Tabby Biddle speaks with Jozanne Marie, the acclaimed actress, author, speaker, producer and Co-CEO of Double 8 Entertainment, about her mission to help women know their worth and value, and that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Five years ago, Jozanne Marie’s NAACP Theatre Awards Winner Best Solo Show — BEAUTIFUL — began to touch lives at the Los Angeles Theater Center. This Jamaican-born multi-talented artist, wrote, performed and produced the show, in collaboration with the Latina Theater Company, which shares her story of sexual assault and molestation, and her journey to discovering true beauty, no matter what has happened to you.
The popularity of the solo show led Jozanne to start the National Beautiful Campaign: The Shame Does Not Belong to You, and soon after, she penned a memoir based on the same topic of the show, entitled BEAUTIFUL, Unashamed and Unafraid. Upon publication, the book quickly garnered awards and recognization, including by the City of Los Angeles and Mayor Eric Garcetti, for its message of empowerment and social justice. Now, Jozanne’s award-winning book has been adapted to be turned into a feature film by one of Hollywood’s top entertainment companies.
As a poet, Jozanne has performed in comedy clubs, colleges, churches, and coffeehouses. Her poetry workshop SPIT teaches inner city youths to make a difference in their communities by using their own voices on social issues, such as gang violence, global warming and GMOs. SPIT inspired Jozanne to create the project MEN MAKING A CHANGE which was requested and presented to, First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Jozanne is a graduate of the prestigious, The Acting Studio Conservatory, in New York City, and a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Dramatist Guild; Board Member for the African Artist Association, Jamaicans in Hollywood, and an Associate Programmer for The Bentoville Film Festival (Geena Davis Institute), which champions women and diverse voices in media. Jozanne has appeared in film, television and theatre productions, including Tears of the Sun, Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre, Marisol, Vanities, No Exit and De Donde? She has also been a principal actor in many national commercials. Add to this, she’s an ordained minister!
Most recently, Jozanne became Co-CEO of Double 8 Entertainment, founded by Asian American actor, model and producer, Xaypani Baccam.
Tabby Biddle: Let’s start with your voice. You express your voice in many different ways — through writing, poetry, acting, producing, and more. In your work and in your life, how would you describe where you are right now with your voice?
Jozanne Marie: Wow, that’s an amazing question.We’ve had a very interesting year in 2020 going into 2021. It has given me the opportunity to reflect on what my voice is now, and who am I now, at a much deeper level. I think coming out of this, and going through the changes in our world, the changes in my life, I believe my voice is at a place of a deeper truth, a deeper acceptance of myself, and a more vulnerable, yet brave place. I think in order to be truthful, to myself, I also need to be vulnerable, which means I have to show all of me. Some of it can be looked at as flawed, but it is truth and my truth. As Nina Simone would say, It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times. And so, in the midst of this time in my life, this time in history, and all that life has brought — the good and the challenging — it’s just a place of truth. For me, it’s a place of giving myself a whole Yes!
Tabby: I love that idea of giving yourself a whole Yes! Tell me more about that.
Jozanne: In the past, I’ve shared with this person and that person and never given myself the opportunity, or season, to zone in a 100 percent on me without feeling a sense of guilt that I am neglecting someone else. I have never taken the time to give myself a whole Yes. There should be a season in everyone’s life for a whole Yes. I’m taking that season now. A whole Yes represents wholeness. It represents: This is what I stand for. This is who I am. This is what I want to do. Then it explodes to the outside. However people taste that, then that’s what it is for them. It’s not for me to judge. That’s where I’m at with my voice — relentless and just being myself.
Tabby: That’s gorgeous. Tell me, where do you feel the most powerful and natural using your voice?
Jozanne: I believe it comes through my spoken word and through writing, the majority of the time. Whether it’s writing a book, writing a poem, writing for film or TV, and speaking out loud. Those two places I tend to find myself coming out very authentically, because it’s coming from my soul.
Tabby: I love that clarity.
Tabby: Let’s talk now about leadership. Leadership for so long has been defined from the male perspective, and male standard — a hierarchical top-down approach. For many women, that’s not working. That doesn’t feel good to them. It’s not natural for them. Women are not only looking to lead in different ways, they are leading in different ways. How would you describe yourself as a leader?
