An Interview with Tonya Pinkins, Director and Star of Red Pill

Your new movie Red Pill – in a few words, what is it about?

Red Pill is a point of view I’ve never seen on screen – a black women’s perspective on the horror that is American politicals.

From what I know, Red Pill is your first feature film as a director – so what made you choose exactly this story for your debut?

I had been shadowing as a director in TV for three years and was no closer to getting hired to direct anything. I decided to finance my own movie. The movie I wanted to make was afrofuturistic. My collaborators became unavailable and in July 2019 I was sitting in my friend Kim Syke’s house discussing the mass shooting at the garlic festival. Kim’s house felt like a house for a horror movie. Our conversation and her dismissal of the mass shootings combined with her saying I could use her house to shoot a horror film made it a done deal. I wanted to talk about how I knew the election was going to go in 2020 the same way I knew it was going to go in 2016. Different results but I understood the ramifications, In 2016 people treated me with contempt for knowing the outcome. So instead of talking I decided to create.


The white supremacist cult, was this always a key element when conceiving the idea for your movie, or did that only sneak into the script during writing?

The cult was there from the beginning. I’d done a lot of research in the meta verse and also been reading about scatalogical rites. I don’t think the Democrats or the Republicans are any good and I wanted to show that through action vs talk which is how I see the two parties.

(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Red Pill?

Get Out and Midsommar and all the comedy horrors I love.

What can you tell us about Red Pill‘s approach to horror?

Oh it is smart and black, rather nerdy. Black people get it and smart people get it. There are lots questions to answer and puzzles to solve. Plus I am saying unspeakables, things blacks think and feel but only say to one another. It’s also my specific taste. I like humor with tragedy. The darker it gets the funnier it has to get. Richard Pryor is an inspiration “When you’re running down the street on fire people will get out of the way,” referring to the time he set himself on fire freebasing. I also consciously wanted to make white people uncomfortable the way I as a black person have felt uncomfortable about the images of my people my entire life.

A few words about your directorial approach to your story at hand?

Directorial approach? Hire great actors. Do every job that I couldn’t afford to hire or find a volunteer for.

You also play one of the leads in Red Pill – so what can you tell us about Cassandra, what did you draw upon to bring her to life, and have you written her with yourself in mind from the get-go?

Do talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
Cassandra for the mythological women who is cursed to forever speak the truth and never be believed. That is the story of most black women’s lives in America. Yes it is very personal for me. I wrote it for myself because I didn’t have to pay myself. Ha ha I thought it was an ensemble piece but Minji Kang our editor showed me that it was Cass’s story.

You know I’ve written a 75,000 word book Red Pill Unmasked telling lots of stories and background on everything. It’s available on Amazon and the audible should be available soon too. I wrote for people whose voices I hear in my head that fulfill the themes and qualities I’m playing with. I also write for actors that I have access to. I don’t use casting directors or go through agents and gatekeepers.

I wanted the world of the movie to look like my world. My friends come from all walks of life. Latino/Indigenous – Rubén Blades, Eastern European – Luba Mason. They just happened to be married. Caribbean/British- Adesola A. Osakalumi. Kathryn Erbe called me after reading the script and said “Thank you for inviting me to play this  terrible woman.”

Ten days, I was catering for the first two cooking. It snowed on our final day of shooting so we had to relocate scenes. Only four professionals on the crew; John Hudak jr – DP, Steven Franchek – AC,  Gunnar Nagle- sound, second week of production Danielle Paiwonsky – script supervisor. Everyone just helped everyone with everything. We had so little time and money. One day the van got trapped in the mud and twelve of us had to push it out. The rest of our crew was friends and family working on their first film set.
A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

The $64-question of course, where can Red Pill be seen?

Amazon Prime

Vimeo (TVOD):

Vudu (TVOD):

Microsoft/Xbox (TVOD):

SpectrumOn Demand




Reception falls along racial lines. The biggest hate comes from white people  but not all white people. Smart white people really like it because they get all the metaphor and symbology. They don’t think it’s satire. They understand irony.  And 90% of black people LOVE IT and watch it more than once. The calls and emails and tweets form black people is why I made the movie. I wanted us to be seen and heard and to know that somebody in the business understands how we see the world.Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Red Pill?


