Black royalty—as in thrones, crowns, and such—are about to be a happening topic. A Bridgerton prequel is in the works, which focuses on mixed-race Queen Charlotte. Jada Pinkett-Smith is going to executive produce a Netflix series about African queens. And one of the hottest properties in Hollywood these days is a 70-year-old actress- turned-historical novelist: a dynamic woman of color who has just signed a mega deal with HBO Max. Her name is Tina Andrews and, well, where to begin?
One of the hottest properties in Hollywood these days is a 70-year-old actress-turned-historical novelist.
She was born and raised in Chicago and first became a dancer, one of those ballet school children used as extras in prestigious companies. (“Nureyev gave me a pair of his slippers!”) She was then a young actress, playing LeVar Burton’s slave girlfriend in Roots. (“I was the only girl shorter than him.”) She did a role on Days of Our Lives, which included an interracial smooch—the first of its kind—that garnered some 5,000 protestations from shocked viewers. (“I was called names my parents had been called in the South.”)
Andrews then attended NYU, and went on to some adult-oriented acting that did not sit well at home. “Jodie Foster and I were playing prostitutes on some film,” she recalls, “and my dad said to me, ‘Hey I didn’t send you to school to play a hooker. I sent you to write.’”
Her Writing Roots
Both her parents, in fact, raised her to dream big. “I speak of my father a lot,” she says. “I was and am in spirit the quintessential ‘daddy’s girl.’ But in truth, I probably would not be in show business if not for my mother. She was a beautiful woman. People compared her to Diahann Carroll back in the day. And she used to say that getting in-between my father and me was ‘like being between the blades of a pair of scissors. You will be cut to pieces.’ I still hear my father’s voice more—but I’d like to think I got my mom’s cleverness too.”
Now, about that writing thing. Tina Andrews loved history, (“Don’t ever call me on a Sunday because I’ll be watching Masterpiece Theatre!”) and when she discovered that Thomas Jefferson had a thing going with a slave named Sally, she picked up pen and paper. The result, Sally: An American Scandal, was a best-seller and then became a highly rated television miniseries with Sam Neill and Carmen Ejogo. Not that it happened overnight. ”That journey took me 16 years from concept to CBS,” Andrews says.
She also loved music and became fascinated with the life—and early death—of singer Frankie Lyman. She wrote the screenplay for Why Do Fools Fall In Love? released in 1998. “I asked Michael Jackson to play the lead,” she says, “but he did not want to play a drug addict.” Ironic, needless to say.
Her Big Moment
With every project of hers about people of color, Andrews was way ahead of the current climate.
And now, her latest achievement: selling the TV and film rights of her 2013 historical novel, Charlotte Sophia: Myth, Madness and the Moor to HBO. To be called Buckingham when it hits the screen, the story is about the German princess who was “arranged” to become King George’s wife, though it was not known—to the King or his subjects—that she was half black. Curiosity about the origins of the Bridgerton queen (named Charlotte) spiked Andrews’ book sales, as did Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan.
Andrews’ deal with HBO Max is a big one, and a refreshing change from the ageism of the entertainment business. “I will write every episode,” she says. Barely five feet tall, she is a small but incredibly energetic woman. With every project of hers about people of color, Andrews was way ahead of the current climate, and is thrilled that Hollywood is finally paying attention to the stories and talents of people of color. “Black Lives Matter is more than a moment, more than a movement,’ she says. ‘Now, we are all paying attention to diversity in all areas.”
Indeed, your majesty.