Jozanne: As a leader, I would define myself as authentic and innovative. I think another word would be pliable. Leaders, in my opinion, are not just there to Lord over, or to have a position. I think a great leader creates leaders, and ultimately leaves legacies behind. When I use the word pliable, it means that I am taking notice of the people that are on my team, and seeing their needs and what they want. I am able to see the signs of the times in what’s happening, and I’m able to shift in my leadership to say, This is what my team needs. I’m listening to them. I’m coming from a humble place. I think to lead, you have to be confident in who you are and confident in your gifts and talents, but at the same time, humble enough to know that your position is to inspire and to allow other people to be their full selves.
Tabby: You’re the Co-CEO of a new production company, Double 8 Entertainment. Congratulations! Tell me more about that.
Jozanne: It started with finding my Queen. I realized that for so long, I’ve been waiting at the door. I’ve been knocking on other people’s door, to give me a seat at the table. That’s the narrative now: Seat at the table. Seat at the table. I started out as an actress and a poet. I was so used to sending out my headshots, reaching out to this casting director, reach out to this director, and so on. I have had some successes, and also some rejection, which is a part of the business. But what frustrated me was that I didn’t really see myself represented. I’m a Caribbean woman. I was born in Jamaica, and moved to the U.S. when I was very young. Throughout my entire career, I rarely saw myself. I’ve seen the legacy of being Black from our ancestors and the history of Blackness. But Blackness is so broad, and being a Black woman and a Caribbean woman, our stories are so different from a lot of what the media portrays. As creators we must stop limiting different cultures to stereotypes and give them a voice in the complex story called life.
“What frustrated me was that I didn’t really see myself represented. I’m a Caribbean woman. I was born in Jamaica, and moved to the U.S. when I was very young. Throughout my entire career, I rarely saw myself.”
Jozanne: When people think of Jamaica, the first thing they think of is the ocean, beautiful sexy women, Bob Marley or smoking weed. Four things. At the end of the day, it’s like, No, we are people with lives, just like everyone one else globally. We have stories.
Jozanne: As an actress, and it was either “Oh, you have a slight accent, so you don’t really fit into the African American role.” If there was a show or a sitcom, “You don’t really fit to be the sister or the aunt, or the doctor, or whatever, because you have this slight accent.” I’m not bitter about it. Let me just be clear about that. I feel like there’s change happening as we speak. So, I’m glad for that change. But I also found that I had a responsibility coming to this country and being an immigrant, and being a woman, and being a Black woman, and all these other layers, that it was my responsibility to not just knock on doors, but to make a door open for those coming after me.
Tabby: That’s powerful.
Jozanne: Yes. I’m excited about it. I have the wonderful honor of being a Co-CEO of Double 8 Entertainment with my business partner, Xaypani Baccam. He’s Asian American, and amazing at what he does. Asian cultures are also victims of discrimination when it comes to beauty, sexual appeal of Asian men and other systemic issues in America. Our collaboration is meant for a time as this. We’re a team to break down the stereotypes, magnify the beauty of diverse culture and ultimately connect the world to know — Look, we might be a different color, different race, different, whatever. But at the end of the day, we are human. All our hearts beat the same and our blood runs through our bodies the same. There’s something in you, that is in me, and vice versa. That’s why we connect. I am excited about it, because it’s no longer me just knocking on the door and saying, Where’s my part? Where’s my part? I am the part. I am the part that I’ve been looking for this whole time. It was with me.
“I am excited about it, because it’s no longer me just knocking on the door and saying, Where’s my part? Where’s my part? I am the part. I am the part that I’ve been looking for this whole time. It was with me.”
Tabby: It’s very exciting to see you build this.
Jozanne: It’s obviously hard work. But it’s so thrilling, because I see the future and the vision for it. I heard a message by Ebenezer Quaye who shared about when Apple made the cell phone without a headset. Their customers were irate about it, because they’re like, who makes a phone without a headset? Years later, we’re all wearing wireless headsets. And everybody loves them, and the freedom that they give. The thing that I am realizing being a Co-CEO, is that we have a vision and sometimes people are not going to see what’s the need for it. But as the innovators you have to see it, and down the line somewhere someone is going to be like, Ah, I need that phone without that headset. That’s what Double 8 Entertainment is. It’s a combination of two artistic innovators from different races collaborating to tell stories that will connect the divided part of the world that says there is no space for you. I am truly excited to be here.
Tabby: I had tears listening to you speak about it. The vision of it is huge and healing for so many.
