Black women are naturally powerful beings. Culture and society move along to the rhythm of their every whim. For generations, they have guided Black Men and Children into greatness in a society intent on condemning them to mediocrity. Now in the decade of the new 20s, Sista's are doing it for themselves. Tracey Bonner is a phenomenal example of the power of being a black woman. She has manifested a successful career in television and film. Now on the heels of her very pivotal role in Season 2 of Netflix's Raising Dion, Konkret Comics would like to provide a special spotlight to the incomparable Tracey Bonner.
Tracey Bonner is an American actor most known for Raising Dion, Sweet Magnolias, and Black Lightning. The child of two educators, Tracey grew up in Murfreesboro, TN very rooted in sports and academia. She found her love of Shakespeare in high school and was cast in a theatre tour, realizing that acting could become a profession. This discovery led her to extensive training and many theatre performances throughout the U.S., all while playing sports as well. A varsity basketball and softball player, she was able to receive a full ride to Tennessee State University, where she became an athletic/academic All-American softball player. Tracey majored in Speech Communication and Theatre with an English minor and later obtained an MFA in Acting from the Theatre School at DePaul University. She taught for 15 years before deciding to become an actor full-time.
Now that you've been properly introduced, let's hear Tracey's journey in her own words from this One-on-One conversation with Konkret Comic's own, J.E. Tyler.
J.E. Tyler: I’ve always been a fan of film and television. I think it's magical the way you all bring characters and stories to life. What was the first film that you can recall watching that inspired you to be an actress?
Tracey Bonner: The Women of Brewster Place was a made-for-TV movie that inspired and continues to inspire me even now. I remember being 9 or 10 years old and seeing all of those
iconic actresses in one film playing a myriad of characters from broken to resilient to
redemptive to honorable. It was my first real look at women, at every stage of life, being
uplifting to one another as they all dealt with the not-so-good circumstances of their
lives. After that experience, I really started to follow those actresses' careers and am still
very inspired by them today.
J.E. Tyler: From viewing your Instagram, I see that you are an alumnus of an HBCU, Tennessee State University. I, myself, am a proud graduate of an HBCU as well, Alabama A & M University. With Vice Presidential Candidate, Kamala Harris, shedding new light onto HBCU greatness, how do you feel that the unique experience HBCUs offer prepared you to excel within the entertainment industry?
Tracey Bonner: Well, let me start by saying that I, too, am a BULLDOG...at heart. My dad was the Head Football Coach there in the early 90’s so I was raised by Alabama A&M. As for my HBCU experience, I can honestly say that The Tennessee State University prepared me
for all aspects of my life. I was trained and challenged to become a more disciplined
individual. For example, I was an All-American Scholar Athlete but we didn’t have
access to the same equipment and resources that our PWI athletes had. We didn’t even
have our own Softball field on campus. We had to walk to the park up the street to
practice and play our games. That taught me that I could work with fewer resources and
still be successful on the field and in the classroom. Additionally, as a Speech
Communication/Theatre Major, we didn’t have a “training program”. We just took acting
classes but they didn’t teach us specific techniques like Meisner or Method, Alexander,
Linklater, etc. Our program wasn’t a conservatory-style training where the actors were
guaranteed shows each semester. We went through a hard-core audition process and if
you got cast great and if you didn’t you had to wait until the next year. That taught me
that talent wasn’t enough. You have to be dedicated to the craft, as a whole. Studying
your lines more frequently, rehearsing longer hours, setting up meetings with your
professors to track your progress, and researching on your own. We didn’t have the
funding that a lot of our PWI programs had, which makes for a more difficult learning
environment. But I wouldn’t change it for the world because I was trained by some very
powerful black instructors like the late Barry Scott and Kimberly LaMarque-Orman, who
made it their life’s mission to train up the next generation of black artists. So because of
the experience they gave me, I was introduced to black playwrights like August Wilson,
Pearl Cleage, John Henry Redwood, and Chad Boseman. This gave me ownership of my
identity and afforded me the opportunity to appreciate & embrace blackness in all its
J.E. Tyler: With black actresses like Regina King, Issa Rae and more gaining powerful roles as producers, writers, and directors on major Hollywood projects, it seems that black women are facing the beginning of a renaissance within entertainment. As a booked and busy black actress, have you witnessed a growth of opportunities for black women in the industry or just more of the same?