Any future projects you’d like to share?

Red Pill Unmasked – kindle, paperback, audible

REd Pill Twine game

Women of the Movement – ABC/HULU

The Chicago Strangler – narrator (Discovery)

What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

I studied the Meisner method from the time I was 15. William H. Macy was my first professional acting coach. John Mahoney was in class with me.

My readers would probably tar and feather me if I didn’t ask you about your involvement with Fear the Walking Dead – so could you talk about working on that series for a bit, and how did you even get the part?

OH YES, when I met my agent Pete Kaiser I said anything zombie! I got it from a self tape. My teenage son was the reader. Ian and Andrew write scenes just for auditions. It was an amazing scene. I sent it in and didn’t hear back for months. It is the highlight of my episodic career.

You’ve also done a long stretch on the soap All My Children – so do talk about your involvement with that series, and how does acting in a daily soap compare to working on a movie?

Soap operas are more like theater, you can perform with a bigger style. Episodic and movies are small scale even smaller than life.
Chicago was the number one AMC audience in America. I grew up watching AMC and dreamed of being in Pine Valley.

Any other films or TV series you’ve worked on you’d like to talk about?

Women of The Movement, which is The Roots of this generation. I play Emmett Till’s grandmother Alma Carthan, with Adrienne Warren as Mamie Till, Cedric Joe as Emmett and Ray Fisher as Gene Mobley

How would you describe yourself as an actress, and some of your techniques to bring your story to life?

I think I channel in all of my creative work. I empty myself and let something move in through and as me. I let go of the outcome. I’m not afraid to fail or do it wrong. In fact if there is no risk of failure I’m not interested in the opportunity.

I enjoy the roller coaster of life emotions. I know how to take people on that ride. The audience is a scene partner and in every role I play I want to make an audience dislike my character because it so much deeper when I then make them see themselves in my character. If they can find compassion for my character they can find it for themselves.

Actresses, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?

She just died, Lina Wurtmueller, Jane Campion, Jennifer Kent.

Your favourite movies?

The Korean BedevilledFull Metal JacketReturn of The Living Dead with Clu Gallagher, The BabadookThree Idiots.

… and of course, films you really deplore?


I don’tdeplore much except stupid. And making a movie requires so much work. I respect anyone who can accomplish the task.

Your website, social media, whatever else? 

Anything else you’re dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

I love horror, tell your story, build a world and don’t try to please anyone but yourself. There will be other people who share your point of view and it’s thrilling when you meet them through their experience of your work.


Thanks for the interview!

Red Pill USA 2021

Paul HsuKatie RosinDoris Casap (executive), Gabriella Ludlow (executive), Stephen Hendel (executive), Michelle Etlin (executive), Barbara Hunter (executive), Kim Sykes (executive), Juney Smith (executive), Aquaila Barnes (executive), Myrna Cook (executive), Mellicent Dyane (executive) for One Race MediaMother FilmsKampfire Films
directed by Tonya Pinkins
starring Kathryn ErbeTonya PinkinsLuba MasonRubén BladesJake O’FlahertyAdesola A. OsakalumiCatherine CurtinTim HalvorsenBarbara HunterAlli Ryan MotleyIfeanyi OsiliMaija Pinkins
written by Tonya Pinkins, music by Tasos Eliopoulos

review by
Mike Haberfelner

With the 2020 American election only days away, a sextet of liberals of diverse ethnic background – Lily (Kathryn Erbe), Cassandra (Tonya Pinkins), Rocky (Rubén Blades), Emelia (Luba Mason), Nick (Jake O’Flaherty), and Bobby (Adesola A. Osakalumi) – travel deep into rural Virginia for a bit of partying at a rented house, and blissfully ignore all of the red flags, from the deeply racist sign by the side of the road to the noose in the barn, to the creepy uniforms of the local (white) women. Only Cassandra interprets all of this as tell-tale signs of an active white supremacy movement, but she’s labeled as alarmist and her pleas to turn back ignored. Then after a night of partying, Bobby disapppears – but maybe that’s just because he was roaringly drunk the previous night. Searching the area though shows no clue of him. What’s worse, the friends lose their car keys, find they have no cell reception, and thus are basically stuck here – and then they are attacked by locals with bow and arrow. The attack kills Rocky while the others manage to barricade themselves inside the house. The problem is though, the locals don’t relie just on bows and arrows but also have high tech weapons like sniper rifles with target lasers at their disposal. And it becomes more and more clear they have plans for our heroes more sinister than just killing them …

