ESSENCE’S DEPUTY EDITOR SAT DOWN WITH THE AFROLATINX STAR TO CHAT ABOUT IDENTITY, MOTHERHOOD AND CAREER
It’s a quiet Saturday in the doldrums of July when I’m set to speak with La La Anthony. It’s the kind of day where the desired agenda includes sitting with a cool drink and doing absolutely nothing. But Anthony—best-selling author, actress, designer, producer and queen of the multi-hyphenates—is busy. She’s back in New York City for only a brief spell before heading out again. She’s in the middle of a successful fashion collaboration with Foot Locker, is fresh off her Snapchat series ‘The Honeybeez of ASU,’ and is promoting her work on the Lena Waithe–helmed Showtime drama ‘The Chi.‘
When I get her on the phone, my first question is an obvious one: “Sis, how are you balancing it all?”
“It’s definitely not easy,” she says. “Especially when you throw in a child. My son, Kiyan, is 13, and I want to be present for his life and all of his needs and his milestones.”
Like clockwork, at the mention of his name, the teenager pops into the room. Anthony politely asks me to hold a second. Through the muffled receiver, I overhear her tell her son, “I’m doing an interview, okay? I’ll be there soon. Please don’t move anything.”
She comes back on the line and, in signature Black-mom fashion, tells me, “Kiyan says hi.” Of course, he probably didn’t. But it’s heartwarming and familiar—part of a certain nostalgia you get when talking to Anthony.
Having come up as a television personality in the period that Cash Money’s Juvenile immortalized as “the ’99 and the 2000,” she’s someone you feel like you already know. It’s easy to see how she earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most famously supportive friends—stars like Ciara, Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian and Kelly Rowland are all in her squad. Anthony’s spirit just seems to make space for other women to win.
So, yes, she is busy. But when you talk to her, she makes you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world.
Like all Brooklynites, Alani “La La” Anthony (née Vazquez) is quick to reference her hometown when discussing her roots.
I was always proud to be a part of such a loving family that embraced our culture, being Puerto Rican and being Black.
Her mother was raised in the infamous Marcy Projects, where whatever they lacked for in materials, her big family from Puerto Rico made up in love. “I was always proud to be a part of such a loving family that embraced our culture, being Puerto Rican and being Black,” she says. “I was just so blessed.”
Her Boricua upbringing, where “Spanish food and Spanish music” flavored her distinctive New York City tough-girl swag, created her signature brand of personal style. If you’re one of her 10.6 million Instagram followers, you know she’s as much at home in a gown and designer shoes, dripping with diamonds as she is in Jordans and bodycon coordinates.
People are like, ‘Oh, you’re a glamour girl.’ And it’s so funny because I’m really not. I’m always dressed in sweats and a T-shirt.”
It’s this perfectly combined aesthetic that has made her La La Anthony Collection—now sold by retailers like Macy’s, Nordstrom and Ashley Stewart—so successful. The affordable and size-inclusive brand, like its namesake, is equal parts tomboy and unapologetic sexiness. “I was always a tomboy, honestly,” she says. “I still am, at the core. People are like, ‘Oh, you’re a glamour girl.’ And it’s so funny because I’m really not. I’m always dressed in sweats and a T-shirt.”
Forget the Chanel purses, Louboutin shoes and expensive furs—the pièce de résistance in her closet, she says, is “the sickest sneaker collection ever. That’s my thing.”
In her world, conflicting aesthetics are never mutually exclusive. Anthony is a woman who thrives on multiplicity, especially when it involves breaking out of the boxes folks have been trying to put her in for decades.
Having started her career in radio at the age of 16, she made her first pivot when she transitioned to television. In the early aughts, she appeared on MTV’s pop-culture staple Total Request Live. “During the MTV days, I remember being told so many times, ‘This is it; this is the peak,’” she says. “‘You become a VJ, and—no one really does anything after that.’ And I was just like, ‘I’m 21 years old. You’re not going to tell me this is it for me.’”
Her sights set on Hollywood, she began taking acting classes and auditioning. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that stepping out of who people wanted her to be wouldn’t be easy. “To this day, with my acting, you’ll still have people who are like, ‘Oh, that’s La La from MTV,’ ” she says. “And it’s like, well, that was a huge part of my life, but I’ve evolved since then. I’ve moved on since then. I’ve worked really hard, but sometimes I feel like because I was known for something else, I have to prove myself in these new spaces even more than the next person.”
I’m Afro-Latina: I’m Black, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m all of it. I’m proud of it.”
The more sinister challenges, of course, came with being a Black Latina in Hollywood’s White-dominated world. At audition after audition, she’d find herself having to explain,“‘Well, I’m Afro-Latina: I’m Black, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m all of it. I’m proud of it.’ But no one really understood that. They were like, ‘You’re one or the other, and that’s it.’”
For years, she hesitated to respond to casting calls for a Latina role because she knew she didn’t fit Hollywood’s version of what that was. It was a limited understanding of the diaspora that, until recently, had permeated the entire country—part of the same colonialist attitude that made people reluctant to see Puerto Ricans as American.
