|The New Citizens Press Interview
Sunday, January 20, 2008
By Joe Walker
Actress-turned-author Bern Nadette Stanis - who will be speaking along with actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner at the Lansing Center Feb. 23 - is not only an icon in urban entertainment, but also a role model for generations. Her portrayal of Thelma Evans on the hit television series “Good Times” (CBS, 1974 to 79) - a sitcom centered on a family of five growing up in housing projects - inspired young women in similar situations to have hope, self-respect and pride. During the show's original run and in syndication Thelma was the anti-stereotype of a “project girl”, and a classy representation for those unfamiliar to her surroundings. With “Good Times” granted new life and audiences through DVD release, and Stanis' writing career, her importance stands firm today.
TNCP - Why do you think your portrayal of Thelma Evans was so groundbreaking for it's time, and is still acclaimed to this day?
Bern Nadette Stanis - I chose to play that character the way that I did because I wanted to portray no matter if you're growing up in poverty, with love and determination you can see a brighter day.
TNCP - But what set her apart? Why was Thelma seen above just being another Black girl from the projects?
Stanis - Thelma was very optimistic. She was always the one who understood. She was the centerpiece to pull things together.
TNCP - Thelma never seemed to be caught up in guy problems either, or dependent on some guy to validate her growth - even as a teen. Do you agree?
Stanis - She had her dating issues but was never walked over or immature in them.
TNCP - Why did Thelma have so much leadership even though she wasn't the oldest?
Stanis - She was a person of respect. She was very respectful of her parents and brothers, and she got it in return. I didn't play her to be what people would think. She wasn't stereotypical.
TNCP - How much of your portrayal of Thelma was based on you?
Stanis - I, myself, was raised in that environment. So I definitely understood what it took to be her. With that I strived very, very hard to become someone that is proud of her self. I wanted to bring that quality to Thelma. And I think I did that very well; at the least my fans liked it.
TNCP - Your new book “Situations 101” comes from you, and you as Thelma. How does it feel to grow from portraying an inspirational television character into a person whose real life inspires?
Stanis - Transitioning from that to living life - going from being a young woman on a show to really growing up living life - I learned a lot. I saw a lot. But in the perspective of people seeing me as a celebrity I had to learn by observing what is seen, doing my research, doing my questioning. A lot of things I had to write.
TNCP - So the writer aspect of your career was not newly found later down the line?
Stanis - I always wrote. Writing was a way for me to put it out on the floor. Put it down, study it, and I figured a lot of things out by writing. So I think that's what developed me to become the writer that I am because I put my questions down, my answers down, I even put my dreams down. I believe sometimes your dreams give you answers. Meeting someone considered famous is a dream for some. It may be someone's dream to meet me and ask me questions pertaining to their lives. I want to answer them.