After a long year in a pandemic, actress Ebony Obsidian is just happy to be connecting with others again — whether it’s on-set, through her music, or getting stopped on the street by fans of her hit show Sistas.
Since starring in acclaimed roles in films like If Beale Street Could Talk and shows like Amazon’s Hunters and Netflix’s Master of None, American actress Ebony Obsidian has quickly garnered acclaim for every character she portrays. While chatting over Zoom, it’s clear that, much like the characters she portrays, there’s a distinct degree of warmth and vulnerability to Obsidian. It’s this need to impact others — whether it be through her own career or through her charity work — that is the driving force in every decision she makes.
As both a talented actress and musician, she understands the significance different forms of art can have on the viewer and how certain shows, films, and songs can help us be able to relate to one another and keep us afloat when we need it the most. This mindset brought the release of “EIL,” an emotive track about embracing the concept of loss as a state of transition rather than an ending — a powerful message so many of us need. Now, Ebony is prepping for the latest chapter of her career: the release of Season 3 of Sistas, the hit show about a group of single black women as they navigate the messiness of love, career, and much more.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine, Ebony discusses her role as Karen on Sistas, her love of music, her charity work, and more.
Your first credited role was in 2015, a few years later you co-starred in If Beale Street Could Talk, and now in 2021 we are on the third season of the much-loved show Sistas. How would you say you’ve grown as an actress in the years since you started to who you are now?
I will say I think 2020 added five years to my life! [Laughs] Just speaking to the roles, between Master of None, Beale Street and Sistas, I feel like my trajectory changed. Fairly soon after Master of None, it felt like I was getting roles that solidified for me what I was trying to do as an actor and what I was trying to accomplish. Sometimes we go after things because we’re passionate about them but then we learn different reasons for why we’re passionate about it. In terms of how I’ve grown, I just think it’s about trusting myself even more with the work I’ve been given and allowing my own life experiences to teach me. It’s important to say that a lot of the lessons I end up learning is because I’m learning them on-screen, too. Some of these roles go even deeper for me because I get a chance to reflect on things I would never get to go through. After all, they’re not my situations and not my life!
Yeah, with a role like Karen on Sistas, you’re growing up with her in a way.
You’re absolutely right. TV is different from film because you don’t always know what’s coming next, whereas with a film script you know the beginning, the middle, and the end. If it’s a TV show, it’s exciting because it’s similar to what life is like: you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. With Sistas, it’s like a crash course in life; I’m learning so much about myself while falling more in love with Karen as the seasons go by regardless of the decisions that she’s making. It’s like you’re watching someone else’s life as you’re portraying it.
It must be so nice to root for your character! That’s how I feel when I’m watching people on screen — I just want them to make the right choices!
Or even when you watch something you’ve seen a million times and you still want them to change their behaviour! Every time I watch Titanic and that end scene comes… I just don’t understand why, but for some reason, I still root for this ending that is never going to happen! [Laughs] But who doesn’t want the best for people? If you don’t then that’s another issue entirely!
Sistas premiered last year just before the world shut down and you filmed the second & third season together while in the pandemic. What was like that?
The second season was interesting because it was our first time shooting under those circumstances and we were the first production to do it to that scale. I remember thinking about how I’m telling my kids & my grandkids about working during it! It was a challenge because everyone was very excited to get back to work to see people and not be isolated. Looking back, it solidified so many things — like what would the seasons look like if this pandemic didn’t happen or what choices would we have made as people and actors if this pandemic didn’t happen?
From what I’ve seen of the show, the depictions of love and its messiness has very accurate. What have you learned about love, whether it be romantic or platonic love while filming the show?
Wow, what a question. One thing I’ve learned from Karen is that when you don’t address things, they can still grow to a size seven times bigger than wherever you left it. I think that can be applied to romantic and platonic relationships. Karen is in this interesting situation because despite being in other relationships, the one she’s in now has made her feel the safest and deeply unsafe simultaneously. She’s the type of person who doesn’t know how to move forward until she figures out what the real problem is. Trying to find yourself while in a relationship is scary because it’s almost like you blink and wake up in the space that you never intended to be in. The third season will explore more of that unravel a bit which is exciting.
It’s also important to note that all of these themes are so relatable for a lot of women, especially in America. What does it mean to be committed? What does it mean to want someone who doesn’t want commitment? I think people get very upset with Karen because they want her to make better choices, but it’s because she makes the choices a lot of people make. People come up to me on the street and tell me their thoughts on her!
