“You’ll never be 100% ready. Do it anyway.”
Numa Perrier is a flirt. Seductively voiced with an easy smile and eyes that seem to lure as much as they see. A true embodiment of the world’s easiest understood dialect; the silent language of awareness, interest, and attraction.
Numa is high art.
Knowing and skillful – making masterful use of intellect, body language, creativity, and empathy in her communication with the world. I mean, have you visited House of Numa yet? Be forewarned: getting lost in the actress’ land of true stories, a candid conversation of stunning visuals and reflection, is a wonderfully effortless predicament you won’t mind at all.
Jezebel, Numa’s first feature film, a large-scale extension of her provocative on-line memoir, celebrates every woman’s right to seek, find, and wholeheartedly own her natural power.
Selected by the Tribeca Film Institute for its Through Her Lens program in 2016, Jezebel chronicles one woman’s determination to improve the narrative of her life, by any means necessary, after she experiences the unexpected end of her mother’s complicated one.
Numa, it seems, lives in worlds of warrior women. I say, it takes one, to know one.
A sophisticated complexion of Black and female nature – the kind frequently born after bubbly baths, skin silkening, naked-in-the-mirror appreciation, trials and tribulations, and ripened self love – Numa is Black & Sexy.
It’s no wonder the poster she photographed nearly ten years ago for Dennis Dortch’s film debut, A Good Day to be Black & Sexy, worked famously as both a segue to the indie and covetous feelings for the Dope t-shirt worn in it. Numa was flirting with our craving for on-screen representation when her art ushered us into the film’s promise of possibilities for Black media.
Science confirms that flirting always has a purpose. This time was no different.
Dennis named it Black & Sexy TV, an intimate mirror-image of a global community of modern Black pride. Like the movement’s catch phrase declares, we are “Black and sexy, baby.” Its comprehensive body of work – serialized content, a streaming platform, and films – is important, intelligent entertainment that sizzles.
When asked about Dennis, her partner in everything for the last eight years or so (the two have a daughter, Rockwelle, a confident child walking the earth with the creative genius of both parents, as well as a passionate history of artistry, entrepreneurship, and love together), she replied politely that they were no longer a couple.
A decision to part ways quietly had been a difficult one for them over a year earlier.
I hid my surprise as I quickly started editing my talking points. As a woman who understood the air in the space she was occupying, I didn’t want to be guilty of pouring salt into any unhealed wounds.
But I quickly got the feeling Numa was flirting again. This time with affirmation.
It seemed like she needed to have those words leave her lips. Even with the acoustics of our conference-call adding an ‘is this mic on’ reality to her disclosure, I had certainly heard it loud and clear.
Perhaps it was meaningful that she hear it too.
Sometimes, there’s a considerable distance between our knowing and our acknowledging.
Badu told us: “Write it down on real paper with a real pencil. And watch shit get real.” Most seats in that place of authenticity can be uncomfortable. Especially when they meet our bottoms in a lightening fast, last-seat-in-the-circle, musical chairs fashion.
Numa herself has stated that, “You’ll never be 100% ready. Do it anyway.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that, ready or not, Numa had done exactly that. Written a check and cashed it – had new wealth she could measure and share. So, I rooted myself deeper into the softness of my floor cushion and prepared to take notes.
Settled into the calm washing over me because I always feel right at home when another Black woman’s best is on display. Eyes and mind wide open as I bore witness to another phoenix’s rise.
There’s healing in the glow of her ascension.
I found myself basking in her light. Listening with an additional unexpected intention as the filmmaker shared honestly about sacrifice, coming into her Blackness, the birth of a Jezebel, and feeling the most like herself than she ever has in life.
Who is Numa Perrier?
NUMA PERRIER: A natural-born artist who is seeking to express herself and kick ass at the same time.
At what moment, in your life, career and otherwise, were you the absolute bravest version of yourself?
NUMA: I’m going to have to say that it’s been recently, in making my first feature film, because I really had to step out without knowing what would happen on the other side. Just pushing forward, going with my instincts and making every day count.
I have done that many times before, but this was the first time that it was a solo venture.
I still had support from a lot of people; but I’m the writer, I’m the director. I don’t get anyone else to fall back on. I have to stand behind [all decisions] for better or worse, and that took a lot of guts for me to do.