Tracey Bonner: I have seen a shift in the industry in terms of black women being at the helm of projects. Especially, living in Atlanta you see more blacks behind the camera as writers,
directors, and producers. And there is indeed a movement where black women are being
more than just a face on the screen. We are being seen as leads, thanks to the leadership
of actresses like Angela Basset, Viola Davis, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Lewis, Regina King,
Issa Rae, Mara Shahidi, Zendaya...the list is endless. And what I’m finding refreshing is
that there is a new desire to cast new black faces. We used to see the same black women
cast in everything but thanks to production companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and
Hulu they have helped to expand the reach for black artists to have platforms to develop
and hone their work. Listen, I’M HERE FOR IT and cannot wait to see what the next 10
years will look like for black women artists.
J.E. Tyler: There have been so many amazing biopic opportunities in film and television. Who, out of all the actresses and entertainers that you admire, would you hope to someday portray in a biopic and why?
Tracey Bonner: Wow, that’s a very good question. There are so many to choose from but if I had to choose it would be Oprah Winfrey. Her story is packed with so much pain, drama, and
triumph. From being molested at such a young age, becoming a teen mom, being
abandoned by her mother, and being told that she wasn’t pretty enough to make it on
TV...she managed to take all of her adversity and turn it into a story of mastery and
victory. Playing her would be an absolute honor and would be a challenge as an artist.
To visit all those dark places and fight my way out to get to the beauty of what is now
her life...I would be completely edified, as an actor.
J.E. Tyler: I’ve never been on a Hollywood audition, but based on what I hear, it can be a very intimidating and, at times, a difficult process. What tips would you give to aspiring actors or actresses to ensure that they are successful in auditions?
Tracey Bonner: It’s okay to be YOU! I tell my students all the time that you are enough because we are all unique in our own right. Walking into an audition is already intimidating because you see so many other actors you admire and respect in the waiting room and you have the eyes and ears of the casting director, director, and producers who are essentially
deciding your fate so why would you put pressure on yourself to be something that you
are not? I say to win them over by being authentically and unapologetically YOU because
they have seen the same take on the same audition all day. Be the one who stands out
by bringing as much of you to the performance as possible.
J.E. Tyler: Of all the roles that you’ve played in film and television, which has been your favorite? Also, until this day, who has been your favorite on-screen partner?
Tracey Bonner: Oooooo, I’ve had several favorites. Lawanda from Black Lightning, Torture from Doom Patrol, and Pastor June Wilkes from Sweet Magnolias. They are all so starkly
different and required me to access a different side of myself, which is an actor's dream.
You don’t want to be stuck in a box, you always want opportunities that will allow you to
stretch and challenge you in the best ways possible.
As for favorite actors to work with I’d have to say there are quite a few faves like Alimi
Ballard, Russell Crowe, and Will Catlett. What made it so much fun to work with these
actors is that they were so giving of themselves in our rehearsals and during the shooting of the scenes. They have more experience than I do but treated me like an equal, like a
real contributor to the project so it made my days on set a lot less stressful, which
allowed me to be free and PLAY! All actors desire the freedom to play and try different
things in scenes and these actors allowed me the space to be seen and heard as more
than just a Guest Star or Co-Star, I was their equal.
J.E. Tyler: One of the most intriguing aspects of film and television that I have observed is an actor or actress’s ability to transform into a role. In some instances, such as when Heath Ledger portrayed the Joker in The Dark Knight, the actor had a difficult time withdrawing from the character. Have you ever experienced this difficulty in shedding the emotions and persona of a character after you’re done portraying them? What is
your process for preserving your mental health and stability after taking on a meaty role?
Tracey Bonner: As for TV & Film, I haven’t had a tough time shedding my character but in theatre, there have been a couple of instances where I would leave the theatre every day still holding on to my character. When I played Camae in The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, it was
difficult for me to shed Camae’s complexity. Being a black woman during the civil rights
movement was hard enough but in this play, Camae is also charged with the
responsibility to prep Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his death. And that was so hard to
let go of every day. It was a powerful display of vulnerability and strength that I had to
access every day for seven weeks.
As for my mental health, I was against counseling for years because I have a mother
who means well but who would always say “pray” or “read the word” and for me that
just wasn’t taking away my inner pain or outward anxiety. I started with spiritual
counseling with a couple of pastors but later on decided to see a medical professional. I
needed someone who was neutral so they could make sound suggestions based on
their conversations with me. It was one of the most self-enhancing things I could’ve
done for myself because it allowed me to speak about my pain and trauma without feeling
judged or being shamed. Sometimes the Bible can be used as a weapon when it’s
supposed to be used as a tool to help you navigate all the craziness in the world so that’s
why it was better for me to seek a professional who is trained to listen and help guide
you through everyday life.
