LGBTQ Magazine

Interview: Dalila Ali Rajah Talks Life, Love, Acting and Hollywood

Posted on the 24 October 2011 by Cynisright @cynisright

10/24/2011 – by Cynthia Wright

From all that we can, Dalila Ali Rajah has it all, looks, brains, career – yet, she still makes time to be a doting mother to her daughter and fierce advocate for both the African-American and LGBT communities. BGA Life had the opportunity to sit down with the actress as she talked about coming out later in life, dating while working in the entertainment industry and how both the black and gay communities could benefit from each other when it comes to pursuing full equality.

1. When did you come out? Was it a gradual process or something that happened rather quick?

I came out around 25. At the time I was in an open relationship with a man, and he actually helped me accept myself, and made the journey a bit smoother than most.  As soon as I realized I was queer I pretty much came out – for me,  that was when I actually had deep feelings for, and an intimate connection with a

Interview: Dalila Ali Rajah Talks Life, Love, Acting and Hollywood

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woman.  My stand was really to be who I was, and live my truth.  When that aspect of my sexuality became a part of my truth, the same held.  Within a couple days of that experience I called my mother and told her.

2. When it came to your career, did you worry that your sexual orientation (if known) would hinder your movie roles? Or do you feel being out has helped you?

I don’t know if worry is the right word. I felt strongly that standing in my truth everywhere is important, and more over, when you’re in the entertainment industry and you try and hide stuff like that it inevitably becomes rumor.  I would rather walk in who I am than constantly be looking over my shoulder as I grow my career.  I was aware that  most people see it as something that effects your career.  I just don’t see it as HAVING to be that way.  We create our experience.  I’m not saying there is not homophobia, and racism, and a whole bunch of other isms that can conceivably get in one’s way, but I’m one of those Pollyanna Possiblists.  I not only see the glass half full, but I’m pretty sure there’s a pitcher near by so I fill it all the way if I keep looking long enough.

Everyone’s experience is different, and there are always exceptions.   I feel like with my acting stuff it hasn’t adversely effected me at all, and some of the people I know from the community have actually helped get me work.

Cherry Bomb! has given me visibility, and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I also think visibility is important, especially among people of color.  Young people need to see images of people who are willing and able to live openly, and be successful.

3. Has being out affected your daughter (either positively or negatively)? Does being a mother play a big role in who you choose to date? Why or why not?

My daughter is pretty awesome, and is in a pretty liberal school environment.  Most of the parents are really gay friendly, so she hasn’t had any real adverse effects.  Tehre are several other kids with gay parents.  She had one experience with a little girl who was trying to tell her girls couldn’t marry girls that created a challenging situation more for her mother than for either of the girls.  She’s known that I date women since before she really knew what dating or romantic love were.  Kids know what you teach them.  Both me and her father have never presented my sexuality to her as an issue, and she’s never seen it as one.

Being a mother for sure plays a role in how I date.  I need to know that a person I’m dating is actually compatible with my whole life, and my little one is a major part of that.   I keep the knowledge of who I’m dating out of my daughter’s experience unless I think I will be committing to the person, and that they will be around for a while.

4. How did the idea of Cherry Bomb come about? What was your favorite episode or topic to talk about on the show? Is there a topic that you wanted to discuss that hasn’t come up yet, if so, what is it?

The show was and idea that had been nagging at me for a couple of years before we shot the pilot episodes.  I was going through what one of my co-hosts, Tatum De Roeck, dubbed as my lesbian adolescence. That period of time when you’re getting to know yourself as a queer woman, and trying to see how you fit in the community. We were all kind of a mess.  We talked about our experiences and challenges, and we were kind of the blind leading the blind.  In multiple conversations with her and Gloria Bigelow (my best friend),  I kept saying “we should do a show where we talk about these issues”.   I wanted it to be sexy and fun, but also informative, and to feel like you were sitting in on a conversation with dear friends.  I took the idea to my friend Bethany Landing who is an accomplished producer, and asked her to help me bring it to life.

The episode that stands out to me the most is:“Is Gay the New Black”.  I don’t know if I’d say it was my favorite, but it as certainly one of the most interesting shows we did   It brought up a lot of issues that I really felt like needed to be discussed candidly.  We got some very upset responses to the show.  People calling me and Glo racist etc..  The same reason it pushed so many buttons is why I think it needed to be discussed.

I’d really like to do a show about having a baby – the ways couples want to do it, the how’s, etc.  I’ve found that women have very different ideas around this issue, and rarely discuss it until they are way in.  Some don’t want the father involved, some do, some want to get pregnant through actual intercourse, some people are not okay with that etc.  I think there’s a lot in it to dig into, and it will help some women start that conversation.

