A Conversation With Lynn Whitfield On Why The Truth Is Never Not Fresh
I swear every interview I have these days feels like God whispering in my ear, telling me "keep pushing." At the time I sat down to chat with Lynn Whitfield I was in the midst of a professional firestorm that was weighing heavily on me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was my frustration with my inability to respond to allegations made against me and my team and restrictions around not only what I could and should say but when I could say it. And then, Ms. Whitfield, in all of her regal glory, said a word that has stuck with me ever since: "The truth is fresh. The truth is never not fresh. It's always fresh to tell the truth in your work."
The subject at hand wasn't my work woes, but rather maturing within your field and the sentiment many women have expressed of feeling discarded at a certain age -- an issue we'll all one day face even if we aren't professional actresses. I got my first taste of age-shaming at 29 when my former CEO didn't like a video series my Senior Producer at the time and I rolled out and he subsequently berated us via email. "As our editorial leaders mature in their roles, that doesn't mean the content has to 'age' with it," he wrote before warning us anyone who can't make video content that skews towards Millenials -- which is actually my demo -- "will have to make a quick exit out of the company." Funny enough, at his big age he could never figure out video himself-- documentaries, social, YouTube or otherwise-- and had to exit out of his own company by selling it as it sunk into financial ruin. But enough about my professional trauma, or truth shall I say?
For Whitfield, the thought of being discarded is, frankly, unfathomable. "I, quite honestly, do my best to give these young girls a run for their money," the 67-year-old told me, adding an important caveat to her declaration: "in the roles that are appropriate for me."
When it comes to those roles that she's offered or wins, she said, "I am always trying to stay connected as a woman. I'm always trying to keep everything full and whole and not all shriveled up, dried up, thrown away like I don't matter like I don't count like nobody don't want me -- even if I don't want them, you still want people to want you. I just really try to be authentic and appealing."
Pointing out that that approach has worked well for her so far professionally, the Greenleaf star whose career spans three decades also noted her authentic appeal extends off-screen. Laughing about some of the raunchy DMs she gets from "little boys," she said, "at least it's not like, 'let me help that lady up the stairs.'" I took that as an opportunity to follow up on our previous convo when Ms. Whitfield let it be known she was willing to entertain potential suitors. Two years later it seems no one interesting enough has come along just yet.
"Dating is nice sometimes if it's interesting," she said. "But now, honey, Covid-19, it's like I am fine right here. I'm just fine. As you mature, it needs to be interesting. If you gone go through all of the... (she begins gesturing her hands in a manner which I can only interpret to mean mess) can it really just be interesting and true fun? Because at this point that's what I would like, companionship and a lot of fun, a lot of laughter. "
Covid-19 takes us back to the topic of work and how the loss of opportunities during the pandemic has made it necessary for people to not only explore new avenues but also reaffirm who they are irrespective of their professional identity.
"Everyone deserves to have a purpose and fulfill a purpose," Whitfield said when I asked her about believing you're enough. Speaking about being out of work as a result of quarantine, she added, "I've got to figure out, first of all, yes, people are still interested in who you are and how am I -- Lynn Whitfield and how am I, my maiden name, little Lynn Smith -- going to find my path toward relevancy in this time because I deserve to be in this time."
Gratitude and consistency are what help Whitfield through those moments when she doesn't feel like her best self. As does remembering what she said is our ultimate purpose as human beings. "We're on this earth to get through the darkness to the light."