Tika Sumpter is expecting her first child in October and she’s never looked more radiant. Dressed in a striped shirt hugging her belly, with a sweater tied under her bundle, and stylish black pants, she is as alluring as ever. Her smile is even more warm and inviting.
She’s in Atlanta, seated with KISS 104.1’s Sasha the Diva minutes after the screening of her latest film, Southside With You, about the Obamas’ first date in Chicago in 1989. As the two chat and field questions from the audience, Sumpter lights up. Not only does she play Michelle Robinson, as the first lady was then known, but she also produced Southside With You, coming on board roughly two years ago. So this is her baby, too.
“I was given the synopsis to this movie. It wasn’t written. The script wasn’t written, but I loved the perspective it came from and I loved, first of all, that we’ve never seen them on screen at 25, 28 years old and the origin story of their relationship. So when the screenwriter wrote the movie, I was blown away by it and said, ‘We have to get this made,’ ” Sumpter explained in response to a young lady’s question about her involvement.
“It was nice to see us on screen falling in love and having a strong woman who is actually the prize in a film,” Sumpter added.
A few days later, speaking to rolling out as she waited to board a flight, Sumpter is even more candid about what the role of Southside With You’s Michelle Robinson means to her, especially as she prepares for her daughter’s arrival.
She said, “It’s actually inspiring. I hope one day my daughter looks at this and says, ‘Mommy you promoted this film with me inside of you and you were as strong as the person you played.’ I took a lot away from Michelle Robinson and Michelle Obama so I hope every little girl and more ladies will be at this film and gain strength from it because I definitely have.”
As we continue to bear witness to countless #BlackGirlMagic moments, we can’t forget Sumpter. Her presence on the big and the small screen has meant so much, especially for all the brown girls so unaccustomed to seeing themselves in any of the many roles Sumpter has played since she showed up on “One Life to Live” as Layla Williamson in the mid-2000s. She kept us intrigued as Raina Thorpe on “Gossip Girl” and then we fell in love with her as Malik Wright’s love interest, Jenna Rice, on “The Game.”
And we’ve cheered her on as she started making even bigger moves: Playing one of the daughters of Whitney Houston’s character Emma in the Sparkle remake; Ice Cube’s sister and Kevin Hart’s love interest Angela Payton in Ride Along; one of James Brown’s lovers, Yvonne Fair, in Get on Up; one of the Empress of the Blues’ lesbian loves Lucille in “Bessie”; and, perhaps her biggest coup to date, Candace Young on OWN’s guilty pleasure, “The Haves and the Have Nots” from Tyler Perry.
“It’s always fun to play something that you’re not usually offered,” she says of playing Candace. But not even she anticipated the huge reception Candace would receive.
“I thought people were going to hate me because I was like, ‘She is nuts, this girl,’ ” she confesses. “But the crazy thing is the opposite happened and everybody loved her. Whether you love to hate her or whatever or you just love her, whatever side that you love, [the fans] have taken Candace, embraced her and hugged her up. They just love her.”
Playing Candace has been good for Sumpter. The intense fan reception has emboldened her. “It just makes me want to do more and play more complex roles. It makes me want to do more but I think it definitely says that I can lead a show where I can be a leading lady, that I can do all [these] things and do them well,” she says.
And now she’s Michelle Robinson, which she says is different from the FLOTUS we now know. “Michelle Obama is like a complete person right now. At 25, you’re still figuring yourself out. You know the things you want, but you’re still changing your mind about other things. You’re still discovering,” she explains. “And I’m sure she’s still discovering now, but I’m sure she knows who she is as a full grown woman. But, at 25, you’re flexible and you’re open to a lot of things. You’re learning about life still. You don’t know everything, so that was fun for me to create that.”
The Queens, New York-born beauty doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be an actress. “I just wanted it,” she recalls. “I wanted it really bad. It made me happy to act. It made me happy to be in another place and to do the arts and what it does for other people. It makes you feel something. It makes other people feel something. So I really wanted to be a part of that.”
But there are limits. Sumpter loves the fans and she’s very giving but she definitely believes in saving a lot for herself. “I’m really selfish with my life,” she declares with no guilt. “You want to share some aspects of your life. But, for me, I can’t give everything because then I have nothing to come home to and to have for myself and my family. And I need to store up on that love and all that stuff, in order to create, in order to act.
“Sometimes when you let everybody in your business, I think it makes relationships harder than they need to be,” she continues. “Relationships are already tough. Raising kids is already tough. And then having somebody say something crazy or spread a rumor or say something that’s not nice and hurts your spirit — that I can’t deal with. And that’s why I’m very protective of my peace. I’m protective of my private life. Even getting pregnant, people are just now finding out, but it’s something that I wanted to keep for me and enjoy it for a while. And then I was like, ‘OK, cool here you go’ and I couldn’t hide it anymore,” she laughs, adding a little more levity to her tone.
Motherhood, she knows, is serious business, especially raising a young lady. As she prepares for it and the responsibility of living a life for something much greater than herself, she ponders the images her daughter will see and the example she, herself, will set for her. “I just want her to see images of strength out there and of women who are doing something with themselves. I want to be able to dictate something about the images that my daughter will see and also [for her to] look up to me as a great mom and a great woman that she would want to one day hopefully be like,” she reveals.
She credits her self-confidence to her own mother. Although she knows that other women her complexion have struggled with it, her mother never made any of her children’s skin tone an issue. Instead, she filled Tika and her other children with pride and a love of self that fuels Sumpter to this day.
“I never walked into this world thinking somebody is going to judge me for my skin tone. I think the only time that happens is when other people bring it up. For me, I was so naïve thinking, ‘Well, of course, they would want me, so I’m going to go to this audition.’ Kids think they’re great until a few adults tell them, ‘Oh [they’re] not.’ They walk into a room with confidence until somebody says something negative and I just didn’t grow up like that so I didn’t think negatively about myself. I never thought my skin tone was a problem. You know I liked myself. I love myself,” she says with passion.
“When I do hear of colorism, I try to help women to see that their beauty is inside themselves,” she continues. “That’s why it’s important for images to be out there that are positive. If I don’t see an image of myself in a magazine constantly, I don’t buy it. I don’t feed into what somebody else thinks is beautiful because, if you constantly just see that and you don’t see yourself in any of the pages, then, of course, you’re going to start thinking, ‘Well, what’s wrong with me?’ Images are important, but, also, it starts in the household.”
And for many of her fans, whether seeing Tika Sumpter on the big screen as Michelle Robinson in Southside With You or on the small screen as bad girl Candace Young in “The Haves and the Have Nots,” the #BlackGirlMagic she naturally embodies has made a big difference in their lives.