A very inspired blend of horror motives and socio-political commentary, and one that works, too, because it stays clear of just preaching to the converted but takes its horror aspects seriously and richly delivers when it comes to suspense and scares and cleverly weaves its theme – the threat of white supremacists – into its genre context. And a genre savvy directorial effort and a strong ensemble make this into one cool piece of genre cinema that’s as intelligent as it is effective.


Tonya Pinkins Interview – I am a total Dead Head

Tonya Pinkins has won or been nominated for nearly every award there is in the American theater. She is a Fulbright Specialist. As a producer, writer and director she conceived “Truth and Reconciliation of Womyn; Narrative Stories and Songs for the Soul in ten minutes or less.” The women involved in this project span the globe in age, culture and ethnicity.

– First, it is a great pleasure for myself to make this interview with you Tonya Pinkins.
Thank you for your time for the Fans on

– Tonya, you work nearly 40 years in the business. When did you first discover your
passion for the world of Entertainment?

I have always been very shy and being a performer has always been hard for me

– In 2018 you had your part in “Fear The Walking Dead” as Martha. Could you share some
funny, remarkable, weird stories regarding the filming of your scenes?

Well one funny/strange story was that the script said that I was digging the grave for my dead husband. So i totally expected that they would make a fake grave with nice soft dirt for me to dig in. But no I was really digging with my hands in hard rocky dirt filled with ticks and we shot for hours. Lou Diamond Phillips was a great director and it was the first time I ever got to feel like a star on camera because they shot me at Golden hour and they picked lenses for me. It was the pinnacle of my Tv career

– Working in Fear The Walking Dead will be a dream for every
TWD/FTWD Fan, what can you say about working with some of the guys?

Love , Love the cast. Colman Domingo is a buddy of mine from working together in the theater in New York and my first day on the show was his first episode directing the show. So that was a real treat. Lou Diamond Phillips was also a wonderful director. I so wanted to live longer. Working with Lenny James was the best. Mo and Jenna and Chill. Everyone was really great

– Tonya , did you watch the show or read the graphic novel, prior to
your casting to Fear The Walking Dead?

I had read some of the Walking dead comics before hand and I am a total dead head. when I signed with my agents, I said anything Zombie. I actually lost a relationship in the theater because a writer/producer wanted me to choose their play over Fear and I was like NOT! People in the theater can be so snobby about actors doing TV. But I’ve got my Tony award. i wanted to play a zombie

– When I look at your list of movies and series there is not many you don´t work for. Do
you still have a dream of a movie or series you would love to play?

I would love to be on OZARK or WESTWORLD  or MONEY HEIST because I love those shows

– What does the future hold for you? There a Post Production projects on IMDb. Anything
you would like to plug to our readers?

Please tell your readers to look out for my feature film RED PILL. It’s a horror and stars a bunch of Fear people Ruben Blades and Colby Minife., It will be released in December by Midnight Releasing?Acort International

– Tonya at the last you can say some words to your fans. Is there anything else you would
like to let Fear The Walking Dead Fans and your fans know?

Thank you for being fans and for giving so much support to us cast and crew. We love you and what we do. Stay Safe and Blessed



FOLLOW Tonya Pinkins on Instagram

Tonya Pinkins on iMDB

Horror Feature Film Trailer: RED PILL, 87min., USA, Horror

RED PILL, 87min., USA, Horror
Directed by Tonya Pinkins

LISTEN to Podcast Interview with Director Tonya Pinkins:

Halloween weekend of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté.
When the meet an immovable force their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives.

Six progressives, one deadly weekend.


