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Interview with Tina Lifford: ‘Queen Sugar’ and ‘A Holiday in Harlem’

Interview with Tina Lifford: ‘Queen Sugar’ and ‘A Holiday in Harlem’

You may know award-winning actress Tina Lifford as the adored Aunt Vi on OWN’s television drama, Queen Sugar. Or, from her long-standing career in television and film, including Scandal and Parenthood.

BGN had the opportunity to speak with Lifford, via telephone, about her new film A Holiday in Harlem, her book, The Little Book of Big Lies, and why she is passionate about the importance of “Inner Fitness.”

Since 2016, you’ve blessed us with your role as Aunt Vi on Queen Sugar. She’s a Black woman business owner, has a happy and healthy relationship, and is the glue of her family. These are things we don’t get to see so fully. How have you been able to shape this character into a woman of substance?

That’s a great question. There’s a lot within my immediate experience of life to pull from. I’m going to start with the community I grew up in. I was reared in the small town of Evanston, Illinois, and we really did experience my parent’s friends as our extended family. My parents were very social, so there were a lot of barbecues, parties, card games, and New Year’s Days at our home. It was entire families — adults and their children. I was reared seeing all of these amazing friendships — not just with women — and having a sense of belonging, community, and family. That was the nature of my parent’s social group. It started there.

I also have a fierce mom: fierce in that she is this amazing creature who will give anything in the name of love. She is outspoken and has a true north when it comes to right and wrong and integrity. The thing she cherishes the most is making sure that the people she loves really feel it — and not just in our family. So many people feel loved by my mom. They feel it, and she is incredibly outspoken and frank.

I want to talk to you about your book, The Little Book of Big Lies. I love the concept of changing how we think and live. Tell us about why you wrote this book and who it is for.

The book is for anyone who has found themselves feeling less than, not good enough, separated from themselves by shame or embarrassment, afraid of knowing themselves, or exploring their feelings. So, it is for anyone in that category — which is actually all of us. The Little Book of Big Lies says that any event, person, or experience that left us feeling a certain way, for any reason, was a lie. That experience was a lie. That person and how they behaved — that is a lie. We’re not denying the reality that it happened. But the message sent was inaccurate and untruthful.

Exploring these messages, in the context of truth, is what the book is about: how to very specifically identify those lies and begin to actively, intentionally, and deliberately rewrite them so that you can walk more in the truth of who you are. The truth is that you are so much more than the simple image of what you see in the mirror. It is our responsibility to invest time and attention in getting to know that inner self. It can challenge our thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

The book has given way to the Inner Fitness Project. Tell us more about that.

Right this minute, mostly women show up. We do have men in the community, but that’s because women are more of the adopters when it comes to emotional things and taking an introspective look. Women have been given permission to do that more [of that] than men have up until now. Inner fitness is truly just the inverse of physical fitness. It is important for every human being to be mindful of basic practices that support physical fitness. Every human being needs to have basic information about their inner resilience, inner flexibility, and inner power.

Let’s talk about A Holiday in Harlem, which is so good! One of my favorite moments in the film is when Jasmine, her mother, and Mama Bell are in the kitchen about to prepare the family recipe of macaroni and cheese. It was heartwarming to see the women sharing this tradition. What are you hoping people walk away with after seeing this film?

Hopefully, reconnecting to a memory from their own cultural experience, from their own family, or from their own history. If, in fact, these experiences weren’t present in their family, they can enjoy that it was present in many families who look just like you. You can enjoy it now and decide from this point forward how much of the film you want to be a part of your life or acknowledge how much in the film is already a part of your life.

What are some things you have upcoming?

Queen Sugar is going into season 7, so that is fun and exciting. I am writing my second book for Harper Collins. It is an extension of The Little Book of Big Lies. I have a passion towards the conversation of wellness, and it’s gaining more and more adopters every day. It’s being willing to speak more to your feelings, identify them, and navigate them with more intentionality. It is happening more in our society, and that is exciting. This book and my intention with Inner Fitness is to always help people navigate the journey with greater insight so that putting concepts into action becomes easier.

Within my platform Inner Fitness, there are a number of things that we do. Wellness Wednesdays are an easy, loving, safe space to drop in and just be there or to share. It’s totally up to the person. The online community talks about where we are — wins, ways in which a concept or principle could have been applied where a challenge is concerned, or how to apply it during a particular challenge.

At our website,, we have workshops that are upcoming. In January 2022, we will have Phoenix Rising, our annual New Year, New You workshop. We are going to dive into goals and intentions that most people have not experienced. We will also launch our first digital fitness workout called Inner Fitness 101. In just one hour, it will give you six core concepts that empower you to live your life more proactively.

I encourage BGN readers to go to my YouTube channel [Tina Lifford Dream]. I made a five-minute film after a dream that I had, which I actually talk about in my book. I offer it because this dream will help people see themselves in a new light. The film deals with the Three Selves that live inside of us. From there, you can begin to make more conscious and deliberate decisions about which self is leading in your conversations and actions at any given time.

The season finale of Queen Sugar airs November 16, 2021, on OWN. A Holiday in Harlem premieres November 14, 2021, on the Hallmark Channel.

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