Rolling Out

Actress Anya Engel-Adams talks ‘Chi-Raq’ controversy, stardom and more

Images by Ismail Sayeed, aka @calligrafist; and Anya Engel-Adams Instagram @whatsanyamind

Snagging her first major role as Rasheeda in Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (one of the most controversial movies this season), Anya Engel-Adams is ready to see her star rise. Adams sat down with rolling out to discuss Chi-Raq’s message and her bright future.

For people who haven’t seen the movie, what frame of mind should they have going into the theater?
I think the main thing is it’s important to go in with an open mind, without expectations. I think we have mixed reviews. The movie has gotten great reviews already, but there are people that went in with expectations wanting to see a Straight Outta Compton style movie, [but] this was Spike Lee’s creative spin and freedom with the movie. The majority of the movie is in verse. There’s music, dance and there’s comedy, different tones throughout the movie. The people that had those expectations of something else didn’t like it. But, it wasn’t meant to be a Boyz n the Hood movie. The point was to send a message and to wake them up to this serious issue. And, Spike just did it in a very different way that people weren’t expecting. So, definitely go in openminded and listen to the message.

What do you think Chicago needs to do to stop the senseless violence?
I think money. Money talks. I’m not a politician or anything but I do feel you can tell the differences in certain areas because of the lack of money. We stayed in the Ritz Carlton through the time we filmed the movie, and you would never know that thirty minutes south it’s a whole different world. I think it just all comes down to finances. All this money is going to this part [of the city], but what about these people [in another part]? And, without jobs and education the people in the community unfortunately suffers. That’s what this movie was about: to smack people in the face to realize this is what needs to happen. Let’s pay attention.

Images by Ismail Sayeed, aka @calligrafist; and Anya Engel-Adams Instagram @whatsanyamind

What other directors do you see yourself working with?
Quentin Tarrantino, I’ve always been a fan of his work. He does a lot of women empowerment films so well and I just want to be a part of that. The reason I loved Chi-Raq so much is because of the woman empowerment role that I played. To have a group of women of color come together in solidarity for a greater cause, it’s very rare. But, leave it to Spike to depict that type of power. Any director that allows women to be the focal point of strength and tell the full female experience, I would love to work with.

What does your top actresses list look like? 
Wow! There are so many, but I love Angelina Jolie. She’s so sexy and selfless. Gabrielle Union is dope. Viola Davis also inspires me. The acceptance speech she gave [at the Emmy’s] was great. Everything that Davis does is just powerful. She’s breaking down barriers and does it so effortlessly. And Taraji P. Henson, I love her.

If you weren’t acting, what else would you be doing?
Definitely would be something within the arts. I have to stay creative and create my own space. Also, to sustain myself, I used to do massage therapy, the healing arts. I went on the road with the Los Angeles Lakers for four seasons, got to work around some amazing athletes. So there’s something about healing and spirituality that I’m called to.

What other projects can be people expect to see you in?
This year has been a blessing for me. I really just broke into this industry in February doing another Spike Lee film. I’m getting more opportunities since the film and I’m just ready for them. Definitely 2016 will bring more for me and I’m excited about it.

Images by Ismail Sayeed, aka @calligrafist; and Anya Engel-Adams Instagram @whatsanyamind

Chi-Raq is in the theaters now. 

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