Host, Tonya Pinkins, the Tony award winner who brought down the house with “Lot’s Wife” in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE….the woman who roasted herself on YouTube….who started #BlackPerspectivesMatter and #OtherPerspectivesMatter when she published an essay on leaving the titular role of MOTHER COURAGE, will get down and dirty with her peers about life on The Boards.


RED PILL is a multiple award winning feature film from veteran actress turned director Tonya Pinkins, who makes her feature directorial debut. Conversation with Tonya on the making of the film from conception to distribution.

Halloween weekend of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté.
When the meet an immovable force their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives. Six progressives, one deadly weekend.

Film plays for FREE this upcoming Saturday all day. Bookmark the page HERE.

Tony-winning actress to debut horror film at Hamilton festival

Tonya Pinkins knew she wanted to make a movie, and she knew she wanted it to address the terrors presented by our modern political climate. She knew she wanted it to be a horror movie, and she knew it should be a horror movie that centred the experiences of Black people in the United States.

But Pinkins quickly learned that many production companies weren’t willing to take a chance on a political horror film directed, written and produced by a Black woman. So Pinkins, a Tony-award winning actress with an impressive list of credits (including “All My Children,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” and the title role in the original Broadway production of “Caroline, Or Change”) decided to do it herself.

And, she’s reaping the rewards for it. “Red Pill,” her first feature film as a writer/director, just won Outstanding Direction of a Feature at the 2021 Micheaux Film Festival in Los Angeles and that was just one of 15 awards at 10 film festivals “Red Pill” has received.

The film will be screened at the Hamilton Black Film Festival in May.

The trailer of my debut horror film starring Kathryne Erbe, Catherine Curtin, Luba Mason, Colby Minifie, jake Oflaherty, Adesola Osakalumi and Ruben Blades. Follow us Like us SHARE the trailer . Help us bring the film to you!

“Red Pill,” is a gory horror film written, casted, directed, produced and edited by Pinkins, who also plays the lead role. “Red Pill” follows a group of Democratic Party canvassers who have travelled to America’s Deep South on the eve of the 2020 United States election (the movie was written and produced in 2019). Strange, eerie things begin to happen in the group’s Airbnb, and the people of colour in the group begin to go missing. The mystery and horror unfold from there as the gang soon realizes that they have found themselves in the middle of a dark conspiracy fuelled by far-right-wing ideology and white supremacy.

Pinkins, 58, also did the production design and provided food on set. In an interview with The Spectator, Pinkins said the idea for the movie came from her ability to intuit future events; specifically, her sense of foresight about how the 2020 United States election would play out.

“Before the 2016 election, I was just very clear on how that was going to go,” said Pinkins, who said she accurately predicted Donald Trump’s stunning win. “And people treated me with contempt.”

This “clairvoyance,” as Pinkins calls it, and the ensuing rebukes she’s often afforded as a result of her predictions led her to name the protagonist of “Red Pill” Cassandra, after the mythological Greek woman who is blessed with the power to see the future but cursed with the burden of never being believed by others.

Pinkins plays the role of Cassandra in the film, and is joined by a cast that includes Catherine Curtin (“Stranger Things,” “Insecure”), Kathryn Erbe (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”), and Ruben Blades (“Fear the Walking Dead.”)

Inspired by filmmakers Ava Duvernay (who directed “Selma” and “13th”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”), Pinkins hoped to create a film that discussed Black history and touched on the ongoing violence wrought by white supremacy in America and, like the films of Duvernay and Peele, she wanted her film to be a creation unique to her.

“It’s incredibly empowering to get to express something that is so fully my vision,” said Pinkins. “And now I’m in that space that all Black female filmmakers before me have faced, which is trying to get it into the world.”

Getting the film into festivals like the Hamilton Black Film Festival will be key to that goal. As The Spectator has previously reported, the festival was created local Black filmmakers in an effort to platform and display films made by Black people that may not be platformed elsewhere. Pinkins found the festival online, applied to have “Red Pill” join the roster, and was accepted. She said the film has gotten into 17 festivals so far, which she said is “about six per cent” of what she has applied for in total.

“Horror has always been a place where we can talk about the taboo thing that the world doesn’t want to deal with,” she said. “There’s a little distancing in a horror movie where the violence is not so real. But the world that I live in is really violent.”