Jozanne: Yes it is.
Tabby: I want to talk more about legacy. What do you vision as your feminine legacy?
Jozanne: When I think of the word feminine now, I think about it as power. Powerful. I was raised in a culture from when I was young, up until now, especially in a spiritual culture, that, to some level, women still had to fight for their voice, to be heard, to be taken seriously. If I was assertive, that meant that I was angry, rather than I was requesting for something to be done well, and I was demanding excellence.
I want a legacy for young women, and women in general, to know that they have worth and they have value. I want them to know that the spirit that is inside of them doesn’t have gender, but is the spirit from the Creator. God, I believe. It doesn’t have a gender, it has power. I want to leave a legacy that women, whatever age you are, you will no longer be afraid or ashamed to show up in the voice that you have. That voice is very necessary. Talking about this is making me emotional because it is so dear to my heart. I’ve just seen so many women in my family who didn’t come to the realization of this and have lived lives that could have been avoided if they had just used their voice and showed up in their own skin, regardless of the opposition of cultural taboos. I want to leave that in my work. I want when someone reads a book, watches a film, hears me speak, reads a poem, that they know: You have power. Go out there and boss it up.
“I want a legacy for young women, and women in general, to know that they have worth and they have value. I want them to know that the spirit that is inside of them doesn’t have gender, but is the spirit from the Creator.”
Tabby: Can you talk to me about some of your past and current projects that align with this legacy?
Jozanne: Sure. I have my book Beautiful: Unashamed and Unafraid that deals with the issue of sexual assault and molestation and using your voice. It’s about not being ashamed and afraid to let people know that someone violated you and that you have nothing to be ashamed of. It goes into the depth of what is true beauty — that you’re beautiful no matter what has happened to you. A tragic event doesn’t need to be the story of your life. There’s always a comma, let’s keep going. So I have that project, and we’re turning it into a feature film. It’s based on my own life story of overcoming 10 years of sexual abuse from the age of six to 16.
“There have been so many times where I felt like I wanted to stop, because I just felt like, I’m talking about this all the time.But then I realized, No, I’m talking about it all the time, because it’s necessary to break down that barrier.”
I’m also working on a show called “The Girl and the Green Wall”. It’s a supernatural fantasy that focuses on purpose. The second most-sold book in the world is called The Purpose Driven Life. It just shows how many people across the world want to know what their purpose is.
Jozanne: I also have a book that I am currently writing right called, I am Not a Nice Christian Girl. A very controversial title. It’s about nice versus authentic good. What inspired the book is that a lot of times as a woman of faith, I felt that if I didn’t smile, or if I said no, meant that I wasn’t being nice. We could fall in that trap of trying to be nice and pleasing people, rather than being authentic good, by listening to ourselves, and saying yes to ourselves, the true self. I think sometimes religion keeps us in a box, and we don’t get to exercise our full selves because of that. So that’s another thing that I tap into. We won’t get into that now, but read the book when it comes out [laugh]!
And at Double 8 Entertainment, we have eight projects on our slate. They all have to do with diversity and inclusivity. We have an amazing film in development with an Asian lead actor called the “The Plan.” It all has to do with connecting. That’s what our company is about — connecting the world and being able to see each other. So, we have some things coming down the pike.
Tabby: You spoke earlier about some of the other women in your family. As so much of women’s history and the lives of women has been omitted from the records, erased, or not shared, it can be hard for many women to know their female lineage. I’m curious, how much you know about your female ancestors and lineage and, how do you know it?
Jozanne: Well, that’s a great and amazing question, which is going to send me on the hunt now because the truth is, I don’t know a lot of my female lineage. I only know up to my great grandmother. So it’s myself, my mom, my grandmother, who is half Black and half Syrian. There’s a lot of mixture in our family because of Jamaica. We have a lot of foreign businessmen who used to come to the island, and hook up with the women there. So just knowing that, there’s Indian in my family on my mom’s side. Her dad came from an Indian lineage. He’s Black with long straight hair. With the females, that’s as much as I know. Obviously, our family is so huge, but all I’ve seen, unfortunately, with the women in my life (both passed away), I never really saw anything of power. I always saw weakness. It doesn’t mean that those that came before them didn’t have power. But, I think I only had one aunt that I really saw and admired. She traveled the world. She was a preacher, and she was very regal. I loved going to her house. She had a huge house in the hills, and we would make a trip up there. But, outside of her, everything else I saw was kind of dismal. So to answer your question, I don’t know a lot. But what this is going to do is make me go search out even more. Thank you.
