There are certain people that you talk to and you just know they are bound for big success.
Actor and activist Rita Rucker has already achieved great things professionally and personally, but this is only the beginning for her. You may recognize her face from lucrative shows like BET’s Becoming Mary Jane starring Gabrielle Union or FX’s Snowfall starring Damson Idris.
Rucker’s latest feature role is in BET’s new show Twenties (created by Lena Waithe), in which she gets to be a part of telling such an important story that many viewers can relate to. Not only is Rucker a phenomenal actor, but she’s also just a really phenomenal human. Rucker has a heart for raising awareness about human trafficking. She marries her two passions of acting and activism together as often as she can, especially when volunteering with the charity Artists for Change.
Fans saw you get your start in Becoming Mary Jane on BET and Snowfall on FX, but you’ve been acting since you were a kid. What made you decide that you wanted to take on acting as a career?
Great question. As a kid, I didn’t think that I would actually pursue this as an adult. I was really more into gymnastics and cheerleading and the Girl Scouts and all these other extracurricular activities. I never really thought about it as a kid. But I took an acting class when I was 16 or 17 with Actor’s Breakthrough. Gregory Alan Williams was teaching it. You probably remember his shows, like Greenleaf and Remember the Titans. I just wanted to see if I was any good at all. And yeah after that, I liked it. I was like, “This is cool” — being able to see all the different things that can happen with the same set of words, all the different emotions I can go through from just using the same words, how the text just came alive. And I was like, “I want to pursue this as a career.” From there, I started to think about it from a more professional standpoint. I went to Cal State in San Bernardino and ended up getting a theater scholarship. I was like, “Okay, well, I must be good.” It gave me a little bit of confidence to pursue it professionally. Getting a scholarship, I was like, “Okay I’ll try it.”
Now you play Carrina in Lena Waithe’s BET show Twenties. What do you love about playing Carrina? Do you see yourself in her/relate to her at all?
I would definitely say prior, maybe some years back, being a part of the clear LGBTQIA community was not so open as it is now. My character is really, really short and sweet, but basically the theme is I play a writer who works in the writer’s room with the series lead, Hattie [played by Jonica (Jojo) T. Gibbs]. We apparently work together at You Go Girl Productions. The scene takes place at the top of the meeting. As writers, we’re set at the table brainstorming potential story ideas. The idea gets posed that we add a stereotypical sassy, flamboyant, gay man character to the show. Hattie opposes this idea and suggests that we write a story about a Queer Black woman, “and you know, just write her like she’s a person.” This doesn’t go over well with the other writers. They insist that they’ve written this character before; Hattie brings up the point that we don’t even know the character’s a Lesbian because we’ve never seen her kiss a woman. You might see my character come back, but I thought it was pretty cool to play my character because I think some people now make comments like that in the past.
Twenties is a comedy, but it still touches on real-life issues. A big plot point of the show is Hattie wanting to become a writer but having to climb her way up to that point. Oftentimes millennials are labeled as being “lazy” or “uncommitted” to work. What’s your personal take on that narrative? Do you feel millennials should focus more on unconventional jobs that make less money but make them more fulfilled or working to have security?
I don’t know how millennials got that label. We’ve been taught by our parents that we have to fit in these boxes. Life isn’t like that. But I don’t necessarily believe in a secure route or a conventional route. After pursuing any one of those routes, nothing is secure, nothing is promised. You have to give your best shot at anything that you want to do, whether it’s “financially secure” or not. I’m all for going the unconventional route, following your dream, working whatever side job you work to get to where you need to go. Because it’s the passion that’s going to really determine whether you’re successful or not, and not the financial security or the title or the things that maybe our parents have (all well-meaning, of course). I think Twenties does such a good job at showing the tribulations of a millennial trying to pursue her dreams of being a writer in Hollywood and trying to break through the labels that have been maybe passed to her without her permission and finding her way through that.
Tell me about working with Lena Waithe. She’s obviously a big producer and writer. What was it like working with her?