The Hamilton Black Film Festival’s inaugural series runs from May 28-30 at The Westdale theatre, 1014 King St. W. Vist for more information.

Inspired by ‘Get Out,’ Tonya Pinkins Enters the Black Horror Film Arena with ‘Red Pill’

In the horror film, Red Pill, a group of liberal friends finds themselves fighting for their lives on the eve of the 2020 election in the hands of White supremacists

Red Pill is the self-funded directorial debut from Tonya Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning veteran of nine Broadway shows, numerous off-broadway shows, day-time dramas, nighttime series, an author and podcast host. Photo Credit: Tonya Pinkins

On the eve of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté. When they meet an immovable force, their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives. Writer, director, producer and actress, Tonya Pinkins, states, “I wrote my own personal Get OutRed Pill is a dose of what’s coming to America if liberal White people don’t wake up.”

Red Pill premiered at the Pan African Film Festival that ran from February 28th to March 14th. The cast of Red Pill is impressive and includes the likes of Rubén Blades (Fear the Walking Dead), Catherine Curtain (Orange is the New BlackStranger ThingsHomeland), Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Tonya Pinkins (Fear The Walking DeadMadame Secretary), Colby Minifie (The BoysFear the Walking Dead), Luba Mason (Person of InterestNYPD Blue), Jake O’Flaherty (Criminal MindsShameless), and Adesola Osakalum (Sex and The City 2, Ice). Red Pill is written and directed by Tonya Pinkins, produced by Katie Rosin (Closure), and Paul Hsu (The GloriasSaltCaptive StateFightingThe Giver), and Edited by Minji Kang (The FiveAnd the Dream That MatteredAnniversary).

The film is the self-funded directorial debut from Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning veteran of nine Broadway shows, numerous off-broadway shows, day-time dramas, nighttime series, an author and podcast host.

On a video call with Tonya Pinkins in Mississippi and Okayplayer contributor Ciku Kimeria in Nairobi, Pinkins discusses the inspiration for her film, invisibility of Black women, and the ongoing horrors of white supremacy in America.

What was your inspiration for telling this particular story?

The film came to me as a vision. The vision is a culmination of the invisibility I experience as a Black woman daily in America. This is the same way that Cass [played by Pinkins in the film] is gaslit and not believed in the film. That and all the ways that I have experienced White women’s violence inspired me to make this film.

Interesting – this was something I noticed a lot in the film. The fact that the major atrocities were committed by White women. I would love to hear you speak more about this.

When White people created the mythology of the Black person as this violent, sexual, dangerous being that has no feelings, they also created another mythology of the White woman as innocent, the damsel in distress, in need of protection. Let’s not forget that White women were slave owners too. They were sometimes more brutal than the male slave owners. When slavery ended, white women controlled the institutions that took Native American children from their homes. They have been as deeply involved in the oppression of non-white people, as white men have been. To say otherwise is a lie and it prevents us from moving towards equality. They need to acknowledge and own their role in that.

Let’s talk about the opening scene. There is a recurring theme of pregnancy, the weaponization of women’s wombs, babies, and brutality all around this.

Yes, the opening scene is about the fact that there is violence against Black women everywhere, all day, every day. This is why we open the film with a scene of violence against a pregnant Black woman. Another scene with sexual violence against White women harks back to the White supremacist organizations that have a theory that they need to overpopulate the world with White babies to take power back. They have this obsession with White women’s bodies and White women’s vaginas. It’s an obsession I found in carrying out my research when I looked at manosphere sites on the internet [manosphere is a collection of websites, blogs, and online forums promoting masculinity, hostility towards women, strong opposition to feminism, and exaggerated misogyny.]  Many espouse that they should rape White women in order for them to have more babies. These women shouldn’t even get the right to vote. They should settle down and have more White babies so that they don’t get erased from the world. They even celebrate mass shooters such as the Santa Barbara one who kill white women saying, “Yeah, these women don’t want to have sex with us. What do you think we should do to them?”

In Red Pill, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté. When they meet an immovable force, their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives. Photo Credit: Tonya Pinkins

This is all quite terrifying. You also talk about a concept called Redpilling. I would love to hear more of the concept.