Without the buffer of the company that I helped create. Without the buffer of other collaborators that I’ve had over the years.
All of your work, including the work with Black&Sexy TV, is an important to all of us. Serialized content film, the streaming platform, and of course, the catalyst of it all, A Good Day to be Black and Sexy. Does it feel in totality as avant-garde as it is?
NUMA: Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, because we’re so in the thick of it.
Every now and then, someone will come up to us and say, “Hey, I watched A Good Day to be Black and Sexy. I wasn’t supposed to watch it, but I watched it when I was in high school and now I’ve just graduated college” or “I’m working on getting my masters now and I’m still a fan. I’m still a subscriber and I want you guys to keep going.”
Then, we kind of take a breath and go, “Wow.” I mean, that’s really strong… to grow with someone as they grow up and to have this content keep evolving as well. The culture is evolving, and all of the individuals in the culture are [also] evolving as people, and as creatives.
And we all experience that together.
Dennis and I weren’t in high school when we [started] this, but we were definitely at a point in our lives where we were both growing, learning, and going through milestones and different rights-of-passage. So, it’s really great to see that reflected in the audience when they tell us that that’s been their experience.
I photographed the movie poster in 2008, and it’s almost 2018. It has been a decade of my life collaborating with Dennis and working with the whole team to propel Black&Sexy forward as a movement.
When I look at it that way, I [think], “Wow. This is really significant.” But, when we’ve been in the thick of it, it’s just about What are we doing this week to get this episode out? You know, you’re just looking at what’s right in front of you. The immediate needs.
What does it mean to be Black and Sexy?
NUMA: Black and Sexy is about being grounded and excited about your place in Black culture. It’s about living your everyday life. Having love and war, and family and friends, and doing all of that in your own way, but reflecting the culture.
You go into a space that is predominately Black and you shine. You go into a space that is not predominately Black and you still shine. And you’re aware of that.
You’re present in that. It’s just your everyday life. You wake up and you go to bed with that.
We’re all a piece of Black culture. We reflect it in so many different ways, and that’s what I’ve always been excited about in being a part of Black&Sexy as a creator… being able to reflect that in my everyday life, but also in the things that I write and how I contribute to the series, movies and stories that we’ve been telling.
You had a very enlightened upbringing, raised by an interracial couple and in the Bahá’í faith. How have those experiences shaped your perspective on Black pride?
NUMA: Well, oddly enough, I wouldn’t call my upbringing enlightened. Maybe it was, but I wouldn’t refer to it that way. I think there was actually a lot of erasure in my childhood.
Because I was adopted by [an interracial] American family, that exposed me to a lot of racism and to a lot of different racial dynamics for sure. At a very young age I was exposed to, and had a lot of questions surrounding those things. But I didn’t really have the type of parents who necessarily knew how to unpack that with me. Or even for themselves.
I don’t know how much they asked themselves those questions. I mean, they were together and had to deal with what it was like in the late ’80’s, being a couple that they were. But it wasn’t something that trickled down into really being able to have a deeper understanding of it.
My mother, who was white, knew that I was Haitian, but she had no connection to Haitian culture at all. So there were a lot of things I had to peel back and discover myself, as I came into adulthood.
So, on one hand I was being exposed to things that maybe other children weren’t exposed to, but on the other hand, I was also a very sheltered. We lived in really small towns. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to pop culture and we moved around a lot, so I never had deep roots anywhere. That made for a kind of claustrophobic childhood at the same time.
I think that pushed me to be more as an artist, because I had so much that I wanted to express and so much that I was curious about, and had a strong willingness to discover things.
That’s what propelled me more and more into writing, and more and more into imagining things. And wanting to express on a really large scale.
When was your first memory of the realization that you were a Haitian-American, a Black woman?
NUMA: Well, my adopted mother would tell me that my biological mother was from Haiti, and at the time she said that she spoke patois. But, until I met my biological mother when I was 17, I had no exposure to it at all. I had to find that.
When I found my biological mother and started traveling to Haiti, all of those things started opening up and I started creating work around that.
I started making experimental films and writing around those topics. About motherhood, unconventional families, and the juxtaposition between Haiti, immigrant life, and the American lifestyle.
