Friday, August 19, 2022

Paula Jai Parker on Making History with ‘Family Time’ and Why She’s ‘Proud to be an American’ [EUR Exclusive]

Paula Jai Parker

*After 8 seasons on Bounce’s longest-running comedy series, “Family Time,” actress Paula Jai Parker tells EURweb that the cast and crew are still “one big happy family.”

“It’s insane that we’ve been doing this for eight years, almost a decade. It feels great because not only are we doing it on a predominantly black network, but how many shows are going eight years nowadays? Eight seasons we’ve lasted. And that’s just… That’s God, because there are shows that come and go,” Parker explained in our exclusive interview. 

Created by Bentley Kyle Evans, the record-breaking comedy series centers on the Stallworths, a working class Black American family living the American dream. The show stars Omar Gooding, Angell Conwell, Bentley Kyle Evans, Jr., Jayla Calhoun and Tanjareen Martin. 

Parker plays Lori, the sassy sister of Conwell’s character, and she tells EURweb that “Lori is that independent freak I would want to be, but don’t.”

Check out our full Q&A with Ms. Paula below. 

READ MORE: These 7 Refs Will Make History Monday as the 1st All-Black Officiating Crew to Work an NFL Game (Video)

How often do you find yourself checking social media, following the Family Time hashtags or reading the blog recaps to see what fans think of the show?

I don’t, but my sisters do. Tanjareen (Martin)… I have nieces their ages so they’re genuinely like my little sisters. We fight every single season like sisters. We make-up every single season, and we love each other all through the year until we see each other the following year. We talk, we mentor, and that’s both ways. So Tanjareen is the major person that’s great at Instagram. 

She will send me some pictures like, “Here’s this, post this.” And sometimes I’m like, “I am not posting that.” Some of the stuff she sends me, I’m like, “I’m not posting that.” So I’m getting better at posting. But Tanjareen is definitely the queen of posting, keeping us organized. She used to host a weekly party. If it wasn’t for this whole pandemic, she’d probably still be hosting it, a weekly viewing party. She used to host all of our seasons until this pandemic.

She’s hosted where we go to a sports bar and we watch every episode with our fans. And it’s fun, we’re watching it for the first time. Those were the only times I got to see it, was when I went to that because I just don’t like watching myself. I can’t. I was there. I don’t need to relive the experience.

What have you been most impressed with when it comes to your character’s growth over the past 8 seasons?

I’m most impressed with the writers, period. It’s called Family Time, but it’s really about Bentley’s family and his wife Vee. She has like eight sisters, so he just condensed it down to the three most prominent ones with the biggest mouth. They’re all from LA. She’s that chick that had eight bad-ass sisters. So Family Time is really Bentley’s life story and his kids.

So me, I’m a supporting cast member. So my arc, it didn’t begin really about me, it’s really grown into being more about myself and Tanjareen and all the other people that are in their lives. Because when you first start out, you have to focus on the core so that people get to know and love the core. And as you expand your world and you keep continuing to grow eight years, you’re like, “Okay, well, let’s meet more people.” So my character has definitely grown.

This season is the most fun because I get to really express my comedy chops. She’s (Lori) dating seriously this season. My husband reminded me, he’s a fan of the show, that Lori starts dating this season. Before she didn’t really… she’d talk about her dates and she was more of a floozy, but now she’s trying to find the one. Lori wants to get serious this season.

How much of your own personality do you embed into a character like Lori?

Paula isn’t going to do the things that Lori does. Lori is who Paula would want to be, but never could because Paula is a good girl. Paula wouldn’t do those things, but I can do them through Lori. So it’s like you’re living a fantasy through somebody else’s character. That’s how acting is. You get to be different people. Sometimes I’m a secret agent. Sometimes I’m a cop. I just recently got to play a real fun, crooked cop. So none of these people are me, but I can empathize to the point where if it was me, this is how I experience it, and own it, and love it. So yeah, Lori is that independent freak I would want to be, but don’t.

family time cast1

What’s your reaction to Kamala Harris’ historic win and the power of the black vote?