Originally people think of The Matrix when we talk about Redpilling. You take the red pill to wake up to reality. There is also that in White supremacy circles. The idea that White supremacists will cloak themselves as liberals, get jobs in certain organizations, and over time convince everyone in the organization to believe their ideals. Infiltrating a group and destroying it from the inside is what I define as redpilling. What we haven’t seen so much is redpilling in reverse – where black people infiltrate White supremacist organizations and destroy them. Perhaps this is what is going on with the Black leader of the Proud Boys. Redpilling has been historically used to destroy organizations such as The Black Panthers, Nation of Islam — by infiltrating and then destroying it from the inside.

Why is Virginia the chosen location?

When the US abolished the transatlantic slave trade, Virginia was the center of where they were raping Black women to make more slaves. They would send men to gangrape women and if you weren’t producing babies, you were therefore useless and killed. That’s also the irony of the film – that there is a couple (Rocky and Emilia) who get a surrogate from Virginia. “Is the irony of hiring a surrogate from the slave breeding capital of the world not lost on you?,” Cassie says.

The film alludes to many horrific acts of white supremacists that might not be known by the average person. What was your research process like?

I’m a curious person and I find people interesting. I’m a chameleon. I have a podcast where I often have conversations with people I don’t agree with. My awareness as a Black Woman is vital to my survival – I have to be aware because my survival depends on it. People who are racist are actually incongruity with their authentic selves and a lot of Northern “liberal” progressives are not in congruity with themselves. They are performing tolerance, allyship. I feel safer with an outright racist than I feel with many Northerners because I can see that incongruity and I know that when it serves them, they will always align themselves to their races. When it gets uncomfortable, they will choose whiteness over protecting me. That’s something I know in my being – which means that I never feel safe.

What has the reception been like?

We just recently picked up awards in Sweden, another in Amsterdam, another in Birmingham UK. It was very important to me that I got this film to international festivals. It was clear that America was not going to be receptive to what I put out there as we are in such denial about who we are. Every time there is a mass shooting or the insurrection people say, “This is not who we are.” The truth is that it is exactly who we are and who we have always been. The international community will get it. The US will not. I knew the film would make White people uncomfortable. I make art in order for someone to feel something/get a reaction. Being invisible is much harder for me than getting a negative response.

I would love audiences in Africa to see it too as I know the concept of Blackness doesn’t really exist there – since being Black is the norm in most countries. I want them to see this through the lens of a Black woman – a view that rarely exists in films. I want them to see my world through my eyes.

What are your next projects?

I have so many scripts that I am working on. I have a film about a Black activist assassinated by the system because she is having a lot of success creating autonomous communities in the US. It’s Afrofuturistic – goes into the future and past multiverse. I have another story that is a trilogy on social justice, the environment, and my experience as a Black woman.  It’s called Blarachnophobia — black people and our fear of spiders and spiders are the monster heroes. I would love to shoot it in Madagascar.

Where can people watch Redpill?

They can buy single film tickets at the Pan African film festival. Through the movie site too, they can subscribe to the newsletter that will update them when it’s available in different locations. I’m also happy to have people reach out directly to me through social media and also directly via email ([email protected] ). I would love to hear viewers’ reactions.

Backstage Stories

Hosts: Marcia Pendleton


  • Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
  • Part I –
  • Background –
  • Journey as an artist –
  • Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
  • Part II –
  • The development of RED FILM –
  • Origin of the story –
  • Synopsis –
  • Funding the project –
  • Casting –
  • Filming –
  • Finding your editor (videos on –
  • The prescience of the film –
  • How previous experiences prepare you for this moment –
  • Lessons learned –
  • Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
  • Part III –
  • Film and the festival circuit –
  • What’s next for the film –
  • How do we follow this part of the journey (website? Social media?) –
  • Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
  • Part IV –
  • Tonya as activist –
  • Thoughts on EDI –
  • What’s next? –
  • Final thoughts –


Synopsis: We come to the end of celebration of Women’s HERstory Month with a powerful conversation with multi-award-winning, multihyphenate TONYA PINKINS as we explore RED PILL which she wrote, directed, produced and starred in.


