Times are changing, but the entertainment industry is still moving full speed ahead.
Stars, like everyone else, are tucked away into their homes, waiting for some semblance of normal to return, so it’s safe to go outside without having to worry about your mask matching your ‘fit or accidentally not adhering to social distance guidelines. While our new normal has yet to be reflected in a movie or show– another gut punch we’ve been forced to reckon with has been the racial injustices caught on camera as the uprising has begun. And now, Hulu’s latest show, aptly titled Woke isn’t too far off from what you might see on your local news any given night. The show, co-created by Keith Knight and Marshall Todd, finds Keef, an African-American cartoonist on the verge of mainstream success, when he has an unpleasant run-in with the cops that changes his life.
We got a chance to chop it up with Sasheer Zamata, who plays Ayana on the show, trying to push Morris to understand the importance of his art through his identity, what she’s been up to in quarantine and more.
CASSIUS: What made you take on this role?
Sasheer Zamata: I like the project. Woke really starts out with a bang. The main character, played by Lamorne Morris, gets tackled and attacked by the police, and the rest of the season, you see him grappling with the trauma. And I feel like I don’t see many things dealing with the lasting pain and lasting trauma after a racially motivated incident like that. And I think it’s great and necessary that it’s a mainstream show. And my character, Ayana, is a fun character to play because I’m kind of the woke guru for Keef. I’m trying to bring him on the woke side of things and encourage him to use his voice and his art for good. And talk about what he’s going through, his Blackness and talk about his life because if you’re doing art and trying to communicate to an audience, you should be doing that.
C: Are you like your character in that aspect?
SZ: I do think so, yeah. I definitely talk about all the aspects of my life in my art. I try to communicate what I’m going through. I am a Black woman in America, and I can’t imagine not talking about that– I feel like there’d be a disconnect. People definitely labeled me as a political comic even though I don’t really talk about politics. But I do talk about myself and myself, in this world, is sometimes political—just me existing.
C: How important is it to have a show like this right now, given all the social injustice going on in the world? It’s woke and informative but also provides a bit of escapism because it’s funny.
SZ: I like comedy for multiple reasons. And one reason is I think it breaks down people’s defenses. It makes them more open to listening and learning a different perspective from theirs without feeling attacked or listening to a TED talk. You can laugh at this, but by the end of the episode, you’re like, “oh wait, there was a whole lesson there.” And I think it’s important for people to get this now because a lot of people are talking about this very publicly now and in the mainstream. I think it’s necessary. I hope this can get added to that conversation. You can totally watch this and just be entertained and not get a lesson at all. I hope you do get a lesson, but I also hope people watch it and have fun because it is a very fun show and cast. Some people just need an escape. You know, you gotta laugh to keep from sometimes crying, so we need breaks as well.
I am a Black woman in America, and I can’t imagine not talking about that.
C: Since we spoke about escapism, how have you personally been escaping since being stuck in the house? Any new hobbies?
SZ: I’ve been taking up roller skating. I did it when I was a kid, like at peoples’ birthday parties at the roller rink. It’s been a journey as an adult, using my body weight as a fully adult human. But it’s fun, its a really fun quarantine activity because you get to go outside, and I truly feel like I’m playing. Like I feel like a kid after I’m done skating for a couple hours. I’m just all sweaty and hot. I just feel good [laughs].
C: In the show, Lamorne Morris’ character plays a cartoonist, and there’s a lot of animation in the show. What would you say is your favorite cartoon of all time
SZ: My favorite cartoon is A Goofy Movie. And of course, the TV show Goof Troop. That movie, when it came out, was the first movie I saw that had a tumultuous relationship with the child and the parent. Usually, you don’t even see the parent, or the parent is nice and supportive. And I don’t understand what that is like [laughs]. So it was nice to see the kid be embarrassed by the dad. Or they’re like fighting, and there’s just a strain. And the push and pull. I grew up in a single-parent household, and so did Max; Goofy was a single father. I liked seeing that represented in a cartoon that I could enjoy. Also, the music was BOMB in that movie.
C: How do you think the industry is going to permanently change?
SZ: I do think there will be more things that can be done from home just because people will be like, “well, we did it from home before, we can just do it now,” so that will be nice, But I am missing reasons to go out somewhere. It would be nice to have a place to go. Also, people are really taking this time to learn, and I love that. Like the NBA is doing a great job to use their huge viewership too because there’s hardly any other sports on. So they’re “like everyone is watching the NBA and so we’re gonna take advantage of that by putting Black Lives Matter on the floor, and we’re not going to play until you actively make a change because we’re Black and you cant use us as entertainment and not care about our lives.” I think it’s beautiful. And I think a lot more people are using this time to do stuff like that because they’re desperate for entertainment, so it’s like well if you’re going to watch something, you should watch something that talks about the issues that are happening right now.
C: Do you think the entertainment industry will have any major changes after COVID is over?
SZ: I have no idea. But this is really nice and easy. I think it would easier because there’s no traveling, no travel budget. I think you’ll definitely be seeing more of these.
C: Lastly, what do you miss most about outside being open?
SZ: Concerts. I really wanna go to a concert. I was supposed to go to My Chemical Romance for their big comeback tour in October, but that got postponed to next October, so hopefully, that happens. But I did see a picture of a social distance concert at a concert that I think was in the UK. And everyone just had their own little box with just their 1 or 2 friends. And if that’s what concerts are going to be, I am going to be in heaven. Everyone gets their own VIP section, and I love it.
Woke premieres September 9 on Hulu.*