When Felicia Pride answers the phone, I’m less than one degree of separation from Oprah and Ava Duvernay.
She’s not hesitant in telling me she might have to step away from the call for a few moments; I don’t ask why. Not because I’m not curious. But simply put: it doesn’t matter. In the entertainment business, you don’t ask busy people small questions. When you have a slice of their time, you go big.
Felicia Pride came to Hollywood at 35 and decided it wasn’t too late to become what she always wanted to be: a writer. In just a few short years she’s become a staff writer for Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), she’s sold original screenplays, and most recently, she directed a film titled tender which explores the bond between women of color. Of course, none of it happened overnight. She’s earned it.
I’m ready to jump right in, but Felicia is unlike most in this fast-paced and sometimes unfriendly town — she’s unafraid to slow things down. She asks how I am and I beg her to tell me that going to graduate school for writing was a good idea on my part. She gives me an honest answer accompanied with the sweetest laugh: it won’t get you a job but you will improve your craft immensely. It’s very telling of the depth to her creative devotion. And it’s been a lifetime that has led her here.
All before the age of 11, her family lost their house due to her father’s drug addiction. Her mother ripped her and her sister out of their lives in upper middle class West Orange, New Jersey and took them back to Baltimore, Maryland. “It was a milestone; a big change for me that I’ve now realized has definitely impacted my writing and what I write about. It was a culture shock and I was sort of stuck between these two worlds. So a lot of my work is often dichotomous, where I bring two seemingly different worlds together. I also write about dysfunction and family.” She later reconciled her relationship with her father — although they weren’t on good for many years. “You don’t realize it until later in life that most of what you write about deals with your childhood somehow.”
A teacher was the first to note Felicia’s gift for writing. She submitted an essay Felicia Pride wrote about her father — who was in the hospital at the time — to a writing contest; it won. A college professor encouraged her to minor in writing; she did. “I realized the power of writing as something that could be cathartic. So when I left college, that’s kind of how I used writing; I was writing a lot of bad poetry, working out my angst and my daddy issues,” she laughs.
She later started an internship at a black-run community newspaper that published her first piece, a review of Mary J. Blige’s fifth studio album, No More Drama.When she held a print copy of the paper in her hands and saw her name for the first time? “That was a wrap for me. I felt very validated. Of course, I knew nothing about music criticism at the time. But I knew Mary. You know what I mean? I was like, ‘I know Mary. I can write about Mary.’” So she kept writing about what she knew.
Felicia went on to get her master’s degree in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson. She moved to New York in 2007 to work in book publishing because it seemed to be the most practical path for her. But working in Corporate America, Felicia was still itching to write. Eventually, she landed a literary agent and got her first book published; when she began her own consulting agency a few years later, though, writing began slipping through the cracks again. “There came a time though where shit just dried up and I stopped writing.”
I ask Felicia the tipping point; the final moment that encouraged her to pursue writing full-time. It was after landing her biggest client yet, when the organization’s leader told her the project was being shut down. “I’m over this shit!” she recalls thinking. “I’m burnt out, I’m tired, I’m chasing checks.” People had advised her to consider Los Angeles before, but she knew this was it. By March of 2015, she had packed her bags and moved to LA.
Less than three years later, she joined the writers room for the popular television show Queen Sugar on OWN. “It’s such a collective effort. It’s amazing how one person will throw out an idea and how you all build upon that and it becomes like magic.” A recent episode Felicia co-wrote with Chloé Hung caught the attention of none other than Oprah Winfrey. She tweeted Felicia along with Chloe and creator Ava Duvernay, “Y’all WROTE that thing! I’m still 😢#QueenSugar.”
I remind Felicia Pride that on her website, there is a section of the home page that reads “Stuff her mom wants you to know: Oprah will love her [Felicia’s] work, you know, once she reads it.” She laughs and thanks me for reminding her, a magical moment where she had yet to realize or process surpassing one of her goals.
Felicia has no hesitation in voicing her preferences. “I definitely like TV writing because it allows the stories to breathe. It allows you to do a lot more world building and character exploration; you can see them growing over longer periods of time. TV writing is my shit.”
Despite all her successes, I can’t help but think about who she is as a person and not just an artist: giving. In 2012, she created an online resource for underrepresented creatives titled The Create Daily, in which she helps up-and-coming storytellers thrive. The weekly newsletter sent straight to subscriber’s inboxes is filled to the brim with job openings, grants and opportunities from an array of creative people and organizations — all for free.