  • Tonya Pinkins –
  • Director, Screenwriter, Producer, Star –
  • of her first feature film RED PILL –



  • Fellowship by Me’Shell Ndegeocello –
  • American Girl by Laura Bell Bundy –



Interview With Tonya Pinkins

Tonya Pinkins: Tony Award-Winning
Actress, Writer, Producer and Director

Tonya Pinkins is a Tony award-winning actor on stage, television and film. Twenty years in daytime television, nine Broadway shows, including the original Merrily We Role AlongCaroline, or Change (Tony Nominee) and Jelly’s Last Jam (Tony-winner, Best Supporting Actress).
(Courtesy of Tonya Pinkins Website)

Tonya Pinkins Film, Red Pill will be featured at The Hamilton Black Film Festival (just outside Toronto,
May 28 – 30). It will also be featured at the Michaeux Film Festival (named for the first African American Feature Filmmaker), this year’s theme is disruptors, and the dates are April 26 – May 2 (more details to come to be updated here as soon as available!)

TSM: It’s so lovely to meet you, and thank you so much for interviewing for the magazine.

TP: My pleasure.

TSM: I read that your first love was writing. What inspired you to start writing?

TP: I was an only child, and my mother had me when she was fourteen, so I grew up like a sister to her. Everybody was an adult, and I was always around adults. I had a really active imagination and used to write stories. I read from a very young age and wrote my first novel from first to fourth grade.

TSM: What got you into acting?

TP: I think it was just my mom trying to find activities to keep me busy and not hanging out in the neighbourhood. My mother had me in classes to do articulation, pronunciation and etiquette to walk and talk properly. Where I grew up was considered being too white, and kids would want to fight me. I didn’t have many friends, and I spent a lot of time in my room. My mom would take me downtown to an acting school where the first things I was in were Peter Pan and The Sound of Music.

TSM: What inspired you to write and make Red Pill?

TP: I feel like as a black woman in America, we live in a very different world. We hear a lot in the news about black men murdered by police and violence against black men, but that violence is equal against black women. Black women don’t get the press. We hear a lot about the black civil rights leaders, but black women were really the originators of all the movements, including the Dred Scott decision. That legal case was pressed by his wife, who didn’t have the right to sue, so it was very much about this experience. Even though I’ve been in this business for almost fifty years, I walk into rooms, and I speak from my experience. There’s just kind of erasure of my existence like we’ll politely listen to you, and now we’re moving on. A lot of times, because of that invisibility, it means that people will say things in front of you because you don’t matter. I wanted to tell a story with the black female gaze on white America.

TSM: What would you say has been the most challenging part of creating the film?

TP: That I didn’t know what I was doing, and I have never done it before. For most of the process, I learnt things throughout the production and reached out and asked for help. I failed at a lot of things, and things probably took more time. It cost more than they would have had to if we had started with a huge budget and a great staff. I paid for the costs out of my acting work. As I got more money, I hired more people to help me. However, if something needed to be done, I had to do it. I had to learn right on my feet how to do things, but I love that because I like to grow and the challenge. I think the most challenging thing personally, and I’ve been wrestling with this in the last few days because the film is now going out into the world. It’s premiering at a festival, and I knew that the perspective I was putting forth is rarely seen and valued. So, as the feedback comes in, I am always just so honoured. When women of colour, not just black women, but women of colour going, yes, this is my experience, and I know this experience. People who identify more as white, it’s not their experience. The things that they want it to be are something else. They want it to be something else, but it’s just not that something else because what’s scary to you is not to us. I want to invite people to look at the world through my eyes and to try to feel what I feel. Most people of colour who have watched the film say that the violence isn’t the scary part, but it’s when nothing’s happening. That’s what is scary because you know something will happen, that’s terrible, and that’s what is scary.

TSM: If you were to shoot the film again, would you do anything differently?

