Before the end of the year, we were fortunate to have a conversation with Atlanta-based Actress, Award-Winning Director, Writer, and Producer, Marquelle Young.
I have produced for Capital Records, Verizon, Lego, and Google. My film 'Tell Me' which follows a black man going through therapy for the first time. He unravels all the trauma from his past, and realizes how it affects his present and doesn't want it to negatively affect his future. This film is currently on a film festival run, and we decided to take this film and tour HBCU campuses. Touring on HBCU campuses to speak with students which has allowed them to see themselves on screen. We also want to let them know that it’s never too early to start getting help for yourself.
- Marquelle Young
Atlanta Film and TV: Take us on your journey from how you started to where you are today.
Marquelle Young: I started as a child performer who grew up in Atlanta. I grew up with Atlanta theater working with Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company, and Fox Kids. Not only did I act, but I also danced, and had the opportunity to study under Kenny Leon, who was an incredible mentor!
From there, I went to acting school in New York. I met incredible people, and I realized how opinionated I am! While in New York, I worked on student films as an actress. When the production team would get in a bind, I would listen and would give them ideas. The production team would say, ‘that makes sense. You should do this! Working as a producer, started as me being a problem solver - which is what a producer is. Eventually, that led me to work in production. When I moved back to Atlanta, I worked for several theaters where I produced my own work, started teaching, and is when I began realizing I had a voice as far as directing goes. Working as a producer allowed me to meet a lot of people, and I was able to direct more. Now I have a production company called, Small Onion Studios, where we work on commercials, short films, and have a series we’re working on for next year.
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up did your parents recognize your love of the arts? And if so, how did they nourish your gift to facilitate growth?
Marquelle Young: I started in dance, and as a young kid, I would dance in the living room. Every night after dinner I had a show for my parents, where I would choreograph a dance and everyone would sit down to watch! My mother was also a dancer and said, ‘okay! I think it’s time for her to get into classes.’ My mother didn’t throw dance onto me because she realized it was something that was manifesting in me. I started dance classes, where I would go for one hour a week to take 10-12 hours a week. I hope it’s clear in some of my directing, where it feels like the camera is always dancing around my subjects which is what I love!
My mom was an award-winning speaker, so speech was something I had to do, and didn’t have the choice in the matter. So, I became a part of the Optimist Club. While being a part of the Optimist Club, I learned a lot from speech writing, preparing for a speech, learning and memorizing a speech, and winning and not winning. All of this taught me work ethic and the basics of this industry. From there, I blossomed. My parents have been incredibly supportive my entire life, and because of their support, I am blessed and grateful!
Atlanta Film and TV: Upon leaving The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts School of Film + Television, and embarking on your professional career, were there any moments of fear or self-doubt you had to overcome as a black woman operating in a space viewed primarily as a white artform? If so, how did you overcome those obstacles?
Marquelle Young: I never got those stereotypical roles based on how I speak. But, I did have to decide when my agent asked if I could ‘talk more differently?’ Or, if I could talk more black - or urban? I had to ask myself if I wanted to do that. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what those questions meant, which was confusing! I remember having roles I would read for, and noticed the characters for our caucasian friends were more interesting, with more depth - and it’s definitely changing! As far as my acting career, and I’m still in those places where there is more opportunity for more depth in these characters. As a people, we should create the content we want to see. Because we always want to watch salacious and drama-induced stuff. I am, however, more interested in the human quality of things that are complicated and difficult to talk about, and I am, however, still on the search for a ’breakout role,' when it comes to acting. But, I also know that I’m in a place where I can create a breakout role for myself. I am also grateful for the opportunity to have my own production company. I also know there are women who have come before me that have made it a possibility for me to have my own production company.
We’ve come a long way - and everybody’s journey is different. But, I am excited to see where I find my place whether it’s acting, or directing in this industry in general. But, I won't stop learning and growing!
