(The Root) — Malinda Williams might be better-known for her comedic roles on Moesha and Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher from her mid-1990s sitcom days. But at times in her career, the former child actor has shown legitimate dramatic acting chops. Remember her as Bird on the TV series Soul Food?
This week at the American Black Film Festival in Miami, the New Jersey native provides additional proof that she can handle the heavy roles. In The Undershepherd, from radio personality-turned-director Russ Parr, Williams plays Casandra, the dutiful but abused wife of a power-hungry preacher (Isaiah Washington) — a role that scored her a nomination in the best-actress category at the festival.
The film takes an unfiltered look at the black church, which seems timely, given the recent news of more than a few prominent pastors‘ falls from grace. The Root recently caught up with Williams, who explained how she was not afraid to be part of a project that airs the proverbial dirty laundry.
The Root: Could you describe your character?
Malinda Williams: I play the first lady of First Baptist Church, and what happens is Isaiah Washington’s character, who is my husband — his name is Pastor Keith — he just becomes completely absorbed by the power that he attains as he makes his way up the ranks in the church. Years ago, when we decided to get married, we decided that he would pursue his calling and I, as his wife, would stand by his side.
Sometimes you don’t really understand how power could corrupt you; you don’t really understand the responsibilities that come along with power. What happens to this couple is that they weren’t necessarily ready for things, such as more money coming in, more adulation, more attention. He had this abusive trait about him already that became magnified the more pressure he felt on his shoulders.
TR: How do you feel about the criticism that might come from folks who are protective of the black experience in church?