Riele Downs got here to remind us of the joy of bringing stories to life. Darby and the Dead, Her new movie, is out now, and we could not be more excited to see her staring in this major motion picture.
We had an intimate conversation in which we talked about her career, background, new projects, and more.
So, enjoy this exclusive interview for Vanity Teen, and get ready to be struck once more by the beautiful light of Riele Downs.
The joy of bringing stories to life
JV: What motivated you to pursue a career as an actress?
RD: I was brought into acting at a very young age! My mother was already an actor, and what had motivated her about my sister and me was the way we would run around the house creating scenes and acting out characters all day long. There was this little show we created that we would perform whenever we had company over called “Friend & Friend,” which was about two slapstick, rival brothers using physical comedy in an attempt to outshine the other and take over the spotlight. Our guests were always in stitches, my mom recounts.
I barely remember as I was only 3! (Laughs). Perhaps if we find the tapes one day, I’ll share them. What motivates me to continue is plain and simple: the joy of bringing stories to life. I like to think of entertainment as one of the world’s universal languages. You can change minds through storytelling, inspire someone, make someone feel seen or heard, and bring them to laughter or tears (or both). It’s such a powerful medium; not to mention, the more representation for young black girls there is out there, the better. Period!
JV: How would you describe your love for fashion and visual arts?
RD: Fashion and visual arts were my first loves. The first creative mediums I truly knew I was passionate about. I would draw portraits and abstract art all over the walls as a baby, and I was designing entire fashion lines in kindergarten.
What’s so beautiful to me about visual artistry is that there is no wrong answer. Whatever you create on the page or canvas could be valid, beautiful, and new! You’re the only one who can bring your vision to life; it quite literally won’t exist if you didn’t create it because every single piece of artwork is so unique and personal.
And with fashion, what you wear relates directly to how you feel and can even showcase different aspects of your personality to the world! Someone’s least favorite pair of pants could be the pants that make someone else feel they’re very best. Everything is so subjective, and everything goes! Just wear what you like!
JV: When and how did you come to understand that representation in media matters?
RD: Many experiences have taught (and continue to teach me) this, but there are two particular instances I’m reminded of right now.
First, when I was younger, I had a few favorite TV shows. For the longest time, it was unbeknownst to me why I resonated with those shows the most. Not knowing why, when I watched them, I felt invincible, inspired to go after what I wanted, and reassured that my wildest dreams were within my reach.
I realized that’s the power of seeing someone who looks like you are being portrayed in a positive light.
Of course, all stories can hold great impact, but the ones that you can see yourself in affect the human mind in such a way that inspires a sense of belonging and being important in the world and can remind you that all things are possible. It’s something everybody deserves to know of themselves. I hope to be a part of a generation where every single person can experience some representation of themselves in the media they have to choose from.
The other time, I recall was when I was at appearing at the Kids Choice Awards, representing my role as Charlotte on Henry Danger. I wore my hair in an afro that day and parents and kids came up to me and shared how I inspired them to wear their natural hair, and how I was their favorite character and they learned they could be the smart one too. It was such a full-circle moment.
The industry still has quite a way to go in terms of representation and diversity. There are still many biases at play that most people don’t even recognize, but I’m hopeful that if we all continue to be open to the conversation, and willing to step up and be the change we want to see, the tides will keep turning and representation will keep improving.
Darby and The Dead
JV: Among your many projects, Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger became a milestone in your career. How would you describe that experience?
RD: That experience took me from adolescence into young adulthood. I grew up on that show, and everyone on that set became my family. From schoolroom parties to hallways Nerf-gun fights, to crazy fight scenes on set, being rigged up to fly or drop from the ceiling and let’s just say there was never a dull moment.
It was also just plain fun. I love playing all ends of the spectrum in terms of genre, and in this instance, getting new comedic material to chomp on alongside people you’ve garnered such wonderful synergy with was a great joy! And the impact it’s had on so many people continues to make me smile.
I’m glad that so many people continue to see themselves reflected and uplifted by my role as Charlotte to this very day! It was truly a life-changing six years, and I’ll never forget it.
