Behind "Rebel": Amani Walker
When it comes to black girl magic, Amani Walker is striding with it as she makes waves in television being the creator of BET's newest drama series, Rebel. Each episode is crafted to highlight a multitude of issues, including alcoholism, PTSD and LGBTQ. It's been a long road of twists and turns for Amani and her dream to become the creator that she is, and it's something we can all see now. Not only is she hands-on with her projects, she's also hands-on with her very busy family, along with help of her husband, Dallas Jackson, Can we say black girl magic again?
NS!: I’m so interested in Amani Walker. You are inspirational. Tell me more about the woman and mother, Amani Walker.
Thank you. I wear many hats. I’m a wife and mother of two little ones. So I'm heavily involved as a parent and co-chairing Track and Field Day for my kids’ school, all while juggling a writing career and organizing jazz concert fundraisers. My husband, Dallas Jackson, is an executive producer on Rebel. He takes the kids to school, I pick them up, and then there’s their activities outside of school (STEM Academy, ballet, baseball, basketball, acting class, piano lessons and sometimes tennis). We don’t have a nanny — just us managing and balancing parenthood with our careers.
So, when do I have time to write? When the kids are at school and after they’ve fallen asleep. I’ve been writing professionally for a while now and have sold original scripts that I’ve written to a few networks (all comedies). I was tasked with stretching myself outside of my comfort zone with writing a drama, and I wrote the script, Rebel. Rebel was my big break, but by no means did it happen overnight.
I had a very specific vision for my writing career. I knew that I wanted to be in the “creator’s seat”. I wanted to create my own shows. I was told early on that it wasn’t going to happen for me out the gate because I hadn’t been a staff writer on a show. I was determined to see my vision through. The ride has definitely been a turbulent one, but perseverance and patience prevailed. However, I am still learning and pushing myself to be a better writer while challenging myself to come up with fresh ideas that I think people will tune in to watch and enjoy. I’m not yet content!
NS!: In just a few episodes of Rebel, the spark it’s given black women is amazing! From the strong women to the ones who need to be stronger. It has been uplifting. I can’t wait to see the rest of the series. Were there any experiences that you’ve had as a black woman that helped you create "Rebel”?
I thought long and hard about who "Rebel” was going to be before I laid pen to the pad… before this character became "Rebel". I brainstormed for about two weeks about what the story was going to be first. When I figured that out, I had to visualize who this character was, what she looked like, what her attitude was, how she speaks, her trials, tribulations, etc. What I envisioned was someone like me but unfiltered, tough when need be through a feminine lens. Overall, I wanted to give viewers, particularly women a character who they can watch and be proud of for being self-assured, self-aware, fearless, relatable, accessible, sexy, but not oversexed. All too often, black female characters are either “mammiefied” – fixtures for comic relief or hypersexualized without ownership of their sexual agency. I didn’t want to step in either of those boxes.
The other day, I overheard a woman in the grocery store talking about "Rebel” saying, “She’s real. She’s normal, She’s a sistah. She ain’t Hollywood and she tells it like it is.” We’ve all been in situations where we may want to “tell it like it is”, but not necessarily speaking up when we need to — either picking and choosing our battles, avoiding conflict or confrontation, maintaining the peace or whatever that situation may be. I’ve definitely been there.
I love that you’re enjoying the show. Every week we’re bringing great storytelling to our viewers!
NS!: According to RAND, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or Depression. In discussions, often times PTSD is associated with men. The episode with Lauren London has touched many and you are to be congratulated on writing such a needed story line. How important was it for you to write this episode? Has PTSD affected you personally?
The "Chasing Ghosts" episode was written by Angela Allen, Rebel's Executive Story Editor. We wanted to incorporate PTSD in a meaningful way and Angela created the story of Kim — played by London (pictured right) - being haunted by death while serving in the military. For her, the baby symbolized a loss of innocence and she wanted to do it justice since it’s a real issue. It was important for her that she ground a story line for viewers to identify with and she did an amazing job.
NS!: The film industry has always been dominated by white men. As a black woman, how do you personally overcome this overwhelming statistic?
I just had a conversation about this today with a few fellow black wonderful writers and our goal is to stay working writers while tightening our craft and being creative in the ways which we market ourselves. That’s key. You can’t rely solely on agents and managers to sell your work or to get you staffed on a series. A large part of working as a writer is networking with other writers and producers while building and maintaining key relationships. I’m not intimidated by whomever is dominating the industry or fear I won’t be able to sell projects or work because of that. I believe in my voice and work enough to know that it will always find the right home at the right time.
NS!: In families and communities, women are the backbone. In your opinion, are all women rebels?
You have to buck the system in order to affect change, and as we saw with recent Women’s March, we’re still having to rebel against a political party whose mission is to derail women’s rights. Legislation has been signed by the current occupant in the White House allowing states to defund Planned Parenthood. Women across this country rely on Planned Parenthood for pap smears, cancer and STD screenings, free contraceptives, and family planning for little to no cost. The loss of funding is harmful to women and their families. Black women formed Black Lives Matter in response to young black men being gunned down while their murderers still roam free and rogue cops return to patrolling the streets looking for more brown prey. 64,000 black women are currently missing in the United States, but you won’t hear that in the mainstream media. There’s always a battle and we as women are always on the front lines. We’re on the front lines as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends, warriors and rebels… and we won’t stop.
NS!: Rebel has been successful. It can even be a movie. What will be next for Amani Walker?
My next move is to continue to create stories with thoughtful, provocative female leads. Maybe some ensembles in the far future. I’m enjoying writing drama right now and may eventually venture back into comedy, but in the meantime I am grateful to be in excellent company of black women creating great TV!
Follow Amani Walker on Twitter @AmaniWalkerOG! Catch Rebel on BET every Tuesday at 10/9c.