Written by Malin Evita
This is an excerpt from the 42nd Making It: Women in Film podcast episode. Listen to the full conversation available now on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. “The Main Character with Actress-Writer Mariah Goolsby.”
“I started writing about the TV show of my life when I was like fourteen years old and had barely even lived a life to write about!” Mariah Goolsby, activist, writer, and actress of both screen and stage, tells me as she reflects to when her passion for storytelling first began. “It’s just been something that’s… always been there.”
She might not have had much of a life to write about when she was fourteen, but she certainly does now. In fact, her latest script, looking to go into production very soon, stars herself in the role of a woman with her own name. The synopsis for the project, directed by Nicole Lipp, reads like this: Mariah “Mo,” a biracial Black woman, is a pro at taking care of her friends’ feelings before her own, but now that she’s approaching 30, it’s time for Mo to take up space and become the main character of her own life – all while in the bathroom of her best friend, Britney’s, 30th birthday party.
Being so vulnerable to base and play a character so close to oneself is not something many could muster. But Mariah had a very particular reason for making this decision, and it’s not something she regrets. “The decision to do it, for me, comes from a desire to put people who look like me at the forefront of stories,” she says, “it’s really, really rare that I see someone who looks like me. I’m a biracial Black woman. I’m also, like, a bigger person – I have a fuller body than most people, and that is something you don’t see in Hollywood at all! And if you do, it’s usually like The Funny Bestfriend, or, you know, the side character. So I was like, definitely wanted to put someone who looks like me in a main character role.”
That’s not to say that it’s not sometimes a struggle, and Mariah is appreciative of the small bit of distance her character’s nickname gives her. It’s a thin line, but the boundary is essential. Not just in terms of not becoming glued to your on-set mask, but also in creating an honest character with honest flaws. “When you are writing a character, you want them to be a multidimensional, flawed person. But then, when you are writing about your own flaws… it’s so weird!” She laughs.
Mariah is bringing her own story, her own words, and her own body to the screen. And it is not about to be a stereotypical or exploitative portrayal of what so many films and shows with Black leads (and more often than not, sidekicks) have done for decades. Telling her story without it being about trauma and instead shifting the focus was hugely important to her.
“I love, love that more Black stories are being told; that I can go to a movie and see more people who look like me on the screen. But I do think there is an interesting and weird desire to portray Black people in a traumatic situation or to explore the trauma we have been through historically,” she says. It’s much less rare to see, i.e. shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure – one of Mariah’s favourites: “A show like that… It’s rare you just see Black life. Like you just see Black people celebrating and living their life like normal people. And we see white people do that on-screen all the time, but you don’t get the same with Black characters on screen.”
MESSY holds moments of romantic comedy with bathroom make-out scenes, but also coming of age elements, despite the cast not being teens as is traditionally the case for the genre. With its premise of growing into oneself and realising that your purpose is not to be a supporting role to the rest of the cast in your life, MESSY tells the story of becoming. It tells a story about taking up space and realising that this is your life.
“I remember in one [communications] class reading some study that was done on the media and just our psychology in general. And it is true that people who are not more often shown in lead roles – when they go out into their world in their regular life, they don’t think of themselves as the main character. Which is just ridiculous and wrong! It’s your life! You are the main character of your own life,” she tells me. This was a feeling that inhabited her for some time as well, but now writing this story to life is quite beautiful. “I am the main character. Here I am. I’m gonna take up this space,” she says, power to her words.
This is in honour of all of the amazing stories we should have heard, but was pushed to the sidelines, and all of the vibrant stories that are starting to simmer. Support MESSY and the team by donating to their production here, and keep up to date with updates on their Instagram (@messy.themovie)! Listen to the full interview with Mariah – talking all about theatre, acting, artistic expression, representation, and so much more – available on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and studied Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.