JV: Your latest film, Darby and The Dead seems so much fun. What would you like to share about this movie?
RD: Oh my, there’s truly so much I love about this! I love how although it has all the fun of past beloved high school movies, it still deals with deeper topics. It’s very intentional in how it portrays grief.
Almost everyone in this movie is going through something based on the loss of someone in their life. It’s not often I see movies about, and for young people dealing with such topics, even though in real life it’s what a lot of people are going through! It teaches that it’s not just okay, but also necessary to talk about loss and to lean on others for support.
The storyline is somewhat reminiscent of Mean Girls or Clueless, with a few dashes of The Sixth Sense in style and approach, but it is still very different thematically and circumstantially.
Additionally, it’s rare that you get to see a movie, especially in this genre, depict such a broad and diverse spectrum of people. We all made sure our characters were nuanced and had depth, and our director Silas Howard helped a lot with reversing tropes and renewing certain outdated themes.
JV: Which aspects of Darby Harper do you like the most?
RD: I appreciate her empathy and work ethic. It’s a very powerful thing for her to turn this ability she has (something that could be considered a curse) into a blessing, not just for herself but for those around her as well!
I love her humor; it reminds me of my own at times: dry and full of candor. And if I could break the fourth wall in real life, I totally would.
Lastly, I adore her independence! Lately, I have been appreciating my own alone time. Throughout the film, she discovers the importance of balancing being social with taking time to refuel and focus on herself.
A young black female
JV: What else can you share about your upcoming projects?
RD: I’m not able to share what’s coming next, but I can say that it’s all been extremely fun and exciting, so stay tuned!
JV: Activism is another relevant part of your life. So, what motivates you to keep advocating for others?
RD: Advocating for others is something that comes very naturally to me. I’ve always been someone who would point out injustices happening to myself or others, and once you turn that lens on, it’s not that difficult to see all the biases in this world we live in.
Being a young, black female in this life, and thus in this industry, I’m quite privy to what it’s like to feel like an underdog. I believe so strongly in the equality of everybody, no matter your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other way that may set you apart. At the end of the day, we’re all human and deserving of love, acceptance, and opportunities.
Honestly, I just yearn for the days when we all have equal opportunities for those things. The platform I have is such a blessing in that way. I can reach so many people in the world, all from the comfort of my own home. And seeing the way things are already shifting is so inspiring! I will never stop desiring to be a part of that change and doing my part in it coming to fruition for the betterment of everybody.
JV: Which message would you like to share with those who love your work and find inspiration in your projects?
RD: First of all, I would love to say thank you so much! I appreciate your support more than you know, and anything I’ve done that has had a positive impact on you is why I do what I do!
I encourage you to go after what you desire, even if it doesn’t seem plausible, even if you feel the odds are against you, or if it just doesn’t feel like the right time. You never know what can happen if you decide to put your foot down and go for it! If you don’t feel you have a natural gift for something that you want to do, apply yourself and learn how to do it! Things may go poorly at first, but you have to be patient with yourself. Deciding to push through is where the true magic begins!
JV: Anything else you would like to share with Vanity Teen?
RD: In this day and age, especially, it’s getting increasingly tough to turn off all the noise happening around us and just be with ourselves. Allow yourself some well-needed quiet time, and don’t be afraid to pull back from social media, or socializing, if that’s what you desire; you’ll likely find new interests!
Don’t worry because the world will still be there waiting when you return!
Before we go
What a glad time to be alive and see artists like Riele Downs who let us know that there is no wrong in being who we are and aim to be inspired by those who make us feel identified and look like us. The world is a multicultural place to celebrate our differences and enjoy the fact that there are plenty of places for all; we only have to leave the door open for equal opportunities for each person.
To celebrate her and her inclusive spirit, you can stream Darby and The Dead because you will not regret indulging yourself with such a profound, heartfelt, and funny movie.
So, Let us remember this interview, share the joy of bringing stories to life, and let the world know that there is beauty in all of us.