Working with Lena was really cool. Because my part was so small, I didn’t realize that I would be invited to a table read. But it’s the first season of the show, and a lot of the times when the writers write this stuff, they need to hear it out loud by the actors they cast. Even getting invited to the table read was such an awesome experience. Lena was there, the casting directors were there, writers, producers were there. And I’ll just say just being given the opportunity to sit at the same table with her, she’s very chill, very down to earth and personable. I’ve had an opportunity to meet her at different events after that, and she really is such a family-oriented person. She really is for us Black people, and she really has this passion to create that family environment and lift another person up. That’s one thing I really respect about her. Then, hearing the story about how she gave Jonica [Hattie on Twenties] her chance. You know, Jonica didn’t have an agent to have representation ever. I mean, she has done a little bit comedy and acting before, but this is really her first big shot, and Lena just gave it to her. So I just respect her for that. For being willing to take a chance on people, being willing to take a chance on me for my little part. I’m really grateful for that. She’s awesome.
Aside from acting, activism is another big passion of yours. You star in upcoming film Lost Girls: Angie’s Story, a film on human trafficking. Why is raising awareness about human trafficking so important to you?
When we think of the words “human trafficking” or “sex trafficking,” we think of it as happening over there, overseas in third-world countries. You don’t think that it’s happening here in America. I think it’s important to know that it is happening today. Educating ourselves, even just knowing that much, makes the biggest difference. Once you know, you have the power to do something about it. That’s one of the things I really love about Lost Girls. It’s not just entertainment. It really inspires you to think about those girls, that’s their reality. I’m really grateful to have been part of such a great film and can’t wait for it to come out. I also volunteer with Artists for Change from time to time. It’s a nonprofit organization centered on creating the type of media that brings that call to action. So it’s really a great organization.
Do you believe everyone with some platform or following should be using their space to speak up on issues?
Absolutely! We’re in that age where everyone has an opportunity to create a platform for themselves. Everyone has this opportunity to speak on whatever it is that they’re feeling or whatever it is they’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be human trafficking; it can be anything that’s important to you. But I feel that, if you have a thing that you’re passionate about, it’s important to speak up. Because if you’re silent, then you’re doing yourself and everyone else who may value and benefit from hearing your voice a disservice. They’re called “influencers” for a reason. When we watch their stuff, we feel something. We should definitely take advantage of that, this era that we’re in.
So what other roles would you like to play in the future? If this is your moment to dream big and speak out loud, what would you like to do?
Thanks for asking that question! I honestly really have a passion to do historical pieces, different stories throughout Black history, the untold stories, the ones that are history but aren’t taught in school. The ones that, you know, are forgotten about or maybe we never got a chance to hear because we were under the impression for so long that Black stories weren’t as important. I’m just loving this Renaissance, this awakening period that we’re in, to where we’re seeing all these on social media, on the internet throughout Black history, that was like, “Wow, I never learned about this in school.” I want to play a character that really shows that in a beautiful light. I actually have a story of my grandma. My grandma was a civil rights activist. I would love to tell her story, when she worked at a phone company and she was fighting for equal pay and fighting for our rights. I would love to tell her story via feature film so that people can learn about it. Attention spans are so short these days, we kind of maybe won’t read about it. We’ll for sure watch the film. We’ll for sure go watch it and watch Harriet, and we’ll learn about our history. So I want to be a part of that. But that’s something that really hits close to home for me.
Are there any projects you have coming up that you want to self plug? Anything you have coming up that people can be looking for?
Yeah, sure! I just left on both a short film and a feature film. The short film is called Endangered, written by Nakia Stephens and directed by Kiana Woodson. Nakia is also executive producer and Shanay J. Campbell is producer. Endangered will air April 25th on aspireTV. The film shows the journey of expecting a first child. It’s just a short film that takes place at the baby shower, and we just see them go through the different thoughts and worries that a Black couple may experience expecting their first child that’s unique to Black couples having a Black boy. I play a celebrity nutritionist. It’ll be shown at the American Black Film Festival.
The feature film is Young Wild Free, and that’s a coming of age story. I don’t really have a whole lot. I can’t really talk a whole bunch about that. It’s produced by Baron Davis, Charles King, Kim Roth. Ex Prods. Mark Wright, Jenna Cavelle, Jo Henriquez, Mark O’Connor, John Penotti. My character was Mrs. Auckland, the main characters’ high school English teacher. Luckily I was able to work on this film before the rest of the shooting got postponed due to COVID 19. I’m looking forward to the film’s release!
Be sure to catch Twenties on BET on Wednesday nights 10/9c.
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Sierra Lyons is a senior Broadcast Journalism student at Florida A&M University. She has extensive experience in writing and speaking on race relations, politics, and culture. She currently is the Opinions’ Editor for FAMU’s award-winning publication, The Famuan. Sierra is deeply committed to creating dialogue and strategy in eradicating social injustices from a Biblical perspective.