Jurnee Smollett in Photoshoot for StyleCaster October 2020

Jurnee Smollett revealed that she almost pulled the plug on acting at one stage in her career, but in a new intimate interview, a South African trip to help those less fortunate is what changed her mind. The actress opened up about the time in her life when she thought she would say goodbye to the industry she has been in since childhood; the actress sat down with StyleCaster for a cover feature about different issues, including the coronavirus pandemic and the causes she believes in most. Since Jurnee was 12, she had been doing non-profit work, including with the organization, Artists For a New South Africa, founded by Alfre Woodard and other actors and aimed at ending South Africa’s segregation. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey star began to wonder if she should do that kind of full-time work.

She further explained that the “game” she referred to was the lack of exciting opportunities she had as a black actress. “She shared,” It was incredibly frustrating just getting into the room for roles I would be thrilled about. I was repeatedly told, “Oh, we are not willing to go ethnic on that role.” That is what my agents were told consistently. That would be the term they used.

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She continued, “casting directors had no shame in saying, “Yeah, the role is not opening up. The filmmaker is not willing to go ethnic.” “I could not even get in the room to compete, which was incredibly depressing because the roles I could get are were either horror films where I am killed on page 33, or I am the feisty Black best friend. It is very unsatisfying for someone to tell you, Well, you can only create this kind of art.”

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Before she decided to quit acting, Smollett was invited to South Africa with Samuel L. Jackson, Alfre, and others to help build wells in villages that needed water. It is what suddenly opened her eyes to look at her art differently. “I saw the power of art,” Jurnee said. “This art is what brought us there. It is what could save a young girl managing a home and taking care of her younger siblings because her parents died from AIDS.”

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“It could save the little girl from having to walk three miles only to get water,” she added. “We could go there and make a well in this small town so that she and many others like her could spend more time in school. Art is what could improve lives.”

Jurnee returned to work after the life-changing journey and got impressive roles on television shows like True Blood, Friday Night Lights, and The Defenders before getting cast as the lead in the movie Underground in 2015, a groundbreaking role that brought in many more offers. Jurnee Smollett was eventually cast in the role of Letitia “Leti” Lewis in Lovecraft Country, which is a role she knew only she could play.

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