Caribbean Heritage Organization Excellence In Entertainment Honoree
The Grenadian-American comedian and actress – with writing and producing credits to boot – has been at this entertainment thing for a while, making a name for herself with projects that span music, television and film. A quick Internet search confirms the 37-year-old’s credits date back to the early ‘90s.
Still, 2017 proved to be the year Seales’ career trajectory went from a steady climb to a steep sprint.
Her breakneck career growth is due in part to a heated conversation at a celebrity dinner party in 2017 that streamed live on YouTube. A video of Seales discussing white privilege and her experiences as a Black woman in America went viral, catching the attention of an entirely new audience. And when that newfound audience looked to social media for more from Seales, she was ready.
The comedian shared her inner musings with a constantly growing set of followers on Instagram, commenting on trending news stories and social justice issues against the backdrop of her home and other practical everyday settings. Yet, as her followers came to see her as their funny home girl who kept it real on the ‘gram, Seales was cleverly crafting and launching projects like her live comedy game show “Smart Funny & Black” and podcast “Small Doses” to further feed their appetite. She did this while continuing her role as series regular Tiffany DuBois on HBO’s “Insecure” and this year released her debut stand-up special “I Be Knowin,” also on HBO.
“There’s a lot of Caribbean folks that undermine what the arts mean and being a part of entertainment even though it’s such an integral part of our cultural advancement. Look, I did the right thing, I made the right decision and I’m successful.” -Amanda Seales
“A lot of people cannot conceptualize that when I started on [Instagram], I had 10,000 followers. And within a year and a half, I have almost a million,” says Seales.
Nearly a million followers later – with the success of her current projects and new ones on the way – Seales will now have to make room for recognition of those accomplishments. This year she adds honoree for Excellence in Entertainment by the Caribbean Heritage Organization to her resume.
“You know, West Indians in general, we’re very big on reputation and on getting good marks,” Seales says jokingly in dialect. “This is an example of getting good grades! But I’m getting good life grades!”
Seales’ mom was born in Grenada, the Caribbean island endearingly referred to as the Spice Isle. She consistently exposed her daughter to the island and its traditions during her upbringing. Seales took trips to Grenada as early as one year of age. Somewhere along the way, she started initiating trips back home and now feels confident going to Grenada on her own.
“I’m not just a descendant of a Grenadian. I have Grenadian citizenship. I make it a point to spend money in Grenada – to encourage people to visit Grenada. The island is an extension of my person,” she says. “It’s a continued extension of me versus just a part of my familial make-up.”
Seales developed her own relationship with the Spice island – one that she says serves as a “stronghold in understanding [her] duality as a Black American and as a Grenadian.” So, it isn’t surprising that this duality informs her creative work and colors her now sought-after opinion.
“I think at the end of the day, anytime you’re able to have a number of perspectives, it just [gives] you a lot more to draw from in your content. Having my West Indian heritage, it expands not only my mind but also my ability to connect to other people and relate to them in other ways,” she says.
“I use my comedy and my work to teach so it also creates a space for me to bring a perspective that others may not have access to.”
With a master’s in African American studies from Columbia University, teaching is at the core of Seales’ work. However, her willingness to regularly share her point of view on hot-button issues does not come without a significant amount of scrutiny. Seales can only think of one time she felt she could have expressed her thoughts better and she quickly follows that declaration with, “And even in hindsight, there isn’t a way I could have said it better.”
In terms of any self-assigned obligation to use her platform to debunk stereotypes and misrepresentations of the Caribbean and its diaspora, Seales says her real focus is on bridging the gap within the collective Black diaspora and promoting Pan Africanism.
“I really just feel like even acknowledging the diaspora is just an integral part of things,” says Seales. There continues to be a disconnect between Black Americans, Africans and West Indians where we oftentimes are just applying stereotypes and defensive practices between each other when, yes, we are all different, but we also share a lot of similarities in our experience in this world as Black people.
Her focus on uplifting her community appears to be working. The rest of 2019 brings more work. Seales finishes up her “I Be Knowin” stand-up tour only to greet us as host of NBC’s new comedy competition show “Bring the Funny” this summer. She is also putting the finishing touches on a book scheduled to release in fall through publisher Abrams Books. These are just the projects that are announced. She hints at music on the way, too.
Seales’ chance encounter at that celebrity dinner party in 2017 tested and proved Roman philosopher Seneca’s popular phrase of luck being the result of preparation meeting opportunity. Now Seales finds herself with a precarious dilemma: finding the right balance between continuing to feed an insatiable fan base raw and personal content on Instagram while nurturing and promoting her projects. There’s also a pesky little thing called self-care. She needs time for that, too.
It’s a good problem to have – one that she used a recent trip to Grenada to work through.
“I just left Grenada and I had four people while I was in Grenada – no, five people say, ‘Oh, I watch you on Instagram. I follow you on Instagram,” Seales says. “I mean I won’t ever get off altogether, but it does take a certain level of insight to figure out, well, how do I restructure? On one hand it’s about content. On [the other], it’s definitely about self-preservation and mental wellness.”
Seales is still grappling with how to evolve to meet this new demand. Processing it in real time, she uses an analogy of singer Mariah Carey doing a concert in which she devotes time to sing to each individual attendee.
“I’m going to sing this song to you now and then I’m going to sing this song to you now and then I’m going… I mean that seems very extreme but that’s what it becomes. Not everyone – that’s not fair – but a lot of people feel like that’s what you should be doing. They feel like you should be speaking to them individually.”
Not quite settled on a solution, Seales does assert that Instagram is not her brand. It serves as a conduit for the work she’s always done in her career to entertain, uplift and inspire. For now, she plans to focus her energy on building an audience around the “Smart Funny & Black” brand.
“My team, we really want to grow the ‘Smart Funny & Black’ social media presence,” Seales says. “Our newsletter, our Facebook and our live show, and all of the other projects that we have coming down the pike with ‘Smart Funny & Black.’ My Instagram is more going to be about experiencing my life in terms of how it relates to my work specifically and there will continuously be ways to hear my thoughts on things through my work.”
She’s evolving. She must if she plans to keep up with her own success. For now, however, she’s taking a moment to acknowledge that an island girl made it in Hollywood.
“There’s a lot of Caribbean folks that undermine what the arts mean and being a part of entertainment even though it’s such an integral part of our cultural advancement. Look, I did the right thing,” she continues. “I made the right decision and I’m successful.”