All of those things became cross-sections in my work because I was so curious about them. But as far as what I call [myself], I’m a Black woman and I’m Haitian-American. I’m both. But I’m Black first.
How important do you believe career-related role models and mentors are?
NUMA: Role models, career-related role models, are very important. But if you haven’t found one that you really feel aligned with, don’t fear you know? Don’t feel like you can’t move forward without a mentor or role model in your corner.
Some of my early role models were women who passed on many years ago.
I looked at Lucille Ball as a role model for a long time and I still do. I never met her; I wasn’t around during that time. You may not have [met] that person physically, but you can still read, investigate, listen to interviews, and align yourself with role models, anyhow.
Something that’s important to remember is: don’t wait around for someone to take you under their wing.
That will happen organically, if it ever happens. And, not everyone will have that. When it does, it’s kind of like a romance. You can’t force it.
When you stop looking for it is when it will find you.
As a Black woman with a powerful position in media, do you feel extra pressure?
NUMA: I’m in a place right now where I feel pressure, but the minute I feel [it], I think about other people that have way more.
If people are looking at me and feeling like, Oh, I really hope Numa delivers on this or I’m looking up to her because of this. I hope she makes it, I look at that more as encouragement than I do pressure. They want me to win, and they’ve been down for me and followed me over the years. They want to hear from me and know what’s coming next.
It feels more like love and encouragement than anything else.
Can you tell us more about Jezebel?
NUMA: Jezebel is the true story of my sister and I having to survive in Las Vegas after our Mom died. We were living in a furnished studio apartment with our brother, her 3 year old son and her boyfriend. It was very cramped and tensions were high.
My sister worked as a phone sex operator, and one day suggested I try “internet modeling.” This was the first iteration of online peep shows. She groomed me on how to get the job and do well at it.
It deals with this rather bizarre relationship we have as sisters, as she gave me permission to explore my sexuality as a very young adult. I play her in the film and I found a remarkable actress – Tiffany Tenille, who plays me at 19.
How did you know you were ready to make the leap to create your first feature film?
NUMA: It was just time. I couldn’t stand waiting anymore.
I had been waiting for so many bogus reasons – so many excuses. I could no longer point to anyone or anything else as to why I wasn’t making this happen. And I couldn’t stomach going through another Festival season and not having a feature film to offer up.
I also looked at many [whose] careers I admire and I noticed the one thing they all had in common in their trajectory was jumping in and making a feature.
I was just ready to get that ball rolling and have my voice out there too.
I also had hundreds of on set hours as a director and many scenes/episodes from Sexless under my belt. [That] was a confidence booster.
I brought a lot of that crew over with me because we had such a great working relationship and short hand communication at that point. The creative team really pulled through for me.
You’re a mighty force on every side of the lens. What advice do you have for other Black women on the business side of entertainment? How do they continue to grow and maintain an influential presence in that world?
NUMA: The main thing is to keep going. Keep creating. Don’t rest everything on one thing. You need more than one thing to keep this thing going. It’s all about momentum.
If you’re only really working on one thing and you feel like you’re going to live or die for that one thing, that’s not good for business. Because when [it] is out there… even if it’s successful…what do you have to follow up with? That’s not good for creativity because you can get stuck in a rut that way.
Always try to pursue more than one at the same time.
You gotta have your focus and your main thing that’s at the top, but also have your other things cooking underneath it too.
What kind of sacrifices have you had to make for your career?
NUMA: This is a tough question because I’m interested in the idea of sacrifice and why we all look at it as necessary. It’s almost as if you don’t sacrifice, you don’t deserve something.
And I wonder if there’s a place that exists where you don’t sacrifice, but you still deserve and receive the same.
I have sacrificed things, but I don’t know that I had to sacrifice [them] to get [what] I have.
I think that it’s an idea that we have to sacrifice, and that if we don’t or don’t have some kind of testimony, we didn’t really earn whatever it is. And I debate that notion.
In the early days of Black&Sexy TV, I was making short films. I was starting to blossom as an artist. I was doing a lot of photography and I also designed luxury gloves; and the gloves were starting to take off. Rihanna was wearing them, when she was becoming an early fashion icon. So, this was a great thing.
I felt I couldn’t manage the growth of that company and commit to what I believed Black&Sexy TV could become, at the same time. So I stopped doing the gloves.
