Marsai Martin, Issa Rae And Regina Hall Talk ‘Little’ And Breaking Barriers
If you’re looking for a healthy dose of black girl magic this month, “Little” has got you covered.
The film, which released nationwide on Friday, stars 14-year-old Marsai Martin, Issa Rae and Regina Hall. It follows Jordan Sanders (Hall), CEO and founder of a tech company and painfully tough boss, who is magically reverted into her 13-year-old self (Martin). With the help of her assistant April (Rae), the CEO embarks on a fun, insightful journey to get in touch with her inner child.
This film is hilarious. But it’s more than just another body swap film. It is history-making. In one scene, Rae’s character jokingly says it’s impossible that Jordan is now a child because “that’s for white people.” She’s not wrong, as the trope has historically been in films reserved for white actors, with the exception of “Seventeen Again” starring Tia and Tamera Mowry. But the “Black-ish” star wants to shake Hollywood up, starting with “Little.”
When Martin was 10, she began to plant the seeds of becoming the youngest person ever to executive produce a film in Hollywood. She fired an agent who tried to limit her and joined forces with Hall, who’s also an EP, Rae and director Tina Gordon. Written by Tracy Oliver, this film is an example of the kind of representation we need to see in front of and behind the camera.
Even beyond representation, “Little,” a Will Packer production, is the product of an ecosystem that makes sure everyone eats. And laughs. Through Martin, Rae and Hall, a sisterhood exists where the “Insecure” and “Black Monday” stars lovingly tease the 14-year-old as if they grew up in the same home. Through the jokes, however, you can tell they have each others’ backs.
The trio spoke with HuffPost about Marsai’s history-making film, being inspired by Nipsey Hussle’s legacy and advice they would give themselves at 13-year-old. (Spoiler alert: Issa’s is “stop being so thirsty.”)
Marsai, you’re the youngest person in history to executive-produce a film. How does that feel? Was that a goal that you set out to accomplish?
Marsai Martin: You know, it wasn’t necessarily a goal. I think it came naturally, in a way, to where I get to create things that I love to create. I feel like I didn’t even know what producing meant when I first started. Then I was like, “Oh, snap! I have to do this and get to work with these type of people.” No, it’s lots of fun. I’m beyond grateful to have the opportunity to.
Issa and Regina, you both have these amazing careers. Issa, you’re like just this budding icon. Regina, you have been in the industry for so many years doing the damn thing. What was it like just working on this film executive-produced by Marsai?
Issa Rae: I mean, that’s what appealed to me the most. Regina hit me up about the film to begin with. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to work together. She was like, “Oh, I’m EPing this script. What do you think?” I loved the story because I grew up on “Big.” Then, hearing that Marsai was not only in it, but it was her idea, it came from her, I was just like, “Oh, I want to be a part of this. This is history.” I didn’t know that she was the first, not just the youngest black girl EP, but that she was the youngest EP in film history. That is just magical.
It really makes me tear up to think about everyone who’s going to just look at her name in the history books and see what is possible, especially young black girls. I was like, if she was around when I was younger, you couldn’t tell me anything. I’d be like, “Oh, Marsai did it, so I can do it too.” That’s just so powerful to me.
Regina Hall: I’m a big fan of Issa. I have wanted to work with her for a long time. A huge fan of Marsai as well. The idea was great. And I just thought, what an incredible way to be able to have this amazing talent [and] be able to support her in anyway, and be able to work with someone whose work I love. I think Issa, comedically, is … the first time I saw her … Well, we tried. God knows we tried. We wrote a picture. We tried.
Rae: We pitched a movie everywhere in Hollywood. They said no.
Hall: They said no.
Rae: Meanwhile, they were saying yes to Marsai. That’s good. It was all good. We failed so she could win.
Hall: That’s right, that’s right. Even though we wouldn’t have been the youngest … we might have got the most “nos.” We might have set a record over here.
What was the movie?
Rae: You know, we’re not …
Hall: It’s okay. We’re not even gonna … but it was good.
Rae: It was good. It was so funny.
Hall: It’s still funny and we laughed.
Rae: It didn’t make them laugh, but it made us laugh.
Hall: It made us laugh and still does. I think, too, in this time with women really being empowered to see it, I’m like Issa to see her do this at such a young age and just have an idea, not just have it and sit on it, but put it together, vocalize it, pitch it and go in that room and do what we didn’t, and get it done and get it made. To work with two such incredible women, and Tina, our director, so three incredible women, I was excited for that.
“Little” discusses this idea of not shrinking yourself through Issa’s character, April. Marsai, you let your agent go because she was like, “I want you to chill a little bit during this hiatus.” Can you talk about that and how did you come to that decision, especially at such a young age?
Martin: I feel like it was more than just, “Chill, you’re on ‘Black-ish,’ relax. You can always chill. Vacations are fun.” It was more of they didn’t trust the story that I had when I said I wanted to create something. Like I said, we had this huge meeting. They brought out a pile of scripts and papers to tell us all the stuff that I wasn’t in, or I don’t belong in, which is basically saying all the opportunities for young black girls like me don’t have the chance to come out here and do amazing things such as other people do. That’s why we fired them.
It was more of like a family situation, too, because I was 10 at the time. It was more of a family decision. We wanted to move forward. It’s something that we really worked really hard on. Of course, with “Little,” we wanted to do something where it was for everyone and everyone could feel welcomed. I didn’t get the chance to have that when I was that age.
Can you talk about the importance of hair having a huge presence in the film?
Martin: With hair, I feel like it also defines who I am, or who we are as a person too. Sometimes, us, as black women, they’d be like, “Why is your hair like that?” They don’t understand the culture or the natural hair type fill. I feel like when we wanted to create little Jordan, we wanted to create someone that was a strong, intelligent black kid. I felt like that was all in the hair too because they kind of tore us down with that also. We wanted to bring that back too and make it more of a statement.