5. If you had a significant other during the show, were they ever worried that you would bring up their relationship during taping? 

I did have a significant other through most of our seasons, and we would talk about it.  I tend to date really private people, which is interesting since I’m so open.  She was uncomfortable about any specifics coming up, so I found ways to talk about issues, without indicating her specifically. I plead the 5th on any details about that.  We’re still friends ;)

6. I was looking on SheWired for Cherry Bomb episodes for 2011 and I didn’t see any (I could have missed them, the search engine on the site isn’t the best, lol), is the show going to come out with new episodes? 

We have filmed new episodes for season 5, they just haven’t been released yet.  We should have a release date to announce soon.

7. Outside of Cherry Bomb, what else are you working on?

I’m working on a spoken word project.  I’m a published poet, and I’m recording some of my pieces.  I working with this wonderful guitarist Lelani Mekenzie, who is composing pieces to go with my poems.  Gloria and I are also working on our second feature script, and I’ve started writing a book.

8. Being a LGBT, black female have people reached out to you for insight or advice? Is that something you welcome overall or can it be overwhelming?

I’ve had many many fans reach out for advice, and I always welcome it.  I’m kind of a Jane of Many Trades, and one of them is a healer and life coach.  I do my best to help anyone who reaches out, and be supportive.  I do my best to shine light in any ways I can.

9. What prompted you and Gloria to do the It Gets Better project? Did you receive any feedback from your submission? I personally loved your clip, I wish there were more POC’s on the site.

Thank you. We were approached by Auto Straddle, and they requested that we shoot something to add to the project they were doing.  We ended up doing slightly longer versions that we also posted ourselves.  Both Gloria and I had seen the videos, and thought the campaign was awesome… We also felt like it could use some that had a little fun in them.  We’ve gotten great responses.   I think the “breasts” part is most people’s favorite J

10. In your industry, do you feel as a LGBT POC (all those abbreviations) that the LGBT media cater towards our demographic (being black and LGBT)? Does it bother you, yes or no? If it does, how would you better it?  

I don’t think LGBT media caters at all to POC communities.  I think there are a few out there that are aware that POC perspectives are missing, and try to reach, but most don’t bother (I think partially because of a lack of awareness).   I also think that without an intimate knowledge of the communities, traditional white media has challenges connecting and getting people to trust them enough to share our stories.  AND on top of that, there is so much homophobia in most POC communities, it’s often difficult to get people to come out and be public about their sexuality.  Most of our communities teach us that even if you’re going to “be that way” you shouldn’t talk about it.

The entire situation bothers me.  Not specifically that the media doesn’t cater, but that the circumstances are what they are.   There has to be an additional reach to compensate for the lack of images, and it’s not happening for the most part.  After the chaos in California from the Prop 8 vote, and the subsequent blame placed on the African American community I took on doing something to try and transform the dialog that was happening between the LGBT community and the African American Community.  It’s a part of why I got involved in activism, and why I take the time to have challenging and uncomfortable conversations around these topics.  Hopefully more people will do that, and the more visible queer POC people become by coming out, the climate will shift.  I was so grateful to see that Don Lemon came out.  I think it took a lot of courage.  I know it’s a challenge for everyone who comes out for varying reasons, but I do think for Black men there is some extra pressure.  The reality is in our community it is not ok to be a “man” (in all the traditional ideas surrounding masculinity), and be gay at the same time.  It creates this weird culture where if men really feel like they are men, even if they are sleeping with other men, they feel like they can’t be gay.  The more Black men who come out of the closet and present diverse images of gay Black men, the more I think that will shift as well.

11. There has been some issue with black civil rights leaders being upset with the comparing of civil rights to the anti-gay movement of today. How do you feel about the comparison?

I think that there are some valid comparisons, but using them to try and win allies doesn’t work, especially with older generations who lived through the civil rights era.  It’s simply doesn’t serve the fight for equality to try and convince someone who watched their brother hanging from a tree that the right to get married is the same fight for civil rights.  I do completely and totally believe it is a civil rights issue, and yes, I do know that there are tons of hate crimes, but there was several centuries of slavery.  It’s just not a conversation you can have that way, and really get what we want.  I do think there are ways to have the conversation, but the direct comparisons many make that are often laced with a sense of entitlement to sympathy and agreement because both groups have been oppressed is not helpful.

I also feel like in those conversations there is often an implied idea that African Americans have overcome and now it’s the LGBT community’s turn.  This idea that we as LGBT people are the last people it’s okay to discriminate against… thing is, the African American community has not completely overcome.  Even with a Black president, the reality is that we still deal with institutionalized racism on a regular basis in America, so I think people are also weary of this feeling that they are being approached as if all of that is over, when they are seeing evidence that it’s not in their everyday lives…

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