It is truly hard to believe it has been almost thirty years since I first laid eyes on Lynn Whitfield. I was a second grader strolling through our revered “Encyclopedia Britannica,” trying to decide what famous African-American I would be doing my Black History project on. Then, there came Lynn on screen; dazzling, and high stepping as the great Josephine Baker. I recall my parents recording it on VHS and I watched it three times, before writing a two page paper on Ms. Baker and why she was great. None of that would have happened without the amazing acting and love Lynn put into the performance. She singlehandedly won my heart then, and she has continued to win millions more in a stellar career that spans over thirty years. Ms. Whitfield just cannot be stopped! Why would she be? Her career has outlasted and outshined most of Hollywood’s. However, it is her strength, beauty, and relevance that make her a living icon!
Despite all of her amazing accomplishments, Lynn remains poised, professional, and above all else humble. “I’ve been blessed to be able to do what I love for years now and I can only thank God for that…there are a lot of people who paved the way for me to be here, and just like there are people who have told me they look up to me, I in turn have stood on the shoulders of giants…” A career as long as Ms. Whitfield’s is rare in Hollywood’s current “instant star” trend—an instant hit one day, and in the next instance–a has-been! You can truly account her longevity with not only her skill as an actress, but the diversity and depth of the characters she has portrayed. “I like to play characters with a lot of depth to them…I believe people can see that…each character I’ve ever played has always been layered, you can’t really label them as completely good or bad…”
This definitely rings true in her two latest televised roles. She reprised her role as “Vanessa Howard,” on the third season of VH-1’s Hit The Floor. There she is a former victim of domestic violence and the mother of Jelena Howard (Logan Browning), desperate to rekindle a relationship with her estranged daughter. Their scenes of forgiveness and understanding were easily the most moving of the season. Fans praised Lyn and Logan for their realistic portrayal of a troubled mother-daughter relationship and how that helped the audience understand Jelena’s nature. “I did not get a chance to watch that episode yet, but I remember when I did it I just pulled from a place of understanding…I know somewhere that is a mother and daughter relationship…My daughter and I are very close and I just know I couldn’t bare it if we were at odds like that.”
Lynn’s role on Hit The Floor is indeed heartfelt and moving, but it is her newest role on OWN’s upcoming series, Greenleaf, that we are all stoked about! Greenleaf is a highly anticipated dramatic series centering on The Greenleafs, a prominent African-American family who preside over a megachurch. The show entails the family’s inner struggles, complex relationships, and the sins they commit while trying to keep their legacy intact. Lynn is “Lady Mae Greenleaf” the matriarch of the Greenleafs, and the First Lady of their church. Her life goes into an upheaval when her estranged daughter, Grace (Merle Dandridge), returns home after twenty years, following the mysterious death of her other daughter, Faith. “Lady Mae is a proud, strong woman, who somewhere along the line lost her way… She’s devoted her whole life too her family, husband, church and a legacy she is fiercely protective of…” The Greenleafs certainly sound like a number of families in the clergy. We have all heard the stories of some PKs (Preachers’ Kids) and their surprising behavior; as well as their parents’ attempts to cover up their children’s wrong doing and resolve conflict within the family.
The lovely Ms. Whitfield goes on to tell us the show will tackle some of the taboo issues the Church has a historically had a hard time addressing or discussing like sex and homosexuality. “This show is really going to go there…you know a lot of time in the Church some practices are just unspoken, or it’s just understood that we won’t address that…It [Greenleaf] is really going to be the topic of conversation in a lot of households and pulpits…” The trailer for the series has already garnered millions of views, and the buzz surrounding it has only intensified with the news of Oprah Winfrey returning to television in the role of Lady Mae’s sister, “Mavis McCready.” Mavis is also Grace’s confidant and the owner of a local blues club. “Working with her [Oprah] is a pleasure…she does not do television or movies often so I think people forget sometimes she is an actress as well…this is the first time we have been together on screen since ‘The Women of Brewster’s Place’…she really puts her all into every scene she is in, she’s always professional, and we have some real sisterly chemistry so that also helps…Mae and Mavis’s relationship is very interesting…they sort of serve as a foil for one another. Both of them are very strong, very determined women…”
Greenleaf is not the first original dramatic series to debut on OWN. As you may already know both of Tyler Perry’s series, The Haves & The Have Nots and If Loving You Is Wrong, are now mainstays on the network with some of cable television’s highest ratings, millions of viewers, and strong fan bases. However, Greenleaf will not follow the serial format of the former series which partly mirror soap operas of yester years. Instead, it will be a classic hour long drama formatted in the likes of Empire or Scandal. With director, Craig Wright (Lost, Six Feet Under) at the helm of this series, and Oprah executive producing it, we are in for quite a story! Be sure you tune into Greenleaf, Wednesday, June 22nd. Check your local listings for times.
Whether Lynn is playing a woman scorned or the resourceful First Lady of a megachurch, she is dearly loved and greatly respected throughout the entertainment industry. She is one of those rare talents whose life has been a real page turner, and you are always left happy to know there is so much more learn about her. Graceful and beautiful, Ms. Whitfield has proven she is here to stay and we could not be happier. J. Cole definitely missed a verse when he did not mention her in No Role Models right up there with “dark skinned Aunt Viv!” “Put in the work to do what is you want to do in life…nothing is handed to you…and when you get to where you’re going above all else, thank God and remain humble!”
Photography By Allen Cooley, Hair By Andrea Powe, Makeup: Jessica Ammons, Wardrobe by Julian R Lark Asst. by Fitzgerald
Written By: Michael J. Fanning