Sometimes I think Did I sacrifice this thing that was all mine…that was blooming and growing and becoming very exciting…and being featured in Vogue and W magazine? The major fashion platforms were starting to take notice. Did I have to stop doing that in order to do what I was doing at Black&Sexy?
At the time, it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. I just felt like I had to focus my time and ask myself which end result I wanted more. Did I want the end result of being this notable person in the fashion industry and having this company? Or was I more excited about being a notable person in media and having that?
I felt more excited about the media side of it for sure, so it wasn’t a hard choice. But sometimes I wonder, did I have to? Why did I feel like I had to drop this to do that?
You know, and maybe I was correct, because everything that happened with Black&Sexy has been very successful. It was a choice I made, but I did stop the momentum of that to put my energy and my excitement, my power and my ideas and my inspiration… to direct all of that toward Black&Sexy.
NUMA: It was a moment, a pivotal moment. No one asked me to do it. No one said I had to do it. Maybe I felt some pressure, but no one said or asked that of me. I just felt like I needed to do that.
Has fear ever held you back?
NUMA: Oh, not often. There are a lot of things that I do fear, but it doesn’t often hold me back. I usually kind of press forward. I think that’s a personality trait.
My history has been one of, kind of being shoved into a lot of situations out of my control. My childhood was like that. I didn’t have a lot of control of where I would live, where I would be, or even what friends I would have, because my parents were shuffling us around.
Even being adopted, I had no control over that. I always looked to my future adulthood as a place where I would be able to make my own decisions.
Freedom to make my own decisions causes me to push past fear.
It’s good when I’m able to express that, but I usually still do the thing. Whatever it is.
You are in total control of House of Numa. And, let me just say, it awakens the senses. If someone hasn’t experienced it, they need to go right now. It is such an inspirational space. Such a personal space. Can you tell us more about it?
NUMA: In fashion, there’s the House of Dior… there are all [of] these Houses, and I always really liked that language a lot. I like the idea of having a House with all of these different rooms, and the different rooms give you different feelings. Different rooms hold different memories.
I love the imagery of a house because I feel like that’s a great descriptive of who I am. All [of] these different aspects of myself.
The House of Numa blog is a room, I guess, in that house. And in that blog I wanted to journal my feelings and my process.
I did that pretty steadily for months, and then turbulence hit my personal and professional life and I felt like I couldn’t write anymore. Not that I couldn’t write, but I felt like I couldn’t publicly share what was on my mind, because I felt like, professionally these are not things that I want to expose to our audience [to].
Personally, I felt like my life was coming apart in a lot of ways, and I felt too vulnerable to share that.
A lot of the essays that you read on House of Numa now, deal with my past; so there’s a lot of distance between who I am today and kind of the experiences that I had then. I was able to be very deeply personal, and be very intimate, and I want to be.
Intimacy is something that I crave, and in my blog I was able to experience that intimacy. Even with people I didn’t know.
I really cherish that and I want to be able to get back to that now that I’ve gone through a year or two of my life. Now that I’m coming on the other side of it, I feel I can start exposing some of those things again and step into some more of that intimacy again.
It’s a careful line to walk because if you read anything that I’ve written, you’re getting the truth. But you’re getting my truth. You know? There have been things I’ve written that are just sitting on the blog that I didn’t publish, because, I’m like, “I’m not ready.” Because, it’s too fresh. Things are too fresh. I know that we’re living in a time where everyone exposes everything instantly, but I still do have a pretty private streak about me.
There are definitely more stories to be told.
In my film, Jezebel, I’m really, really intensely personal… but those things happened 15 years ago. I’m able to really go there because there’s that distance, and I feel safe today. There is no way I would have felt safe to talk about those things then.
I completely understand and respect that it’s a careful walk that you’re on now. A walk of transition. Do you believe that you’re walking in your purpose today?
NUMA: Oh, absolutely. More than ever. The most I’ve ever, right now.
This is the most me that I’ve felt in a long time.
And it’s not that I haven’t felt like myself, I just feel the most like myself right now.
That is very profound. Just to lighten it up a little bit, what books, songs, or experiences are inspiring you right now?
NUMA: I’m a bookworm. There will be a House of Numa bookstore or library in the future because I love books. I don’t read all of them. Some of them I just use as reference guides. I thumb through them.
