston. “[I Wanna Dance With Somebody] was very well written and told in a way that we’ve never seen before,” she adds. Once Williams auditioned for the role of Robyn Crawford, Houston’s best friend, collaborator and love interest, what really piqued her interest was the chemistry that she and lead Naomi Ackie shared. “I felt it in my audition, and it was really exciting to know that once I booked it, how much fun we could have,” she shares. “You don’t always get that—it’s like a magic supernatural chemistry that you sometimes get out of your castmates.”
Throughout filming, Williams and Ackie became best friends. “It was very true to what Whitney and Robyn shared in real life,” Williams says. “That was very much a blessing, to see our chemistry. When you can bring that dynamic on set, it doesn’t feel like you’re working.”
Williams was also eager to work with director Kasi Lemmons. “One thing I love about Kasi is that she’s a very smart director—I mean in the sense of making the set feel safe and collaborative. As artists, we felt safe and free to come out and play, so I felt very safe, supportive, well taken care of,” she says. “There’s a gentleness and there’s communication that I think smart directors have when they’re able to communicate eloquently and clearly because it’s not always easy to digest notes and get the right direction,” she adds.
A longtime Houston fan, Williams knew a lot about the singer’s career, but she was new to learning about the relationship between Houston and Crawford. “They were more than best friends. I believe that they were soulmates. What I loved and what I wanted to make sure that I portrayed was the loyalty and adoration that I feel Robyn has still for her,” Williams says.
For the role, she had to do extensive research, which included reading— and rereading—Crawford’s autobiographical book, A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston. “The biggest challenge was playing a real-life character. You want to pay respect and you want to make sure it’s done in a loving way,” she says. “She was the closest person to Whitney Houston, and I want to be really conscious and sensitive to that. … I’m really excited for the world to be able to see the true dynamic of their relationship.” – RAMONA SAVISS
JASMIN SAVOY BROWN
PHOTO BY MICHAEL BUCKNER/VARIETY VIA GETTY IMAGES
Jasmin Savoy Brown’s (@jasminsavoy) candid nature on and off screen is simply refreshing. Th e actress and singer, who returns as Mindy in Scream VI and Taissa in Season 2 of Showtime’s Yellowjackets series this month, dishes her Hollywood perspective.
There’s this cycle of us Black women being the first to win X award or to break a boundary. We should be leading toward a resolution at this point.
I always think, ‘Wow, y’all are so amazed [by] the work we do when we have the least amount of support, when we’re paid the least, when you treat us like garbage. You think this is impressive? Imagine how good we would do if you just simply supported us and paid us well?’ It’s funny how people are so amazed and give us these accolades, while behind the scenes [they are] stripping us down and making it really hard for us to even show up to work. So to answer your question, it’s exhausting.
As a writer, I love telling inspiring stories. What is it about this art form that fulfills you?
l love that question. When I’m acting, it’s one of the only times I’m out of my head. I think that has to do with just my wiring as a person. I tend to run anxious, but also to do everything we’ve talked about: constant self-analysis, self-policing, code-switching, etc.
When I’m in a character between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ I’m really just present in my body. And that feels really nice. I know from personal experience what it’s like to watch a piece of art and be moved by something and how that can literally change someone’s life or simply feel seen. Knowing that I have the opportunity to be involved in that moment for someone else is really inspiring. Also, it’s just fun. I like getting paid to have fun.
I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for this new season of Yellowjackets.
I keep telling people if you think last season was wild, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna be so crazy. All of us in the younger cast are like, ‘Are we gonna be canceled for some of these scenes that we shot?’ We’re a little nervous. [laughs]
What I appreciate about the show is that it’s unafraid to show how multifaceted women are.
It’s one of my favorite things about the show. Th e writers that they’ve assembled do a fantastic job of really just capturing the humanity of women, which shouldn’t be that hard. I think that it’s so revolutionary, simply because our stories haven’t been allowed to be told. Men have been running the companies, the writers room and the shows. Specifically ancient straight white men. So of course, they’re going to only write things for them.
Now, the times are changing. Slowly, more queer women and women of color are in these positions of power. They’re telling our stories, and it’s not difficult or revolutionary for them to do that, because they’re just sharing their lived experience. Not to say any of our writers are cannibals. But you what I mean. [laughs] I hope that Yellowjackets is simply a sign of what’s to come for other creative spaces for TV and film. – BIANCA GRACIE
PHOTO BY JESSE GRANT/GETTY IMAGES
First enchanting audiences in 2018’s critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk and shortly following with a role in Judas and the Black Messiah, Dominique Thorne (@dominiquethorne) has wasted no time gracefully transitioning into the role of a burgeoning star.
Last fall, Thorne made her Marvel debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Ironically, Thorne’s journey into joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe began six years prior in the form of a failed audition for the first Black Panther film. In her sophomore year of college, Thorne auditioned for the role of Shuri, a part that would eventually be brought to life by Leticia Wright. Although she had not quite garnered the experience for the role, Thorne got recognized for her work ethic and devotion to the character.
Thorne’s persistence paid off once she received the call from Marvel to take on the role of Riri Williams (aka Ironheart), the 15-yearold genius able to replicate the technology of Tony Stark’s Iron Man.
Riri Williams quickly became a fan favorite, chiefly due to Thorne’s impeccable performance. Growing up in a Marvel-loving household, her passion for the comic book world shines through as she pulls off the nearly impossible feat of balancing the humor and agony of a 15-year-old supergenius at the center of a war between nations.
Undoubtedly, Marvel has big plans in store for Thorne’s Riri Williams. She’ll return to the role in the upcoming Disney+ series Armor Wars, set to premiere later this year. Now at the center of the action, Thorne is excited to peel back even more layers of her character and showcase Williams in an entirely new light.
Alongside her upcoming work at Marvel Studios, it was announced last November that Thorne has signed on to join Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Freaky Tales, inspired by Fleck’s experience growing up in the Bay Area in 1980s Oakland. She joins the film alongside an already star-studded cast including The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal and Bloodline’s Ben Mendelsohn. –COOPER ALBERS