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In Search of Nicole Beharie

Often times when projects are announced, fans like to chime in with their idea of they think would best suit the role. Referred to as “fan casting,” it’s usually an actor or actress who they are familiar with and have admired from projects past. You would be hard pressed to find any role announced calling for a 30-something year-old black actress and not see the name Nicole Beharie bandied about. The more we saw the fans calling her name, the more concerned we became that Hollywood doesn’t seem to be answering.

Three years ago, powerhouse actress Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) stood on stage to accept her historic Emmy for Lead Actress In A Drama Series. In her speech, she talked about the importance of not only diversity in the industry, but also the opportunities, or lack thereof, for black actresses. Stated Davis:

The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

She name-dropped six black actresses who were, in Davis’ words, taking the industry over the line. Of  those names was Nicole Beharie. Having already starred in films such as American Violet, The Last Fall and 42, Beharie was the lead actress in the now-defunct FOX drama Sleepy Hollow where she starred as Abbie Mills. At the time, I was a huge fan of the show, which was entering its third season. Yet even before the season premiere, I could tell that something was amiss. Fans of Abbie could feel a shift in the character’s importance from season one to season two, as time and time again Abbie was forced to sacrifice herself for the greater good of everyone else. These concerns were further exacerbated when Beharie herself took to Instagram to ‘jokingly’ announce that she was not invited to do commentary for the show’s Season 2 DVD. Yes, you read that right. The lead actress was not included in the DVD commentary for her own show.

As season three of Sleepy Hollow commenced, I gradually began turning out. Not only was the writing for my favorite character atrocious, but the blatant behind the scenes politics had turned me off completely. So, when the series decided to kill the character off during the season 3 finale, I was disappointed but not surprised. The ratings for the show had slumped – partly due to direction and constant time slot changes by the network. I honestly expected the show to be cancelled (as did many other fans), so killing Abbie didn’t bother me as much as it otherwise would have.

After watching the show continue to diminish her worth, and after rumors started swirling that her departure was due to creative tensions, I was happy that Nicole was on to bigger and better things. I mean after all, Viola Davis had personally named her as one of the premier black actresses to watch. “My girl was going to be good after jumping off that sinking ship and would have her pick of roles” is what I believed – and it seemed, at least initially, I was right. Just one week after the season three finale of Sleepy Hollow, it was announced that Nicole Beharie would be co-starring in a remake of Jacob’s Ladder alongside Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Karla Souza and Guy Burnet. Granted, I was and still am frustrated with Hollywood’s incessant need to remake everything, but this was fantastic news to me. I just knew this was going to be the start of seeing Nicole everywhere.

It’s been two years since that announcement, and Jacob’s Ladder still hasn’t seen the light of day. It was recently confirmed that the film wouldn’t be released until 2019 – three years after filming ended. No problem. This happens all the time in Hollywood. Not every movie is released six months after wrapping. I was confident I would see Nicole Beharie in a slew of other projects in in the meantime, yet I have seen her in nothing – at least not yet.

Beharie co-stars in the the film Monsters and Men, which tells the story of the police killing of a black man as told through the eyes of a bystander who filmed the incident. The movie has already won the 2018 Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award  earlier this year and is due to be shown at the Toronto Film Festival September 6-16 before it’s theatrical release on October 5, 2018. Early reviews have called the movie impactful, blunt and superbly acted. Beharie plays Michelle, the wife of a black cop who is all too aware of the racial profiling of black men by the officers he stands beside. Michelle is described a sleek professional type who, after vowing to never to get involved with a cop, is loving and supportive of her husband and the challenges he faces.

Everything about this sounds fantastic! The plot sounds great, the cast stellar and the trailer looks gripping. I thought to myself, “Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere. I don’t need my girl to be in a high budget blockbuster for her to get the credit she deserves. Projects like this will lead the way for a ton of other things. Let me venture over to her credits and see what else she has lined up!” Again, nothing. Nothing announced, nothing in pre-production, post-production, nada. So, I then thought, “Let me take to social media. Surely Nicole is keeping her fans apprised of her next venture.”

Again, nothing. Nicole hasn’t posted anything on Twitter since October 2017. She did provide us a selfie on Instagram this past June and she does sometimes pop up in pictures with friend Naturi Naugton (Power) but nothing about future projects. That’s fair. Not all celebrities embrace social media and honestly, I can’t blame them. I can respect those who prefer to move in silence. However, in searching her name on Twitter, I noticed that a lot of fans had the same thoughts as me. I came across multiple tweets from fans asking where Beharie was, what ever happened to Jacob’s Ladder, and fan casting her in everything they think she would be great in. It was then that I knew it wasn’t just me who was feeling the Beharie withdrawals.

Fans have even gotten to the point of speculating that the lack of Beharie on our screens could be due her being blacklisted after her departure from Sleepy Hollow. I too dabbled in that theory, but the truth of the matter is that there’s been no concrete evidence of that. And honestly, what did she do to deserve that other than know her worth and drive most of the show’s viewership? She may very well have just decided to take a bit of a break from the Hollywood machine. And she would be well deserved of that. She doesn’t owe us her presence. We are blessed to have the work that she’s given us thus far. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want more for her. So again, I thought to myself, “Let me dig a little deeper. It could just be that things are in the pipeline but not announced yet.”

I reached out to her publicist, Jaime Skinner via email, expecting a response along the lines of, “Yes! Nicole is actively working on new projects and stay tuned for the announcements!” Instead, I received a one sentence reply, “She’s on hiatus please reach out to her agents.” Hiatus? Huh? What does that even mean? So, I did as instructed, emailed her agents at ICM Partners where I’ve yet to receive a response. It’s been two weeks.

I don’t claim to know the of the business of Hollywood. I just want to see my favorite actors excel at what they love to do. And after the 2015 Primetime Emmys, I assumed that the doors would be opened for not only the actresses Viola Davis named, but every black actress who may have been finding it difficult to secure those opportunities. Naive, I know. I have done all the digging I can do, and I still don’t know where Nicole Beharie is.

In a time when we are seeing the rise in popularity of actresses such as Nafessa Williams, Susan Kelechi Watson, Aja Naomi King, Issa Rae and Simone Missick, I can’t help but to want to see the same for Nicole. But as I stated, this sabbatical may be self-inflicted. Nicole could be on a retreat with a seaweed face mask on and cucumbers over her eyes at this very minute, not worried about what I, or anyone else wants and I don’t begrudge her that at all. I’m just truly hoping that’s all it is.

So, Nicole, if you’re reading this, please know that we love and miss you and wish you nothing but endless light and prosperity. We will continue to hold this door open until you decide to walk back through.

About the author

Ashley Dionne

Ashley Dionne joined the TVSource Magazine team in December 2014.