Atlanta Film and TV: A few weeks ago, I was on your Instagram account and realized you had a role on BET’s American Soul as Bonnie Pointer of the Pointer Sisters. Could you talk about your experience playing Bonnie Pointer?
Marquelle Young: First of all, I had a blast! However, this business is about luck, your look, and your choices. One of the most important things of being an actor is being sure you’re a smart actor, and making strong choices.
I remember auditioning for Bonnie Pointer. Beforehand, I researched The Pointer Sisters and talked with my mama and aunt, where I had quick conversations and learned about who they were. The scene I auditioned for was where the Pointer Sisters were supposed to be in the middle of a rehearsal, and they were singing a song. Before I auditioned, I decided to go a step further. I thought maybe those other actors didn’t do their research. I researched one of the Pointer Sisters' songs, and on the way to the audition, I learned the song. Really I only learned the chorus! I went into the audition, said my lines, did a simple dance and sang the song. Afterward, the director said he was impressed by what I brought to the audition. He said, ‘you took your time to do your research for your audition. And also said that I resembled Bonnie Pointer, and that my smile was all Bonnie!
Being on the set of American Soul was incredible. All the people were beautiful to be around. Seeing the set of Soul Train was amazing and I was excited to be a part of a cultural moment in history, and also being able to bring all the things together that I’ve done in my life, like singing and dancing. Working with an all women cast was beautiful! The whole crew was incredible! All and all, it was a beautiful experience, and I’d love to do it again.
Atlanta Film and TV: You wear many hats within the film and tv community. Can you share with us which hat you prefer to wear, and why?
Marquelle Young: Currently, I prefer to direct. And the reasons that I've realized I have a vision. If you give me an idea, I’ll say this is what we can do! It may not be the best vision, but I have a point of view that is blossoming. I enjoy flexing my directing muscle and seeing what I can create in a way that creates and induces empathy in people, and allows them to feel less alone. I seem to gravitate towards telling a story that needs to be seen and a story someone needs to see themselves in, which is why I wrote Tell Me because I have never seen a black man going to therapy - ever! I often think, well, if I haven’t seen it, why don’t I write it? The film has done a lot of good in my community by having men talk about their experience as well as the fear and the stigma of therapy. I know we are coming into a space where we are talking about therapy, but there is still a stigma, and there is a fear that people will say, ‘Well, I don’t know what to say! Or, I’m not ready to talk about these things. But, having the conversations, along with the talkbacks and the Q&A’s we have had specifically with young people in the rooms. And, they’re like, ‘wow! That’s me! How do I get help next? This is the reason why we focus on schools and help them. When we toured the film in the Bahamas, the students didn’t realize they had free therapy while they were in school, but, it’s us letting them know these resources are available to them, and they’re free! They can talk to somebody, even if it’s something they think is little. It could change their life. So, we’re in this business, not just for entertainment. But we are trying to change the world and other people's lives!
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about the importance of being multifaceted in the entertainment industry?
Marquelle Young: Being multifaceted in the entertainment industry, gives you more opportunities. At first I would say, ‘I can produce. I can help with this and that. Being multifaceted, brings your range of getting into the industry in some way, shape, or form once you find what you enjoy. As a director, my experience with being in front of the screen is insurmountable! I know how to talk to actors. I’m also a Meisner teacher and coach. When it comes to being a director, I know what I need from my actors and how to get it from them. As a producer, I’ve worked on a few sets that were stressful, along with mean people. I’ve learned I want to make sure people don’t feel less. I like to have fun. I think it’s tough sometimes, especially as a woman, because I’m very effervescent presenting, and sometimes it’s hard for people to take me seriously.