For decades, Anthony believes, her fellow Puerto Ricans have felt like “an afterthought.” This was especially challenging for an island battered by back-to-back natural disasters in 2017—first Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria, both of which left thousands dead and the local infrastructure severely compromised. In the years that followed, waning tourism and political corruption further threatened the stability of the island. Adding insult to injury, President Trump publicly decried the idea of statehood multiple times—and was even said to have mulled overselling the territory.
“When you look at some of the crises that have happened in Puerto Rico, you just felt like you weren’t a part of this country,” Anthony notes. “The way the President handled Puerto Rico during those times was just really, really, really sad. And it just says a lot. We have to do better. Puerto Rico is a part of America—you can’t just ignore the island and the people like that.”
The star brings this sensitivity to injustice into her philanthropic work through the La La Land Foundation, as well as to her most important job: being the mother of a Black boy in America.
“I always talk to him about how he needs to deal with police,” says Anthony. “It’s sad that these are the conversations we have to have with our children, but this is the world we live in. I make sure he knows that and understands the seriousness of it. I’m not trying to scare him in any way, but I want him to live in reality.”
Her awareness has also led her to focus on her son’s emotional stability in a society known to inflict generational racial trauma on Black children. She says it’s part of why she’s motivated to co-parent him effectively with his father, NBA star Carmelo Anthony.
The Anthonys are no strangers to headlines—starting with a seemingly fairytale Hollywood romance, complete with a high-ratings televised wedding in 2010. But in 2017, following allegations of infidelity on his part, they separated. Despite that, the two have shown each other nothing but love in the public eye. Neither has ever disparaged the other in the press, and in April, at the start of a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus, Anthony even told Access Hollywood that they were quarantining together.
I always want my son to be able to say, ‘No matter what, my parents loved each other. My parents loved me.’
When I ask her about her co-parenting strategy, she doesn’t miss a beat. “My son is at the center of everything,” she says. “He is watching us, so if we’re out here being reckless or not leading with love, then what kind of example are we setting for him about how he should treat women or how people treat and love each other?” She pauses briefly, then adds: “A lot of times, people forget that, and I understand, because you get emotional when you’re going through different things in relationships. But I always want my son to be able to say, ‘No matter what, my parents loved each other. My parents loved me.’” Her deeply personal story of being a part of a sports family—no doubt full of nuance, flash and frustration—seems to have inspired her to take on her latest project, the upcoming Starz series Intercepted.
“It’s about the sports world and a lot of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, which of course, I know all too well from being married to an athlete,” she says. “We amplify women’s voices in Intercepted—and what it’s like to be a woman going on this journey with these athletes, when everyone’s only focused on the guy’s career.”
This often untold narrative is just one of many she hopes to bring to life in her production projects. She’s collaborated with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira on the Broadway show Eclipsed, as well as with Issa Rae on a forthcoming project. But it’s her partnership with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that’s probably been her most lucrative, as well as her most personal. “We’ve been friends for 15, 16 years now,” she says. “To do Power together and now be producing projects together has been amazing.”
Up next, the two are working on bringing to the screen a scripted version of the life of Cyntoia Brown Long, who was recently granted clemency after serving time for killing a man who bought her for sex. “For her to trust me with this story, after everything she’s been through, it’s not something I take lightly,” Anthony says, noting that she was excited to bring 50 into the project: “I was so proud of what he did with the series For Life. I just felt like we were already great partners and it could be good.”
I ask her what it’s like to be friends with someone as, let’s say, complicated, as 50 Cent. She seems neither surprised nor offended by the question but is quick to note that she doesn’t always have to agree with him in order to love and collaborate with her friend. “50 is 50,” she says. “As a friend, I check him when he’s reckless, and I keep it moving.” In true Anthony fashion, you won’t ever hear her disparaging anyone from her squad.
“We have to support each other and be there for each other,” she says.“It’s important.”
As we wrap our conversation, there’s one last thought she wants to share on love, and it’s about the need for us to turn inward. “We have to get to a place where we understand and recognize how much loving yourself means—and how healing it is when you stop looking for that validation from everyone else,” she says. “My thing is, the world’s going to beat us up enough, so we’ve got to love on ourselves a little bit more than we have been.”
Cover Subject: La La Anthony @lala
Chief Content & Creative Officer: MoAna Luu @MoanaLuu
Story By Deputy Editor: Allison McGevna @alliemcgev
Creative Director: Nia Lawrence @nialawrence_nyc
Entertainment Director: Cori Murray @corimurray
Photographer: JD Barnes @jdthecombo
Videographer: Jean London Dia @jeanlondondia
Fashion Stylist: Jason Rembert @jasonrembert
Hair Stylist: César DeLeon Ramirez @cesar4styles
Make Up Artist: Rokael Lizama @rokaelbeauty
Produced by: Jordan Benston @jbthegawd
Source : ESSENCE