Garcelle Beauvais: “I Am Mixed” Author Speaks
You may know her as the elegant “Fancy” from “The Jamie Foxx Show” or perhaps you recently saw her portraying the First Lady in the action thriller “White House Down,” but Haitian-born beauty Garcelle Beauvais is also a mother of two young sons….both of whom inspired her to add “author” to her considerable resume.
“I Am Mixed” is the brand new children’s book co-written by Beauvais, whose twin sons Jax and Jaid, are bi-racial. The colorful, illustrated outing broaches the tough topic of living in a not so postracial world with wonderment and humor. JET recently caught up with the former model to learn more about her inspiration, what role her boys played in the writing process, and we even got her response to some snarky comments posted about this soon-to-be required reading.
JET: What prompted you to write this book? After all, some folks are saying we are living in post-racial America, right… But seriously, does it make you sad that this has to be addressed in 2013?
GB: Right! (laughs) It’s really unbelievable that in this day and age that this has to be written. We are in the 21st century and the fact is that there are not a lot of books that speak about this. But it’s needed. Look at the Trayvon situation. Or the racist reaction to that bi-racial family in the Cheerios ad. We’ve become a melting pot of different things, but that is not reflected on television and in books.
JET: Was there a specific incident with your children that prompted you to say: Well, I need to be the one to tackle this?
GB: Well, there was not any one incident. It was just that I was starting to have conversations with them. I figured someone would say ‘why is mommy Black and daddy is White?’ I wanted to empower them with the knowledge that a mixture of me and their dad is what makes them who they are. I wanted to start the conversation at home and prepare them for when they go into the world. It’s about starting a conversation with their kids about heritage, where they are from and making sure they can be proud. It doesn’t have to be a Black and White mix, we are all mixed with something here in America.
JET: How did you get started with the writing and the drawing?
GB: Well, it took a good year and a half to find the right illustrator. I really didn’t want the message to be so on the nose. I was so happy that I found an illustrator (out of Atlanta) and I know how I wanted the kids to be because even in a Black family, there can be different shades. I wanted one of the kids to be a little darker…bi-racial kids are not always light. I wanted to be sure we had both a girl and a boy, and I knew they had to be fun and hip.
JET: Such a good point though about how this teaching can apply to families where people are of different complexions. I have a sister who looks almost exactly like me, but she is lighter. And I can remember when we were little, people struggled to understand that we had the same parents. It was crazy!
GB: Yes, I had a nanny at a playgroup who said something to me in Spanish. When I didn’t know what she said, she told me: “You’d make more money if you spoke Spanish.” She thought I was my kids’ nanny.
JET: Wow, I thought she was meaning that you are an actress and being bilingual could help with roles.
GB: Yeah! That’s what I thought too! But no girl…she thought I was the nanny. Also, if the boys are together, people will say “are they both yours?” One of them is lighter skinned. I’ve learned how to be positive and keep it moving, but yes, we need to get away from this.
JET: How old are the twins? Did they help with the writing of the book?
GB: The boys are 5 ½. It’s crazy. They were all in it. They played a role in terms of illustration. I would check with them. They really wanted a mouse in it. All the books they love have a mouse. There were lots of requests for frogs. And it was awesome to have their input. I loved to watch them come up with an idea and have it come to fruition. It tells them they can create something.
JET: So this book will be great for bi-racial families. Do you think, as we mentioned earlier, it will help with colorism within Black families too?
GB: Yes, and that is something we can relate to. Growing up with my family even in Haiti, that kind of thing was going on. Even with my great grandmother, you could see the lighter skinned kids would get treated better. It’s cultural but goes way back in history. You come across it in Hollywood. I had a friend who went up for a role in a Will Smith movie, and he is darker skinned. The casting people told him nobody will believe you could be his brother because you are so much darker. It’s ridiculous! We come in all shades, even in one small family.
JET: And I know this is a book for kids, but I was surprised on at least one site to see some negative comments about it. There were some asking why a book needs to be directed at bi-racial children and a few suggesting that they are just Black and should accept that they will be seen that way.
GB: First of all, these people should read the book before they comment. There is no reason to say anything negative because the message in it is only love, positivity and self-acceptance. Second: Why do you need to choose? I remember back when Tiger Woods got all that flak for talking about his diverse racial background and it shouldn’t be like that in this day and age. Shouldn’t we accept and love? Why do we have to choose and identify. Sometimes, I can be a girly girl. Other times, I can be tougher. Why can’t I be both? People should embrace whatever they are.
JET: Garcelle, thanks so much for talking to us about your book, which is available now, but before I let you go, I do have to ask you about some of your recent and future roles. What was it like reuniting with Jamie Foxx in “White House Down” playing the First Lady to his President?
GB: It was a wonderful role to play. And to be with my guy Jamie Foxx. I’m always up for hanging with him. I was flattered to get the role and I didn’t have to research too far. Michelle Obama is everything….elegance and intelligence. When I got that part, I was like, yeah, I am going to be her. Let’s go for it!
JET: What else do you have coming down the pipeline?
GB: I have a film coming out around Christmas, “And Then There Was You.” My character is named Natalie and she is putting her life back together after her husband left. She finds out he had another family outside the marriage. Leon is in it. Lynn Whitfield. I produced it, and that’s a direction I want to go in. I want to go into different realms, do different things. It’s great right now because in Hollywood Black filmmakers can have such an impact. You no longer need $100 million to make a great film, and we are taking advantage of that. Doors are opening.