This week, I’m bringing you Part 2 of my Arts & Culture Connection interview with the fabulous Mikki Taylor, the author, international speaker and editor-at-large for Essence Magazine. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Ms. Taylor is the leading authority on “inner and outer beauty” for women of color and a compelling empowerment speaker. She also is the author of several books, including Commander-in-Chic: Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Her Style Like a First Lady and her latest, Editor in Chic, How to Style and Be Your Most Empowered Self. The recipient of the 2019National Urban League Trailblazer Award, Ms. Taylor has appeared on national television, including CNN, CBS, OWN and BET. In addition, she’s worked with some of the world’s most influential people, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Donna Walker-Kuhne: We left off discussing the importance of cultivating a healthy sense of self. What are the challenges inherent in making that effort?
Mikki Taylor: Certainly, it goes back to knowing your value. It’s about committing to self and to making a shift to stay well. What’s really important is to turn challenges and temptations into strengths. How do you do that? By nurturing what you want to grow and starving what you need to check because your self-worth and how you view this should be non-negotiable.
I remember the advice author Terry McMillan gave me when I was working on my first book. You know stepping off that platform to do that first book feels like a leap of faith, but you have to make it. And I remember her telling me, “You need to write 15 minutes a day. If it’s only 15 minutes a day, by the end of the week look at what that adds up to. If you’re waiting for that pocket of time when you’re going to have a day to write, it’s not going to happen.” So, in this sharing she gave me the motivation to make that first leap.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Take the first step. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” So, what I say to us is this: You have to recognize that what you contribute is important and that there is an audience waiting for what you have to say. Again, nurture what you want to grow and starve what you need to check. That’s how you overcome challenge.
Donna: What do the next 20, 30 years look like to you? What’s your vision for the arts?
Mikki: With the stories we tell—be it publishing, music or filmmaking—I see an evolution that’s ever more revolutionary. You know like the evolution of rap music and hip hop that today is more reflective of diverse cultures, politics, lifestyles; less narrowly focused and more universal. It has broadened its horizon and the message that it conveys.
Even if I look at the current indie film industry—I look at the current film I’m executive producing, “Season of the Witches,” which is a psychological crime thriller. I have the opportunity to work with a group of boss female filmmakers on a riveting script and Vikter Duplaix, who is a Grammy-nominated, songwriter, producer and instrumentalist, and whose background is incredibly eclectic.
Vikter is an amazing artist whose evolution from the days of working with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Kenny Gamble took him to working on releases with Erykah Badu, Eric Benét and others, to such films as “Deliver Us From Eva” and now, “Season of the Witches.” The deeply moving music of Puerto Rico, where the film is set, enables us to tell this provocative thriller and broaden our horizon. This gives a new definition to art and its crossover capabilities. And now this young creative provides mentorship to young artists inspiring them about the achievable possibilities in using their talent.
I think this is key to educating others and deepening the experience through exposure at an early age so that young artists understand that there are no boundaries to their expression and where it can be seen and heard.
What’s also critical is the telling of our stories. Again, coming of age in Newark, New Jersey, no one could have told me that where I am today, and on the threshold of next in the field of filmmaking, would be an open door to a little brown girl like me. Today I can look to filmmakers like Deborah Riley Draper, who did the classic documentary, “Versailles 73,” a previously untold story about how predominantly Black models helped save the Palace of Versailles. I look to women like Ava DuVernay, who directed “When They See Us,” and Kasi Lemmons, who directed “Harriet.”
I couldn’t have imagined that I would be a performer and a voting member of the Screen Actors Guild and that I would have a say about the artists of the day and what they bring to the big and the small screen and the impact of their work. Or see companies, like Netflix and Amazon and others, affect the playbook on how films are made, seen and promoted. I know the old cliché says the possibilities are endless, but I think the possibilities are amazing and I think that they’re going to be more universal and reflective of more diverse cultures because we are the change.
I started out by saying the times are pregnant for change, for opportunity, for self-expression. When you look at Afrofuturism and such, or if you just look at what is happening across genres at this intersection of the African diaspora with technology it is again amazing. That’s the only word that I have for it because phenomenal doesn’t do it justice.
If you look at the late Octavia Butler’s novel “Kindred,” and go back to the genesis of Afrofuturism—the film “The Wiz”—the sets, the costumes, the traveling through space and time, and the amazing Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. It was the perfect storm for Afrofuturism!
So, as Ayn Rand said, “It’s not a question of who’s going to let me, it’s a question of who’s going to stop me.” That’s the mantra for the future through my lens and from what I see, the possibilities are amazing.