I was a director on a set once, and there was a guy who said to me, ‘why don’t you focus on directing?' I thought, ‘wow!’ I did, however, want to set a tone for this production. I wanted everyone to come together in the beginning. But this guy came in and completely interrupted me! Situations like this have happened more than once, and it’s tough! I thought, ‘wow!’ I want to be kind . Somehow people want to step on you if you’re a nice leader. Sometimes others want people to be an asshole leader. Which I don’t think is necessary. As creatives, we are telling important stories. We’re not curing cancer. We are there to have fun. Filming and directing should be enjoyable. I am a big proponent of not having a stressful set and knowing my crew’s favorite cookie! It’s okay to be human because we all have our moments. It's important to make sure we create a team, and that we’re all on the same page. It's important for people to know they can come to me for anything. People on my set should n't have to fear me in any shape, form, or fashion. This comes from all my experiences and helped me become a better director, producer, performer and teacher, which culminated in where I am today!
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about your production company, Small Onion Studios and the types of services you provide?
Marquelle Young; We are a small business, and a full-service production company. We provide production services. We also provide post production services, depending on your level of post. Our biggest thing is we create small stories with big impact. We enjoy working with teams, companies, and stories that need to be told that are representing marginalized communities. We also like documentaries that are telling stories we need to hear. We just worked with HBGM & Co, which is an executive search and placement company that works specifically with women of color, disabilities, veterans, LGBTQIA, and helping place them in corporate America roles. We are creating diversity in corporate America, which by the way, is important. We also did a documentary about the metropolitan area in Metro Atlanta, specifically Metropolitan Avenue. This area used to be a thriving area, and is close to the airport. But, yet the homeless population is insane, and it’s not being cared for, or seen by the city of Atlanta. The attempts to create funding, and equity there is difficult and has yet to happen. We talk to the people in the area, along with those who are homeless and living on the street. We did this with a pastor William Francis, who has been a leader in this community. He has gone around the community, helping, and talking with people. He’s also created a space for conversations.
All of what I’ve mentioned are the types of stories that we want to tell, and we’re interested in being a part of because it's important.
Click here for our full conversation!
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about where the name Small Onion comes from?
Marquelle Young: It simply comes from my father, who called my mother Big Onion! My mother, in a fun way, has many layers! When I became a teenager, my father said that I was ‘officially a small onion!’
Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice for a high school student, looking to pursue a career in film and television?
Marquelle Young: Start right now!It’s never too early to start making films. You can make a lot of things with an iphone. Also, create your team right now. Sometimes people say, ‘I want to make a big film, but I need to meet these people. But, the people you need to meet are already around you, especially if you’re in film school. This is how Steven Speilberg and Spike Lee got to where they are because they went to film school, and met people. They created films and now they’re filmmakers making exactly what they want to make. Find your team, and your community that will go just as hard as you. Find those people who want to spend time working on their craft, who are just as serious - but can also have fun!
Atlanta Film and TV: We like to provide our readers and viewers something that’s called G.E.M.S. which stands for Great Educational Moments with Movers and Shakers. Do you have any GEMS for those who might be looking to break into the industry, or those who might already have a career in film and tv?
Marquelle Young: Be sure you spend time knowing who you are, specifically women of color. Women of color have expectations to live up to and stereotypes to fight against. As a woman, we always want to please people, and as an actress, you ask, ‘what do you want from me? Present who you are. Know your vision, and be sure to be confident. It’s okay if they don't go with your vision! If you audition for a role, you might not be the person they go with. Does it mean you’re a bad actor? No! It just means they chose to go with another actor. If you're a director, and you present a treatment they don't go with - it doesn’t mean you’re a bad director or don't like you. It means they didn’t want to go with that specific choice. There are many growth opportunities. Again, know who you are. Continue spending part of your career finding who you are even more. Once you do, step into who you are without fear! When you know who you are you don’t have to second guess, you trust yourself, your gut, and your vision. You know if it’s meant for me, it’s meant for me because it’s for ME. Not because of what I have to do to please someone else or be a certain way.
How can people connect with you?
Marquelle Young: Follow Small Onion Studios! Soon, we’ll have a lot going on. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org We’re always looking for actors, actresses, and crew members. If you’re a DP, gaffer, sound guy, we are working on projects we may need to cast. Also, if you’re a company, come to us! We can help create your vision, give you an incredible experience, and create something you will love in the end!