I’m reading a lot of interviews with artists right now. There’s an artist who I’ve loved for a long time named Louise Bourgeois. She has several publications that contain interviews with her; those are always on my desk and I sometimes just flip through them. She made art well into her 90s and she touched upon a lot of different areas that I relate to. She talks about things that stimulate my brain in a really good way, so I love that.
I recently read Roxane Gay’s Hunger. It’s a searing memoir and what was great about it was seeing another woman fearlessly tell her stories.
Music-wise, I listen to a lot of different types of music. I’ll go through my most played right now. Hold on, that’ll be a good way to go through this.
Do your thing.
NUMA: I have a new phone, but I still have music on here.
Sabrina Claudio. I’ve got Kendrick Lamar. So, there’s a track on the Damn album that I love called Lust. I have Tiffany Gouche, you know, for sexy time.
I’ve got Bodak Yellow, I definitely listen to that, I love it. I don’t follow very many celebrities on Instagram, but I definitely follow her. I watch all of her videos. I just like watching someone who’s so pure and unadulterated, you know? I love that so much. We need more of that.
I even have Kanye on here. I’ve been listening to a lot of OutKast. And I have this song called Wolves on Kanye West’s Pablo album, I really love it. Those are my most frequently played songs right now.
I listen to music a lot, and music is a big love language for me. I have music on when I’m in the shower. I have music on when I go to sleep. I wake up, I turn my music on. I write to music. Now you know.
What can NiaMagazine.com readers do, right now to ensure that their passion meets their purpose?
NUMA: You’ve got to check in with yourself and make sure that you are passionate first.
Do you get excited for what you’re about to do that day? Do you go to bed thinking about what you’re going to wake up for the next day? Those are clues. What is that thing is that makes you excited to wake up in the morning, that’s still on your mind when you go to sleep at night?
That gives you clues to the direction of your purpose.
If you don’t know that’s okay. It just means that you haven’t found that passion yet. Or you’re not doing that passion yet.
Where can we see Jezebel? And what’s next for Black&Sexy?
NUMA: Jezebel‘s in post production right now and I’m submitting it to the Festivals. Jezebel will premiere at a film festival in 2018. I don’t know which one yet, so stay tuned to my social media to find out.
Right now I’ve stepped away from the day to day business dealings and my role as chief content officer at Black&Sexy. I’ll always be a co-founder and I still have a stake in the company, but I’m focused in the direction of my film and other solo projects at this time.
There’s a very capable team in place and the company will continue to grow and represent the culture.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
NUMA: It’s so hard to think of a legacy because I feel like I’m just getting started, and I’ve lived all these different lives already. I’ve done all these different cycles and I feel like I’m entering a new cycle.
I’d just like to be counted as one of the real ones. A real artist, a real performer. You know, the real deal.
Someone who has given the best and has affected people over the world with what they’ve done. I want to reach so many people, and to me [that’s] what a legacy is. How deeply and how widely can you reach?
I feel like I’m kind of at the beginning of that in a way.
The quest for a better version of ourselves requires the audacity to grow. We must be daring…flirtatious… vulnerable enough to open up so that we can get free.
Nikki Giovanni told us: “A lot of people refuse to do things because they don’t want to go naked, don’t want to go without guarantee. But that’s what’s got to happen.” Numa was cloaked in that boldness during our conversation.
Sometimes, however, it’s a notion we can only flirt with.
But flirting, by definition, is intent. The beginning of a journey. And we can have many starts.
There’s no destination without one.
How ironic that Jezebel, her passion project, is one of Numa’s most defined priorities these days. A woman’s tale of survival, both on-screen and behind the lens continues to unfold. Leaving the binds of the past in the ashes below them, they move upward and onward.
Each new level achieved because they keep on flirtin’ with potential; new-and-improved models of themselves.
One of Numa’s favorite quotes is by Walt Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” I believe it’s an eloquent reminder of what we are. I also lean toward the understanding that it awakens the possibilities of what we can be.
Numa has always known that there was more for her in the world and more of her to give it.
Like her, we owe it to ourselves to always test the waters of hope. At least one toe. The best version of us could be one flirt away.
Photos courtesy of: Frances Ampah. Set location: Bloom and Plume
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