Sheryl Lee Ralph was tapped as one of the leads opposite Delroy Lindo in ABC’s family restaurant drama pilot Harlem’s Kitchen.
Since the beginning of Ralph’s career, Hollywood has slowly and at times, reluctantly, opened its doors to offer more diverse roles of Black actresses, and she is undoubtedly a pioneer. There is much more work to be done, but Ralph has often leant her voice to the movement to ensure that not only her peers but the next generation of actors are heard.
We spoke to Ralph about Harlem’s Kitchen, her challenging role as President of the United States in Freeform’s supernatural series, Motherland and why we’re not all “stuck” at home during the pandemic.
Shine My Crown: You star in the ABC pilot for the anticipated series, Harlem’s Kitchen. What attracted you to the script for this show?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I was so thrilled to read a script that had a strong black affluent family that wasn’t perfect but full of positive possibilities. It’s a sexy, exciting script, and a wonderful cast has been assembled.
Shine My Crown: Harlem’s Kitchen is set in a fine dining restaurant in Harlem and centers on a patriarch, who runs a successful restaurant, and you play his wife, CC. How important is it that we have positive images of the Black family on television?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: We can’t get enough of strong Black families on the big and small screens. A loving Black father and mother speaks volumes to the world. To this day, I’ll never forget the positive impact the family we portrayed in Moesha on Black families and others to this day.
Shine my Crown: What are some of the differences and similarities between yourself and CC?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: CC and I both love and adore our children, and we will go to the end of the earth for our families. CC tolerated the side chicks, and I would not.
I also play the President of the United States in the edgy new series Motherland: Fort Salem.
Shine My Crown: What was most challenging about your role as president in Motherland and why?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: The challenge was bringing to light just how different the work could be with women in charge. Power in anyone’s hands can be dangerous. But I LOVE the power of being the woman I charge until it gets… well you’ll just have to watch.
Being married to a true public servant, Senator Vincent Hughes of PA, I had great insight into the life of a true politician.
Shine My crown: And has the role changed the way you view the way the Trump administration handling of minorities and social injustice?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: The man currently occupying the White House could learn quite a bit about leadership from the alternate 45th President Kelly Wade.
Lying, cheating and using deception of any sort to mislead the people will not be tolerated in my administration. We are bound by law!
Shine My Crown: During your time in the entertainment industry, what are some of the barriers you feel that you’ve contributed to breaking down for women of color and why?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: When I won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress in Charles Burnett’s, To Sleep With Anger I made an impassioned speech about the need for Hollywood to open its doors to the talented Black actresses who like me had so much more to offer this industry besides playing the role of the maid or prostitute. The next day my speech was read in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and other entertainment outlets. Many of my peers couldn’t believe that I had said those things out our. But I had found my voice, and I could be silent anymore.
Shine My Crown: I was born in Jamaica but grew up in London, and Moesha was a huge part of my childhood. Every single one of my friends wanted you as their mother. How is it to know that you’ve influenced so many young Black women across the globe and that you Dee lives forever in our hearts?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I am very proud of the impact Dee has made around the world. I travel often and never tire of hearing how people feel about me and the show. It is such a good feeling. No matter where I go, I will always be somebody’s DreamGirl or Moesha Mama Dee.
Shine My Crown: You still look incredible. Can you please share a few tips on how to stay looking young and healthy for our readers?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I live a life of balance. I sleep long and well. I appreciate fine wine and champagne, but not to excess. I drink as much water as I can. I don’t fight or curse people out or let anyone steal my joy.
Shine My Crown: You have a podcast, DIVA Defined. What have been some of the highlights from the show?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I had an outstanding lineup of guests that shared such intimate and powerful parts of themselves. Loni Love, Breesha Webb, Chandra Wilson, my husband Senator Vincent Hughes, my son Etienne Maurice and daughter Ivy Maurice revealed such insightful, inspiring conversations.
Shine My Crown: You are also the founder of the D.I.V.A. Foundation. Why did you decide to create the foundation, and why is it so dear to your heart?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I created The D.I.V.A. Foundation as a living breathing memorial to the many friends that I lost to AIDS as an original company member of Dreamgirls on Broadway. I believed that if sex could be death for men, then women couldn’t be far behind. People told me I was crazy, this is a gay disease. I always saw it as a human disease because no matter what your sexual preference may be there is a natural connection between between men and women. I may not be your lover, but I’m definitely your mother, and if you’re lucky, I’m your friend.
We’ve been raising awareness for 30 years and Divas Simply Singing! is now the longest consecutive running AIDS benefit of its kind.
Shine My Crown: How can our readers get behind D.I.V.A. and support?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Please visit www.diva.foundation
Follow us on social media. Make a donation and give us your support. Come to the 30th Annual Divas Simply Singing! Dec. 6th in Hollywood, Ca.
Practice kindness and self-care. Your health is your greatest wealth, and most people don’t value it until it’s gone.
And remember, you are Divinely Inspired Victoriously Alive, DIVA!
Shine My Crown: Do you have any advice for our readers stuck in quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I don’t think of being in my home as being stuck. I am home to make sure the virus doesn’t spread to those least able to fight this novel coronavirus. I have lost my Uncle to the virus and three friends.
I encourage everyone to practice social distancing, wear a mask when in the supermarket or around people, not in your family circle. And we can’t tell people to wash their hands enough with soap and hot water.
Keep a positive outlook and know that we will get through this together while apart.
You can can catch all new episodes on Motherland: Fort Salem on Freeform Weds 9p/8c.