What age, Regina, Issa, did you feel fully comfortable in bossing up and being, taking control of yourself and your destiny?
Hall: I feel like, for me, it’s always a work in progress.
Rae: Yes. I was gonna say 30.
Hall: Yes. I feel like you get to one level and you’re comfortable. Then, you get to the next level and you got to readjust for that next level. I think it’s always a process.
Rae: I agree. I don’t want to be 50, 60 being like, “Oh, I don’t give AF.” I don’t care. I want to be able to have that now. Like Regina said, it is about leveling, taking one step at a time in terms of shedding your Fs.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self, all of you?
Rae: I guess, chill, calm down. I’d say stop comparing yourself to others. Everybody’s path is not your path. Stop being so thirsty.
Martin: I was 13 last year …
Hall: EP-ing. Yours should be “work harder.”
Hall: That’s my advice for you at 13.
Martin: How am I slacking?
Rae: It’s just like, you’re 14 now and you’ve EP’ed one movie?
Hall: Yes. You’re not trying. You got it to screen in May. Come on!
Martin: Hey, look. I’m trying, guys. You know, I’ve got a production company.
Rae: You just got a production company? Can you imagine! I had nothing at that age. I probably would have if I … you know.
Hall: I would have told myself you’re not going to marry Prince. That’s what I thought was happening. I was like, “Mommy, I’m not going to need to do this, this and this, because when Prince sees me, he’s going to marry me.”
Rae: You thought he was going to marry you at 13 years old?
Hall: I hadn’t thought about the age yet. We weren’t in the movements like now. Nobody was focused.
Rae: You weren’t in the movements? You didn’t know that Prince should not be with a 13-year-old?
Hall: All I know is that’s what I thought was happening. I could see who would have shattered my dreams, though. I’m glad I didn’t know.
Rae: You’re glad you didn’t have me as a friend. I’d be like, “Girl, you shouldn’t go after Prince. You’re 13.”
Hall: You’d be like, “Stop being so thirsty.” I would have been like, “Issa, come with me.”
I would have been like, “You’ve got a shot.” I was thirsty at 13.
Rae: 13! That must be a thing. That has to be something right?
Martin: I wasn’t thirsty at 13.
Rae: You weren’t thirsty at 13?
Rae: You talked about your boys obsessions, right?
Martin: But I’m 14. I never, at 13, I never had that.
Rae: Your parents are around so we’re not gonna but you on blast, but I heard some things.
Hall: It was that last month at 13, too. That’s when I started to turn up. Right before you turn 14. You were still legally 13. It was a …
Rae: Fast 14. That’s what they say. Thirsty 13, fast 14.
Martin: We’ll see at 15, because I turn 15 this year.
Hall: Freaky 15.
Martin: Oh my god!
Hall: Be careful. No, no, no.
Martin: Get off my back, guys.
Hall: No, no, no, no. We’re not.
[Earlier we spoke about] giving back to communities and uplifting. You all posted about Nipsey Hussle. Can you just speak to his influence and importance of giving back to your community and uplifting and how that model is fueling your work today?
Rae: What was special about Nipsy was that he cared. He was a representation of the community. He came from the community. You don’t get to see examples of people who make it out and then really just stay and dedicate their entire being to making that community better.
Hall: On every level.
Whether you were a fan of his music or not, you saw the impact that he had, like buying property in Slauson. I heard him doing that on Slauson and Crenshaw, which was my bus stop growing up. To see that and to know that the community was in his hands as opposed to other developers buying it up and turning it into whatever for non-black people. You just knew that he was invested. To hear him doing that when I was in college and post-college was just like, “Oh, man! I should do that. When I get a coin, I want to do that too.” Just his impact, it’s such a loss. You get a glimmer of hope in some of these people, these leaders. Then, they’re taken away from us due to senseless violence. That’s the biggest tragedy of all.
He wanted to speak against that violence. Having someone who knows it from so many parts. Actually, when I heard it, it made me think of “The Hate You Give,” and that character, Russell Hornsby. You want to stay in your neighborhood. You want to influence. It’s just, you think of him as a father. You know what I mean? As a partner. It’s incredibly tragic to be a young man who was building, building himself, building his family, building his community. It’s really sad.
You all are at very different stages in your career, but making such huge impacts. What story haven’t you told, or hasn’t been told yet that you want to tell?
Hall: There are a million stories.
Martin: There’s a lot of them. For me, it’s just the beginning of creating things that I want to see, and for other people to look up to also. I mean, there’s a lot of genres that need to be filled.
Hall: I want to help other people who have stories want to tell their stories, too. You know?
Rae: I guess, more specifically, I was talking about how I miss teen movies and how there wasn’t, we didn’t really have a black teen genre. I can think of “The Wood,” which was …
Hall: Yes, kind of.
Rae: Well, yes, between adulthood and teen. I can’t think of many black teen films. I’m like, “I want to see that. I want to see that coming-of-age story.”
Hall: Like a “Sixteen Candles.”
Rae: Or even like those John Hughes types.
Hall: That’s what I mean. We don’t have that. I’m saying we don’t have that. Yes. The Molly Ringwald. Those movies, we didn’t have those.
Rai: Marsai, hurry up! Get to work. God!
Martin: You don’t even know what I’m doing. You guys, you all haven’t come to the office, or else you guys would have known.
Rae: You done with us?
Martin: No. I’m not done with you all! I’m sitting right next to y’all.
Hall: You people change. You know what I mean?
Rae: We’re watching it happen.
Hall: We’re experiencing it, so now …
Rae: Forgetful 14.
Martin: Oh my god!
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