Do you remember 1985’s cult hit, The Color Purple? You know, the one with stars like Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. Well, there was another actress you might remember: Desreta Jackson, who played the young version of Celie Johnson.
In a recent interview to mark the 30th anniversary of the critically acclaimed film, Jackson confessed that she didn’t know she was black until she came to Hollywood. When she was 9 years old, she moved from the West Indies to LA, where they were homeless for a year; her mother couldn’t find work anywhere.
Eventually, Jackson started elementary school and started acting classes. And in just a few weeks, she landed her iconic role in The Color Purple, beating girls who lived in better conditions and had been taking acting classes far longer than her. Things were looking up for the mother and daughter. That is, until they wrapped up filming the movie.
According to Jackson, finding another acting job in Hollywood became all but impossible because of her skin color. She admitted that when she left the West Indies, she didn’t even know she was dark skinned; she had never had a color issue.
But Hollywood taught her that there were light-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks, and that there were roles which could only be given to people of a certain color or shade.
She realized that making it in Hollywood would be an uphill task, even though she’d already made the crucial first step into Hollywood: landing a role with a critically acclaimed director and popular actors. So she left Hollywood and grew to become quite successful in her own way.
Nowadays, she has her own line of haircare, called BlackSilk Products. She launched it because she wanted to style her daughter’s hair but didn’t want to use the harsh artificial chemicals in the market.
And that’s not all.
Jackson has written her first hair-related book, The Black Hair Conspiracy: A Guide to Grow and Care for Natural Hair.
She will release it in February, 2016. Jackson is also going to dip her toes in acting again. She has agreed to act and executively produce an upcoming film called Dark Girls, chronicling the life of the African American slave, Nat Turner. She’ll appear alongside distinguished black actors like Keith David and Mike Epps.
Jackson’s life story should inspire all of us. She was forced to learn that humans are not treated equally, and her experiences would make anyone give up. But she used it as a life lesson and didn’t give up on becoming a successful woman in a country where all the odds are stacked against her.