I cry. And it’s because we’ve been told as black women for so long that we’re not worthy. That we can’t. And when I say black women, I’m not just talking about American black women, because we know the color of our skin, it spans the nation, the world, the globe. Women of color have been forced to wear scarves across their face to hide their beauty, to hide. And for the first time, someone said, “This woman of color is worthy of being the first in America.” And as an actress, I’ve been told for so long that I’m only qualified to be the best friend when I’m in a mainstream project. And in a sense, that’s what she is. She’s the best friend.

So these tears are tears of joy because we’re still the first. But we still got a ways to go, but I’m not mad at it. I’m proud. And I’m thankful and I’m tearing up just talking about it because she could have chosen to go to Harvard, but she chose black Harvard, Howard university. She’s checked all the boxes. People want to say, she’s not really a black woman, but she chose to be an American black woman because that’s what you see when you look at her, nobody asking her, “Is your mama Chinese, Asian, or is your daddy…”

No one even considers that when they look at people of color globally, they don’t ask you, “Are you biracial?” Halle Berry played a whole role about a negro trying to prove she was negro because you ain’t never going to get a break, no matter what you are when you are biracial. And I still accept and acknowledge that America still has a long way to go. She embraced our culture and our culture is what makes America, America.

And I’m just proud of America because at the end of the day, I don’t care if she’s descended from slaves or descended from Arabs or descended from Mahatma, I don’t know where she’s descended from, but she’s here, and she’s still black. She’s black. You can’t look at her and not see a black woman. And I believe, at least for the next eight years, that women of color will get respect. Because for the eight years that Barack was in office, for those eight years honey, we got respect. That ended a little, for four years. It’s been a tough four years.

But at the end of the day, we’re making leaps and bounds. We’ve got a way to go, but we’re there, and I’m so proud to be an American. I am thankful that I’m seeing it in our lifetime. We’ve seen a lot just in our lifetime, and we’ve made a lot of this happen. We’re responsible for these changes, and I’m proud that we’re showing the world.  I’m glad that we as African-Americans are also coming together, because it ain’t where you’re from, at this point, it’s where you’re at. 

And then of course, you’re revisiting your character in The Proud Family, Disney+ announced the reboot earlier this year. 

I get to be my boujee self. I get to be my educated Howard University graduate, because that’s who my character is. She’s a Howard university graduate, she’s a veterinarian, she’s a pillar of the community, she does a lot of animal services. And I am so thankful that my career has been able to last, first of all, thank you, Jesus, but just that I’ve been able to do so many diverse things and show so many diverse aspects of myself, because what we’re celebrating, isn’t the norm for me.

I’m known for Friday, being in your face and who’s your mama of the year, but these characters that we’re celebrating right now, like Lori, she’s a paralegal. She went from just pretending to be a lawyer to really doing something about it. She’s a paralegal now, who’s now this season, in law school. So there’s no telling where she can be in season nine, have her own save the people law firm, finally graduate the bar. We’re told that Lori has failed the bar nine times, I don’t even know how many, but she doesn’t stop trying. I love Lori because she doesn’t stop trying.

Lastly, what can you tell us about how the new series differs from the original?

We’re a whole new show. It’s no reboot. It’s a whole new world. We’ve brought on new people, Keke Palmer is a series regular.  We’ve got Cedric the Entertainer back, our original cast. We’ve got some phenomenal guests, like Gabby Douglas. We’ve got everybody who is anybody in the black community. Once again, it’s stepping out and showing this show mad, mad love, including lady Beyonce, and her little sister Solange. Queen Solange is back featuring Destiny’s Child singing our opening track. So we got it all back and it’s all in the family.

And we’re on Disney+ and Disney+ is doing so many great things for our community and programming. And I’m just excited to be a part of the Disney+ family right now, especially because when the pandemic hit, so many of my brothers and sisters, I’m not talking about black, I’m talking about Americans, were really going through it. I was doing a cartoon so I could work from home. I was able to survive and then give back and help others comfortably without fear. And it was thanks to Disney+. I just want to thank God, because timing is God. So yeah, we’re back and we’re back louder and prouder.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.




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