TP: If I were to shoot it again and had lots of money, sure. However, if I were to film it again, and the budget was the same as before, I would do some technical things that I learned, that we were losing time every day taking too long lunches. So I lost a lot of time on lunch that was more than was needed. The person who was my A.D. was new to her. So, she was shortening my day by half an hour, and my lunches were too long. I would also not bring in a hair and make-up person for a horror movie. I was losing two hours a day with my ladies, who are main television stars. I had a really top-notch, hotshot, make-up and hair person. If I were to do it again with what we had, we would not have a hair and make-up person at all.

TSM: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

TP: I hope that bipoc women go, “that’s my experience. That’s my truth.” I hope that they can see themselves reflected in it and feel that resonance, validation, and uplifting of that perspective. My biggest hope is that biopic women get it and feel uplifted and that it inspires other people to tell that story because it is valid.

TSM: Later this year, I know that you’re co-starring in a series for ABC called Women of the Movement. Can you tell us a bit about it?

TP: Women of the Movement is a new ABC anthology series, so they hope that it’ll come back every year. It is actually the perfect job for me to get that with Red Pill coming out because it is focused on the black women’s part in starting the civil rights movement. We are doing Marmie Till’s story, her son, Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. That was the seat for the modern civil rights movement. This series is really about centering Black women in the struggle for freedom and equality worldwide. I’m playing Alma Carthan, who was Emmett Till’s grandmother.

TSM: What is the inspiration behind your podcast, “You Can’t Say That”?

TP: I love people and I think everybody has a really interesting story if you actually take the time to listen to them. And because I’m genuinely curious and interested in people. People tend to tell me things that they’ve never spoken before, and so I feel like that’s a gift I have. I wanted the ability to share people that I’ve learned from or who have interesting stories with other people to share.

TSM: Out of all your acting roles to date, is there one role in particular that stands out as a favourite for you and why?

TP: One of my favourites was ‘Lady Liv’ in a show called Play On because I got to have the range. I got to be really funny, silly and dramatic. I also got to sing some great songs and work with amazing people.

TSM: Is there a role that you would love to play that you haven’t yet?

TP: Not really, I’m loving the role of Writer/ Producer/ Director I’m playing in, and I want to play it more. Branden Jacob- Jenkins and I are co-creating a new version of Mother Courage. When we both get around to it with our schedules, we have some theatres that want to put us on.

TSM: I know that you starred in the classic film, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. What was your experience like working with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder?

TP: It was lovely to get to spend the day with the two of them. Richard Pryor is a muse and an inspiration for me, both as an artist, and even as a human being. Because of his ability to take the most painful things that ever happened in his life, and find humour in them, that’s something that I always aspire to whenever I’m in a really tough spot. I think if on the other side of this I can find a way to make somebody laugh about it, then I really know I’ve survived. So getting to spend a day just hanging out and talking with him was really a transformative thing.

TSM: Who are your artistic influences?

TP: Definitely George C. Wolfe, as he inspires me. When you get to a certain level in your work, finding peers is so important. That is because you’re going through things and need insight from people who are not only going through them but who have got past them, plus also going through some things that will be coming. George C. Wolfe is definitely that person for me.

In the visual arts, there so many painters that I love. They include Egon Schiele, Kerry James Marshall and a South African portrait artist, Zanele Muholi.

In Music, I’m very into Cold Train, Kumasi Washington, and I actually love rap a lot.

TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?

TP: On a deep spiritual level, I believe that the world is working as it is supposed to work. Everybody is where they’re supposed to be, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. That means that it is my mission to try to help those who are less fortunate than myself, even if they’re where they’re supposed to be. I have ambition for great wealth, so that way I can give it to women, and they’re able to have their businesses or have the freedom not to be economic slaves. I would like to have wealth so that I can give it away.

TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?

TP: “Brilliance lies in the moment that might not work” – George C. Wolfe
What that means is if you’re not risking failure, you’re not risking being a genius or being brilliant.

TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can readers find out more about you and your work?

TP: My website is that has a bit of stuff. I’m doing a lot of promotion around Red Pill right now. You can follow us at Over there, there is merchandise, and you can find out about the film and screenings. I’m generally pretty available, people can DM me and I’ll respond myself.

TSM: Thank you so much again for doing the interview.

TP: Thank you, lovely to meet you.

Kathryn Erbe, Tonya Pinkins and Luba Mason