Tabby: Thank you for answering that question. My hope, with this interview series, is to inspire women to seek out the stories of women in their families — even if it’s just their names, to honor them. I’ll look forward to hearing what you discover on your hunt.
Jozanne: Yes, me too.
Tabby: I asked you earlier about where you felt most powerful using your voice. I’m curious, where do you feel most powerful and natural leading?
Jozanne: I feel the most powerful leading in my life. Being the boss of me first [laugh]. Also, church, to be honest. I wasn’t raised in the church, necessarily, but I find that at the depths of my soul, that I’m a very spiritual person. I’ve always been a little nosy and inquisitive child, wanting to know why is why. Digging in the deep. And so, I find myself a lot of times, when I am in a platform that’s very spiritual, whether it’s a church or motivational speaking or, the TED talk that I gave, I find myself feeling, the most powerful in leadership. Also, I feel powerful in leadership in my production company because I have a great male partner who is not threatened by my voice and makes it a safe place to lead without reservation.
Tabby: If you had a loudspeaker that could reach the ears and hearts of women and girls around the world, what is the message that you would want to impart to them?
Jozanne: I would want to say, I hear you. I see you. I love you., because I think we don’t get that often, as women. We’ve fought from every spectrum, from business, to politics, to our bodies, to our thoughts and ideas, the history of womanhood, we’ve fought to be heard and taken seriously. We fought to be seen, because we’re always compared to other women, and what our bodies should look like. And what is true beauty. And love, how we want to be loved, not how the world wants to love us. How we want to be loved individually, is so unique and special, and creates a light and a deeper beauty about us when we are loved well. There’s something that blooms and comes alive in us when we are loved. I feel like women are like plants when we are loved well. The sunshine comes in and shines really good on us. We vibrate, and we glow at a deeper level.
“I would also want to tell any woman to make sure that wherever you go in the world, and whatever you do, be around the environment where you’re seen, and heard, and loved. Don’t stay in places that squelch your fire.”
Tabby: That’s such great advice. Is there anything else you want to share with the readers that you feel they should know?
Jozanne: Oh, so you want us to be here all day (laugh)? I had a discovery this season of my life. I feel like there’s a little girl in every woman. The question I asked myself is: Have I ever loved her? Ever truly loved her? As a whole. Because I’ve seen glimpses of her pop out every now and then. But the times where she hides, I asked myself, Why? Why is she hiding? Why is she afraid to come out? Why is she afraid to expose that part of herself? I realized that throughout our years — from education, to church, to our family, to kids at school, our friends, our circle — sometimes the little girl, that authentic us, the real us, gets covered by all these things, and also makes them become a part of her voice, which can be somewhat true, but yet not.
Tabby: Tell me more about that.
Jozanne: I think it’s so important to ask ourselves this question during the pandemic. This is the season we’re in. The “Who are we?” season. Unfortunately, lives have been lost. However, in the midst of it, for those of us who are still breathing, I feel like it was here to raise us to a higher consciousness of ourselves. We live in a world that is so fast-paced. Show me. Show me. Show me. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. We had to slow down. That’s what it has done for me. Slowing down to really define and discover the real me on the inside. There is no going back to normal. This is the normal. The question is Who am I now? Who has this whole thing called forth now?
Moving forward, we are embarking on a new world, and a new system. It’s going to require us to find the new in us. But is it really new? Or was it just hidden? That’s the thing that I am really living right now. Waking up every day and giving myself a whole Yes. It means that I’m not going to be apologetic. I’m not going to be fearful. I’m not going to make excuses. I’m going to give myself a whole Yes. Sometimes we’re going to fail at it because we tend to go back to default mode at times, but that’s okay. The whole point is not perfect, but progress. Who are you now? Don’t be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid to change.
Learn more about Jozanne Marie.
Jozanne Marie is Reflecting on Her Voice and Who She is Now first appeared on tabbybiddle.com.
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. works at the intersection of women’s leadership, feminine spirituality and social change. She is the co-founder of 50 Women Can Change the World in Media & Entertainment, the bestselling author of Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action, and an internationally celebrated women’s leadership coach, educator, strategist, and group facilitator for her unique approach to activating women’s leadership. Learn more.