The documentary event of a LIFETIME is here and we’re honored to host the Twitter Watch Party for THE Janet Jackson's #JanetJacksonDoc premiering Friday, January 28th at 8/7c on Lifetime.
Melissa Kimble, #blkcreatives: I think sometimes a lot of people forget that Janet Jackson is from the Midwest and that she’s from Gary Indiana. And you are also from Gary. As a Black woman AND creative from Gary Indiana, when you think about Janet Jackson, what comes to mind for you?
Lisa Beasley, Actor: Gary Indiana? *laughs* Every single time it reminds me of friends I had and we were all in a show together. They went to go see Janet in concert and they made a point to tell me the next day – they was like, ‘Yo, at the end of the concert, she was thanking everybody, and you know how the artists are like, thank you do so to the band. And my one friend was doing an impersonation of her. And he was like [impersonating Janet Jackson], ‘yeah, I just wanna thank my producer. Thank such and such and such and such. And then she was like, ‘And I just wanna remind ya’ll I’m from mf GI (nickname for Gary Indiana)! I was like, wow Janet. And it made me love her even more.
So every time I think about Janet, I think about that in particular. And I also think about how, when I tell people I’m from Gary, the first person they bring up is Michael. And I’m like, yeah, Janet was there too. *laughs* And that’s kinda how I feel about just her period. She’s the greatest like and in the span of her career, first of all, phenomenal actor. That’s another thing I think about – she be acting her ass off.
Looking at her, you can tell she’s from Gary, because she gives you all sides of herself. She’s so natural. She’s rarely all put together especially when she’s acting – she’s like, yeah, we’ll use my real hair. Like she does things that other artists wouldn’t normally do. Because she grew up in Gary and you do grow up with this you-don’t-have-anything to lose mentality as well, but in order to get out, you gotta do everything you can. So it’s like, and for her to be from that family and hold her own in the way that she has, I can’t wait to see this documentary.
MK: Why do you feel like it’s important for people to remember where she comes from?
LB: We love crediting someone’s hometown for them to a point. And so to me it goes, yeah, talent can come from anywhere, but talent can also come from this shadow town run down by the white flight. Like Gary is, I don’t wanna say the epitome, but like a really strong example of what happened to other cities. Like Detroit or like the white flight and the Great Migration and all that stuff really tore up the economic infrastructure.
So you are dealing with people living in extreme poverty, extreme lack, like there’s no question – they’re all majority below the poverty line. And so people don’t think about those places outside until it’s time to be like, oh, so and so came from there.
It’s a whole bunch of Janets’ there. That’s the thing. And so it’s like, how do you get people to see that little Black girls from the hood are worth investing in because everybody’s not gonna have a strict Daddy. There are so many whose Dad gotta work at the steel mill. You know what I mean? Like everybody, Daddy, ain’t gonna have a vision. And it don’t necessarily have to be the biggest pop star in the world, but it could be anything. And it’s like, who’s helping these little Black girls in the hood? I think that’s why it’s important.
There are people still there. So they kind of talk about Gary like it only existed as a hometown of Michael Jackson and not like city still exists.
MK: As someone who also has a wide range of talents – you can do music, you can act, you’re a comedian and creative director. How has Janet Jackson influenced your creative career?
LB: By not being limited. She’s influenced my creative career by not being limited to one medium. You can’t be what you can’t see. So to see somebody extremely musically inclined and can dance extremely well and can act extremely well it’s like, oh, you don’t have to choose. You can have all your talents.
Janet made it cool to go after multiple mediums and not feel like that’s gonna sacrifice one of them. And as an artist, you don’t know. She probably was like, let me put down this jazz flute *laughs* but to have those options are cool. *laugh* I’m not gonna play the jazz flute anymore. I’m gonna concentrate on dancing. *laugh*
MK: As she’s grown, Janet Jackson has had full creative control – she decided who she wanted to work with, who she wanted to collaborate with. And then we also watched her branch out and be the only one in the family who really pursued acting and has done a multitude of things, we’ve watched her kind of all throughout her career. We’ve seen her constantly come out from under the different boxes that people have tried to place her in. How has her approach to building her career impacted and inspired the way you build yours?
LB: It’s given me confidence to stay committed to my vision. And it gives me the courage to go after creative control. Because I think when you wanna do things at a certain level, meaning you’re gonna need more people to help you, with that comes the lack of creative control in some settings, but for a lot of people that are hands on creatives that creative control is just extremely vital.
It doesn’t mean you’re creating everything by yourself. It means you have autonomy over the process of creating and you and your team or whoever you’re working with y’all are fully capable of creatively collaborating. And nobody’s dictating your career for you. Like THAT is an approach.
Image cred: Janet Jackson, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album cover shoot, 1989© Guzman found via Dazed.
LB, continued: I could very well be under management, which works for some. I could very well be down on that track of not doing what I wanna do, like in the grand scheme of things. I don’t like saying, I try to think of new ways to say I could be further ahead if I just went with the system, but to what end. You know what I mean? So to that, I could say like, yeah, I could be a series regular. I could be a…I could have a, I could, I could, if I had to put up with all of this *laughs* like, umm no. I’d rather do my own thing because clearly to me that’s where the fruit is. So it’s staying committed to the vision. And then just being able to go back and listen to her music and having all that hindsight knowledge. That’s the beautiful thing about Black art – people were there while it was happening.
But we did get a full picture of her whole life because we grew up with reruns and were able to go back and look at everything and put the puzzle and the timeline together ourselves. So to listen to her music now, and seeing her as an adult, we’re listening to it with all that hindsight experience and knowledge and background and context. So it’s just like, it makes it even more meaningful. You hear it differently because you’re like, wow, this person who was singing about this was really about that. Cuz look at how they turned out *laughs*
MK: I think one, another thing about Black art is that when you do have an opportunity to go back into the past and then connect to the present and what you see and what has happened, I feel like that’s also something very transformational about you being able to connect the dots for yourself, for your favorite artist. Going from being a kid – obviously as a kid, you don’t know what you’re actually listening to – you just listened. It’s a different experience when you’re an adult.
LB: And then you remember like the times where she was fighting for her independence from, you know, her family or trying to make a name for herself or whatever. And you see those things and then you put that up next to the art, it’s a completely different experience. And I think for us that makes that connection with her even more deeper because we can connect with her story. And Janet is so many of us in so many ways in the fact that she followed her own path. And obviously, if that’s not inspirational to millennials and Black creatives, like what else would be.
LB continued: It’s also inspiring for me to see how private she’s been able to be at the same time. You, Janet Jackson, how you do that? Like it goes to show you that you can do it. Nobody has a right to your information. I love that. I love that she was in control of the narrative of her own documentary. Black women telling our stories – that is the blueprint. So when I do any type of press I’m in control of the situation. Anytime somebody wants an article that’s over a page or whatever I’m like, I will write it myself thank you.
We’ve been hearing the same story about her for the past 20 years cuz they don’t have anything else. So I’m really excited to see the story SHE wanted to see. Cause she deserves all the things and she looks so good. And she from Gary, that’s crazy.