It’s always challenging to step into someone else’s shoes. However, Wu-Tang: An American Saga actress Ebony Obsidian has mastered the act of not only becoming someone else–but stepping back in time entirely. Though Obsidian has been working in Hollywood for the past several years–she first garnered significant attention in Barry Jenkins’ breathtaking 2018 film, If Beale Street Could Talk. Bringing James Baldwin’s words to life–Obsidian slide seamlessly into a heartbreaking love-story set in the 1970s.
With Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Obsidian is transporting us back into time once again. Now, she’s bringing the real-life story of hip-hop pioneers the Wu-Tang Clan to the forefront of television. Set in Staten Island in the ’90s–Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga is a stellar miniseries based on Bobby “The RZA” Diggs’ novels The Wu-Tang Manual and The Tao of Wu. It is an unlikely story that brought together RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa to form a group that would become one of America’s most unlikely success stories.
Ahead of the series premiere on Sept. 4–STYLECASTER sat down to chat with Obsidian who plays Divine’s (Wu-Tang Productions CEO and RZA’s brother) girlfriend Nia. We talked stepping into Wu Tang’s world, finding the right roles and her upcoming Tyler Perry project, Sistas.
“I had heard kinda late last year, maybe November-ish about [Wu-Tang: An American Saga],” Obsidian explained. “I waited for a role to pop up that I was interested in. I went and auditioned and kind of forgot about it. I didn’t hear anything and then got the offer.”
Since Nia is a real person–Obsidian felt a great deal of responsibility when it came to bringing her life to the small screen. “I talked to a lot of the directors about it,” she revealed. “I got to work with Divine hands-on, as well as some of his family members. So, Nia is the woman that’s kind of in the mix but stays out of the trouble [Divine] gets in most the time. She’s trying to be a grounding force in his life. She is supportive as much as she can be until she can’t be.”
Since Divine would become an integral part of Wu-Tang, it was essential to highlight the woman who had been rooting for him since the beginning. “Divine has a very business forward mindset which is something that attracted Nia to him in the first place,” Obsidian explained. “So he does have a lot of potential, and he is always scrubbing around that potential. This is Staten Island in the ’90s, and they are in the middle of a lot of violence and a lot of drug-related issues. You do what you got to do to survive, and Divine is very good at surviving. And so for Nia, it’s trying another way to survive. I think she shows Divine some other things and maybe even inspires the possibility of another way to survive. That’s the running theme in the show. They go from all this wildness to becoming international superstars. They do find other ways to survive.”
To immerse herself into Wu-Tang’s ’90s world–The Hunt actress went directly to the source. “I always listened to Wu-Tang, but I didn’t understand the impact until I was older,” she reflected. “I definitely went back and listened to it to get a better understanding of the things that they were experiencing and talking about. These were the things that made them either relatable or truly interesting to the people who couldn’t relate. And then just being on set– I mean it was very immersive. Everything was done perfectly– from costumes to hair to the setting the stage. A lot of Staten Island looks very similar to the way it did in the ’90s. ”
Standing in Nia’s shoes was an incredible learning experience for Obsidian. “These are roles in lives that we’ve never lived and probably will never live,” she revealed. “I think it just taught me even more compassion for different lifestyles. I have more understanding of why people do certain things for so long –why habits are so difficult to break. Of course, it’s about Wu-Tang and how that happened. But just as a human being, how to actually help. How to be helpful.”
Though Wu-Tang: An American Saga is about to explode on our TV screens–Obsidian doesn’t have any time for rest. Her Tyler Perry x BET series–Sistas is currently in production, and she’s also snagged a starring role in the Amazon Video Jordan Peele produced series, The Hunt. “I’m between Atlanta and New York as of right now for a bit, and so Tyler Perry’s Sistas is obviously very different from Wu-Tang,” she revealed. “It is wonderful. It’s just taught me how to juggle, how to balance doing very different women. I think a lot of people refer to this time as the Black Renaissance. I don’t know that I would have been offered the same projects ten years ago because I don’t even know that the projects existed like this ten years ago.”
With so much on her plate–Obsidian continues to look ahead eagerly, “There’s not really an ultimate goal,” she expressed. “There are definitely genres that I’d love to step into like sci-fi– fantasy is something I’ve always been interested in. And it’s different. Action for sure, but I feel like I’m getting a little bit of action with all these projects. I’m mostly interested in women I’ve never played, worlds I’ve never lived in and just moving forward in that direction.”
Wu-Tang: An American Saga premieres Sept. 4 on Hulu.