I love that people stop to talk to you about their feelings and frustrations with Karen! [Laughs]
Yes! Now that things are opening up in New York, I’ve had a chance to run into women on the street and have these conversations. A lot of the women will say they can’t stand what Karen is doing right now, but it’s because it’s like watching yourself make mistakes. Nobody likes to see their mistakes until they’re ready to do so. With Karen, I felt like we haven’t met her yet because in season 1 she’s already facing a lot of turmoil and pain, so a lot of the things she’s feeling she can’t control. Now she’s in a place where she’s trying to control things so it’s a really exciting time for her.
You’ve played a variety of women across different experiences — is the character typically what draws you to the script?
It’s a bit of both. I always try to focus on the arc of a character’s story. I like knowing what room I have to play with, what’s serving their story, whether or not they have room to grow or whether or not they are just an accessory to someone else’s story. It’s difficult being a Black woman to find roles that resonate with me in a way where I feel this type of woman is someone who exists; they aren’t just a stereotype. If they are a stereotype, how are we addressing it through the storytelling lens? Stereotypes are important to deconstruct through the media we watch. I want to make good art — that is the only thing that matters to me. Whenever anyone asks me what I want to do next, I always say something I haven’t done before. That’s the dream.
This might be strange to say, but I find your captions for your Instagram to be inspiring! I know it was related to Karen, but when you said “Over things I couldn’t, things I shouldn’t, be. And so is Karen.” It resonated with me. Is that mantra something you’re leaning into this year?
It’s actually a lyric from a song that I haven’t released. I’m so glad it resonated because I think that holds true for a lot of women. I’m definitely in a place myself, in my personal life, where I’m realizing how many things you don’t have control over. Karen and I are similar in that way… where we are organized and on top of everything but things don’t always go to plan. Those lyrics are about when things don’t go according to plan and learning to give up losing battles. At some point, you realize you’re not going to win the battle and even if you did win the battle, it may not be worth it. You ask yourself if what you are fighting for is even going to feel good when you attain it. Are you fighting for something because your ego is telling you that you have to have it?
I read that yesterday and immediately felt so seen in those 8 words.
Sometimes 8 words are all it takes! [Laughs] Sometimes we read something or hear something that we already know to be true, but haven’t realized it yet and it just takes someone else to say it in a certain way that allows it to fully resonate.
Speaking of music, I wanted to talk about “EIL” that stands for “everything is love.” It’s a beautiful song with an even more beautiful message. What was it like to write and release it? Did you find it therapeutic?
100%. At first, it was written about a romantic relationship, but then we were in the middle of a pandemic and a lot of life was happening for everyone and a lot of loss as well. By the time I started writing it again, the rest came out in one sitting as a reminder that I haven’t lost anything or anyone. It’s so difficult to think about death as a transition and I couldn’t find any song to listen to that explained that to make me feel better, so I ended up writing about it. I released it hoping anyone who was going through a similar time as I would be able to feel better. I’m actually getting a bit emotional and choked up talking about it… but even if just one person felt comforted by it, that would make it all worth it. It’s probably my favourite song that I’ve released so far.
Those things create a ripple effect. You’re getting emotional talking about it because it’s what you needed to hear and you released it into the world and now someone else who needs it will be able to hear it.
Yeah, exactly. Music has always been something I was leaning towards even more acting. It’s cool because I can marry the two and be on both ends. It feels like I’m authentically doing something and there’s a lot less pressure in music because it’s just an extension of who I am.
Recently you were named an IRC Ambassador and you’re passionate about social justice and being involved with helping and supporting refugees. What first got you into social justice work and why is it so important for you to take part in these initiatives?
I’ve always been someone who is constantly questioning my community. Even when I was younger, just being from another daughter of an immigrant family and as a daughter of a single mom, you learn how to be your own person and who that reall is. What I learned is that a lot of who I am is always wondering how I can be of use to something bigger than myself. Working with the IRC has been an incredible experience because not only do I get to speak about important things, I get to learn. I do have a voice to share and I hope I can be impactful, but I’m learning so much about what it is to be a displaced refugee or immigrant here or abroad.
Lastly, if you could manifest anything this year… What would it be?
My wish would be for more balance for myself and everyone. It’s been a very unbalanced time lately. I’d like to wish for balance in the public work and the behind-the-scenes stuff as well.
Interview: Kelsey Barnes
Photographer: Oren Siddo
Makeup: Verónica Gaona
Hair: Helene Marie
Stylist: Angelina Scantlebury
Black Jacket: @antonia_nae
Yellow Dress: @jamemme
Brown/Multi Dress: Mona Romani
Season 3 of Sistas is airing now & Ebony’s single “EIL” is available to stream everywhere.