J.E. Tyler: You’ve worked on comic book-related series’ such as DC’s Black Lightning and the Doom Patrol. If you could lead a film as any superhero, which would you choose?
Tracey Bonner: I would love to be Storm from X-Men because she was one of the first black female superheroes and had strong ties to her African roots. I admire that because I don’t know what tribe or country I am a descendant of and to be able to tap into that side of me
would make me even more dynamic and strong. I also love that her power is to control
the weather and atmosphere, which means she has the power to control one's moods as
well as their climate. That’s dope!
J.E. Tyler: Have you ever had any strange or humorous encounters with fans or supporters? If so, please give us an example of the most extreme one that comes to mind.
Tracey Bonner: It’s so funny because in my mind I don’t have fans because most of the time I’m a supporting character. But one day, a couple years ago, I was in South Dekalb Mall and a lady started charging towards me and my cousin. I stopped in my tracks because I didn’t
know what she was about to do. She said, “Me and my son have been binging this show
called Black Lightning and I kept looking at you because you remind me of the lady who got shot. My son said it wasn’t you but I just had to ask.” I was relieved and then I was
shocked that someone recognized my face. That happened a lot during the start of the
show. Occasionally, I will have someone say you look like someone I know on TV and I
will just smile and say I might be her. lol. I will be honest though, I prefer to be under
the radar because it allows me to enjoy the everyday things like brunch in a popular
restaurant or shopping. I love just being able to do what I love and still have the ability
to be normal in my everyday life.
J.E. Tyler: Love Scenes are a regular part of filmmaking, but for many fans of film and television, it's hard to imagine being able to navigate these seemingly intimate moments. Do you find that in the case of romantic relationships with a partner outside of the Entertainment Industry, that it is difficult for them to understand this aspect of your career?
Tracey Bonner: It’s difficult to have a relationship even if you’re not in the industry but yes my
romantic partners of the past have had real issues with the possibility of me being in a
romantic onscreen relationship. My response to that is you must be really insecure to
think that all romantic scene partners run off into the sunset and become lovers. If I was
going to cheat or leave you, I was going to do that anyway. Look, those love/kissing
scenes are not glamorous. There are about 30 people on set watching you be “romantic”
with this other actor. There are lines and blocking to remember that the last thing we
are thinking about is falling in love with this other person. Now, having great chemistry
with your scene partner is a must but not all chemistry is sexual or romantic. I’ve made
some of my strongest friendships with actors that have played my love interest but I’m
not romantically attracted to them in real life. There are all kinds of factors that come to
play for me and my type changes every 5 years so what once attracted me to a man
might not be what I’m into today.
J.E. Tyler: In the age of the Me-Too Movement and other powerful statements of Feminist Empowerment and Equality, many women have spoken out about workplace abuse in the Entertainment Industry. What advice would you give to aspiring actresses who may someday be faced with those challenges?
Tracey Bonner: Always stand your ground and don’t be afraid to speak up when you are being disrespected, in any way. It is always okay to let a person know when they have
overstepped their boundaries. Always document these occurrences and how they made
you feel and by all means say something. We cannot change a culture if we silence
ourselves or are afraid we will lose our position just to make someone else feel safe. I’m
a firm believer that God will order your steps in the way HE wants you to go! So NO
MORE being silent!!!
J.E. Tyler: Please provide our audience with your social media or any way they can keep up with your future and current endeavors.
Tracey Bonner: Instagram: @thetraceybonner & Facebook: Tracey Bonner
I must say that this conversation with Tracey was definitely one of my favorite interviews. I was so excited to hear her responses and to gain behind-the-scenes insight on her fruitful career. She did not disappoint. Please go out and follow her social media to support and keep up with this amazing Queen. Watch Season 2 of Raising Dion on Netflix NOW! Tracey gave an amazing performance that I'm sure any mother or protective family member can relate too. I've already binged the season, so take it from me, you're in for a treat.
Also, show Tracey some love by leaving your comments and thoughts in the comments below. Let us know what you think of Raising Dion Season 2 or any of her other projects as well. As always, Keep it Konkret!
J.E. Tyler is a five-time published fiction author and poet. He has also served as a contributing author for His Favor Magazine. Tyler's creative muscle has no bounds as he has written several different genres including adult drama, children's literature, romance, comedy, and science fiction. For more on Tyler's published work, visit the links below.