WHILE the streets of East Port of Spain might have seemed like a scene of utter anarchy on Monday, a flower of positivity blooms. Teneisha Campbell is yet another Trinbagonian and a former La Cou Harpe, Observatory Street, resident (Harpe Place) who appears in the record-breaking Black Panther. Campbell appears alongside a star-studded cast which includes Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira and Tobagonian Winston Duke among others.
The actress, who did not wish to state her age but said she is between the 25 to 36-year age group, shared a message for other residents of the Harpe. And that message was to never stop dreaming.
As she sat in her Texas home, she saw the videos of what was taking place in the area and she said to Newsday via phone yesterday, “I want them to know to never stop dreaming. If you find something that you love; whether it is your gift or your talent or your passion, hold on to it and try to surround yourself with people who can help uplift you and encourage you and push you toward that dream. Even if it is to looking toward someone like Winston Duke or me or one of the castings that you see in Black Panther.”
It was hard for Campbell to look at “because I come from that area and I know that there are people that live there that work so hard and want the best for their kids and they put a lot into it, so they can make it out of those environments and could have a better life.
“It really breaks my heart to see those riots because I feel for those kids who get up and go to school every day and look for a better future.”
While admittedly it was not easy for Campbell, two things aided her success; her Trini resilience and having a strong support system. Something she urges TT elders to provide for the nation’s youth.
She knows well about not giving up. When she first applied to appear in Black Panther, she did not hear from two casting agencies she applied to.
When she first heard about the movie, “I immediately found out the company that was casting was out of Los Angeles (Sarah Finn casting) and so I submitted my head shot and resume and waited to hear back from them, which I did not.
“So being Trinidadian, we are very resilient, I did not give up. I then heard about another company out of Atlanta because they were actually shooting it in Atlanta. The other company was Tammy Smith casting so I submitted my head shot and resume and I did not hear back from them and I kept seeing that there were postings for different roles and I was like ‘Why am I not getting called in. I want to be a part of this project.’ I instantly knew how big an impact this movie was going to have across the world and so I had to be a part of this project.
“Eventually, there was an open call where you actually go in person. So I currently reside in Texas and so I flew to Atlanta for the open call. And there were hundreds of people auditioning and in all types of African attire. It was just amazing. It was almost like we saw Africa in Atlanta at the open call at that time. I auditioned, they took my pictures and I left and came back to Texas. I waited another month and a half before I finally got the email where they said ‘Congratulations we have chosen special group of you guys to portray the five Tribes of Wakanda which is the Border, the Merchant, the Mining, the River and the Jabari Tribes.”
Campbell’s love for acting began in the Harpe Place streets where she had her first acting experience through a church competition. “I remember competing in a talent competition in Pastor Vivian Duncan’s church and I actually won and I competed against adults so I was just so excited and I had an instant love for acting.” Her two sisters and brother (she did not wish to name them) stills live in TT. Campbell’s mother Jacqueline John died in 2007.
When she relocated to the US at 15 to live with her father Alister Campbell she participated in different acting and theatre clubs such as Drama Exposed and Forensic where she cultivated her acting talent. At the time she was living in Virginia and so studied theatre performance at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree with a concentration in Theatre Performance.
In Black Panther, Campbell was chosen to be a part of the Border Tribe which saw actor Daniel Kaluuya play her Border leader, Kaluuya is nominated for an Oscar for his role in Get Out.
The movie which has made US$404 million worldwide since its opening in the UK on February 13, stirs a deep sense of pride in Campbell. She sees many black people “taking ownership, and being proud of their heritage and where we came from and our ancestors” because of the movie’s influence.
“The movie provides a connection, showcasing the garments of the African continent, she said. Campbell as part of the Border tribe wears the South African Basotho Blanket as part of the costuming.
“We get to be a part of that and celebrate with that. It is amazing. It is going to shape black people to have a sense of pride and belonging...It is a celebration, people are so excited. They get to see Africa in a furtistic light, they get to see it where it is not colonised...you have a princess that that looks like us and she is so smart and intelligent. And these women warriors who are so strong and brave and they have bald heads... This movie is shattering all of those stereotypes,” she added.
It also provides an opportunity, Campbell says, to show the world that black people can lead in movies and an all-black cast can sell as long as “we are telling great stories.”
Campbell has appeared in movies such as Armenian Haunting, Black Mass and the in-production, Twelve. Twelve is going to be submitted to the Cannes Film Festival where she plays a journalist and it reflects on the black shootings in America and the jurors that they select for the trials.
One day Campbell hopes to work with actresses like Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Kerry Washington, whom she also admires.
Besides acting, Campbell is also a writer and has started to write about her life experiences. She hopes to showcase the black, Caribbean woman’s experience. “I don’t really see anyone telling our story as the black Caribbean woman so I want to be one of the persons that are able to tell it.”
She has another important message for TT. “We need to come together. We are stronger when we unite and need to look out for one another. We should not allow where we live nor how much money we have to bring division among us. We should uplift and inspire one another. Great things are to come for our islands so don’t give up hope...”