Why do you do all that? I ask her. You don’t have to. But you do.
“I just come from a line of people who serve. My mother was an educator — is an educator. My aunts and uncles are all in different service positions from nurses to transportation. So I find my way. I always have been committed to serving other artists. I feel like the work we do is important. I feel like we’re not always given the resources or the respect that we deserve. So I have been compelled to be of service to other artists.” She confirms leadership and philanthropic qualities are usually bred through the people someone surrounds themselves with.
The thing she’s most proud of isn’t one body of work, though, it’s what she calls her “creative comeback.” She curated an online course inspired by her own journey titled The Creative Comeback, in which she guides artists on how to get back on track with their work — both practically and mentally. “When I stopped writing for about seven years, that was probably one of the biggest challenges in my life to get back into that space. Now it opens up everything else. A lot of my joy is connected to me creating again.”
The second thing she’s most proud of?
“Tender,” Her voice lights up the phone and she sings, “I’m just excited.”
tender is Felicia’s upcoming short film that tells the story of two women at different times in their lives, sharing an intimate morning after an unexpected one night stand.
Felicia Pride is no stranger to writing, but this will be her first time directing her own work. The power to do both sends a lightning strike through her, every word electric.
“This is the first time — I think ever — I can see my vision through from start to finish. Even though I’ve been an artist for many years, I’ve never had that privilege. And that is… amazing,” she says delighted. “I kept telling myself I wasn’t a director and I was so intimidated by directing, but being around so many women who are just fucking doing it…” she trails off. “And then I also realized that there are going to be certain stories that I need to be a part of, start to finish. And writing and directing are the only ways I can do that. I can’t do it just writing. I can’t do it just directing.”
Her work is known for playing with age, class, and race; she doesn’t shy away from that. “I don’t mind talking about it. I’m very upfront with how old I am — which isn’t old — but from some people’s perspectives and for some parts of Hollywood it’s ‘older’ for where I’m starting. I think there’s a lot of really great stories being told for millennials, but when I think about black Gen X women like myself, there’s a huge opportunity. So when you see opportunity… take advantage.”
Her producer, Regina Hoyles, says this film “is very on-brand” for Felicia Pride .
“That’s the perfect way to describe it,” she chuckles. “It’s me in a lot of ways.”
The film has been fueled by its GoFundMe fundraiser and Felicia’s rising production company, Felix & Annie. The team has reached double their goal: $10,000+ out of their $5,000 original projection.
“Part of me has been nervous to put myself out there. Even in recent months, running that crowdfunding campaign stretched my limits in terms of me putting myself out there. But I do think about the importance of marketing in terms of making sure that the story that I want to tell reaches people.”
Comments under her campaign read “Sowing seeds are powerful and I wish you and your project the best!” to more personal messages like “Love you, Felicia!”. It’s clear she’s loved and respected by many; dear friends and strangers alike.
The comment that really catches my attention is one I can imagine Felicia smiling while reading: “I support Felicia Pride in taking up space as a Black woman writer and director!”
“I think there’s enough people telling white people’s stories,” she tells me plainly. “It’s just not my interest. I feel like there’s a lot of stories within black people and because we are so diverse and so vast that there’s so much room, there’s so much space. And I just want to take up some of that.”
“They told me I couldn’t sell an independent film about black people in love. And I sold that. They told me I couldn’t sell a book about hip-hop. I sold a book about hip-hop. They told me I couldn’t get staffed. I did. I’ve been told a lot.”
My final question is one I’m excited to know the answer to: Why do you consider yourself a champion of joy?
“Black joy is transformative. You see how threatening black joy is because people can’t fathom how we can be joyful given all the shit we’ve been through. And it’s constantly under attack. That’s why I think it’s even more important for us to revel in it.”
When the call finishes, it’s just as busy in the background as it was when we began. I briefly think to myself that I could never focus in this environment, but that’s the magic of Miss Felicia Pride. She’s focused yet fluid. She is soft yet strong. She’s humble, yet aware of her own power. She’s sure of herself and her gift, so you’re instantly sure of her. She is ready and equipped with an underdog mentality, knowing she was never an underdog to begin with because no one has — or ever can — steal her joy or fortitude. More importantly, she’s not interested in making a statement. She’s interested in telling important stories. And what you take away from it is up to you.
tender is currently in post production. Consider donating to her film if you would like to support Felicia’s vision.