Samora, a beautiful actress who’s talents stop at nothing to become the best version of herself. Smallwood is a classically trained bilingual actress, writer, creator, krav maga fighter, as well as a singer! Knowing no limits, she has performed in many known movies and tv shows such as Star Trek, Shadowhunters, The Shelter, American Gods, and so on. Her next work in the upcoming show The Kings of Napa is more astounding than ever, and definitely will deserve a watch once it comes out on January 11th.
How old were you when you realized you wanted your career to focus on being an actress and why have you chosen acting specifically?
As a little girl I was always performing for my family, doing accents, and telling stories. Looking back at old home videos I can see the performer in me emerging even as a toddler. It wasn’t until I was 17 getting ready to go to university that my inner voice just said, “apply to the acting program”. I am so thankful I listened.
Could you tell us what challenges you have to go through as a BIPOC actress that many people would find surprising?
Representation, diversity and inclusion in storytelling is one of my biggest passions. Personally, as a BIPOC actress, who is mixed race and light skinned, I would say the inability to put me in a box or tokenize me has been a challenge. Being biracial means “my background” is not easily identifiable. Our industry likes things black and white, pun intended. I remember Meghan Markle once saying she never felt white enough or black enough, and that really resonates with me. In an industry (and world) that wants to check a box by doing the bare minimum in terms of real representation, being ethnically ambiguous can be challenging. I acknowledge that being light skinned or having passing privilege has a painful cultural history. In the black community, society at large, and onscreen, the way I look has often been assigned privilege by a society stratified by racism. In the entertainment industry, however, stories traditionally center around white lead characters, which I’m not white enough for (a director once approached me at an industry event to tell me I was their and the showrunner’s top pick, but “they” thought I was “too exotic”). In this archaic model, the diversity is often begrudgingly added as the last thought usually during the casting phase, in a desperate bid to appease BIPOC audiences who demand to see themselves on-screen. This means, instead of rich, nuanced inclusion, we see box checking (and to the chagrin of BIPOC folx, often double dipping aka the Black character is also the only gay character) for which I am not x, y, or z enough for. This is the reality for BIPOC artists in my industry and it means that truly talented performers don’t get to play complex characters and are usually underpaid when they do work. It’s why I’m so passionate about challenging the status quo and making good change in our industry and the world. When we have more creatives, showrunners, writers, and network executives of color, we will see representation that comes from an authentic place – not merely checking a box. Characters that are conceived and written as BIPOC not haphazardly sprinkled in at the last moment, in a desperate bid to appease BIPOC audiences who increasingly demand to see themselves onscreen. And we are wielding our power well. I turn off a TV show or movie right away if there are no lead characters who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+, differently abled, etc. I remove myself as audience and consumer if the black women and people are all in subservient positions, the butt of the joke, or if our stories always end in violence. The box checking is done by people in powerful positions of gatekeeping, too. You can’t just check a box in your writer’s room either, by hiring one black writer, and expect them to do double or triple duty by writing your diversity box checkers and represent an entire culture and educate. We are not a monolith. There is good progress: “Kings of Napa” is a great example of that. And I am blessed and grateful to be a working actor and activist committed to diversity and inclusion, but more progress is needed. When we fully embrace, amplify, and empower the voices of all traditionally marginalized folx we will see an end to the scarcity mindset that pits us against each other, and I sure hope an end to my being deemed “too exotic” for any damn thing.
As someone who is trying to promote diversity, what message do you want your fans to see and remember?
That your dreams are valid. You are worthy. No matter where you come from, you have a right to pursue your passions. I want my fans to know I support you; I love you, and I appreciate you. I am so grateful to be in a place and time where I can speak freely about my experiences and not feel like there will be consequences. We can talk about race, and equity, and equal pay openly and not worry about being shunned. Protect yourself and your energy. Maintain healthy boundaries, and most of all: you don’t owe anything to anyone who is committed to misunderstanding you.
You have chosen to perform your own stunts in Tormented. Why was this something you wanted to do?
Because I’m a badass! I’ve loved action and have been an athlete my whole life. I’m not afraid of a little danger.
Do you ever want to pursue your singing career alongside your acting career more? I would! My partner and my brother own a recording studio, Rare Heir, in Toronto and I have recorded songs and raps there. One day I will have the time (and the guts) to share it with the world. One of my goals I am manifesting is to be in a musical and/or play a rockstar.
What actor or actress left a big impression on you when you were working with them and what was it?
My co-stars in the “Kings of Napa” because each of them in their own way, shines their light brightly and lives boldly. I admire that and strive to do the same.
If you could choose an actor or actress that you wanted to be cast alongside you in a movie or show, who would it be and why?
Denzel Washington because he is the GOAT. Angelina Jolie in an ensemble action piece, Mahershala Ali in a well-written indie, and Angela Bassett in a heist movie.
Who is the one person you would always look up to?
My mama because she gave me James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, and Richard Wright to read, and because she never gives up.
Do you plan on making acting your permanent career or is there anything else you would like to do in the future?
Storytelling is my greatest passion. And healing, closing the loop of generational trauma. The two come together in a series I created, called “GONE”, which is in development now. My plans include creating projects through my production company that empower and uplift women and BIPOC voices, upend common tropes, and ask people to question the deeply held but harmful beliefs they cling to.
Who did you first share the news with when you got cast in The Kings of Napa?
My partner who simply said, “I told you!” because as soon as I finished my self-tape audition he said, “you booked that” and then my mama.
If you could change one thing in the past, what would it be and why?
I would spend more time with my grandmother before she passed and spend more time loving myself compassionately the way I do now.
Did you ever regret performing in a show or movie and why?
No regrets! Nothing grows in shame and looking in the rear view is a recipe for missing what’s coming. Stay focused on the road ahead, and no matter what: keep going. That’s how you #ManifestYoShit