By Kimberly Alsup
As the new TV/Film correspondent & Entertainment Blogger for Sonya’s Spotlight, I was pleased to get the opportunity to visit the set of TV ONE’s THE SECRET SHE KEPT, filmed in Atlanta and premiering Sunday, July 10 on TV One. I got a chance to meet and interview a few cast members, as well as the writer.
TV ONE ADDRESSES NATIONAL MINORITY MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH WITH THE SECRET SHE KEPT
About THE SECRET SHE KEPT – (Content Courtesy of TV One)
Based on Best Selling Author ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s Book About A Family Coping With Mental Illness, Network’s Original Movie Starring Kyla Pratt, Gavin Houston, Kellita Smith and Vanessa A. Williams, Premieres Sunday, July 10 at 7 p.m. ET
TV One is shedding light on mental health in the Black community during National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month with the premiere of its original movie, The Secret She Kept, this Sunday, July 10 at 7 p.m. ET (encore at 9 p.m. ET). Inspired by the best-selling novel of the same name by NAACP Image Award-winning author ReShonda Tate Billingsley, TV One’s original feature film, The Secret She Kept, immerses viewers in the story of a prominent family that lets shame, confusion and misunderstandings about mental illness send them down a tragic path.
Kyla Pratt (Recovery Road, One on One, The Proud Family, Dr. Doolittle) stars as beautiful, high-powered attorney Tia Jiles, who has just married the man of her dreams, successful magazine executive Lance Kingston (Gavin Houston, The Haves and the Have Nots, Guiding Light), and is on the brink of launching a major political campaign when a pattern of erratic behavior uncovers her secret: she suffers from mental illness.
“So often, we trivialize that someone is just ‘crazy’ and we don’t recognize that mental illness is real and relevant. I wanted to show not only was this something that deserved our attention, but that we shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help. If our bodies are sick, we get help. I wanted to de-stigmatize the shame that often keeps us from seeking treatment when our minds are sick,” said Billingsley. “I am grateful The Secret She Kept has been turned into a movie. While the book did exceptionally well, the platform TV One provides will hopefully get more people talking about what so many people see as a dirty little secret.”
The Secret She Kept is an exploration of the impact of mental illness on families, which is far too often closeted in the African-American community and provides a thought-provoking and inspirational story which addresses how far to go to save a loved one when they’ve kept a dangerous secret for years. It’s a question facing Lance (Houston) whose recent marriage to Tia (Pratt) seemed to promise a bright future for both of them. But under the surface, a fierce and frightening storm was brewing. That’s because Tia never revealed to Lance what she and her family, especially her mother Virginia Scroggins Jiles played by Kellita Smith (Z Nation, The Bernie Mac Show, The First Family), have known since Tia was seventeen: she has an illness that takes over her mind, transforming her into a woman struggling with bi-polar and schizoaffective disorder both privately and publicly. Determined to end the cycle of secrecy, Lance, along with his sister Beverly Kingston (Vanessa A. Williams, Soul Food, Melrose Place), set out to convince Tia to resume her medication and enter treatment.
The Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (July) was announced in May 2008 by the U.S. House of Representatives to enhance public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD) and cosponsored by a large bipartisan group, to also improve access to mental health treatment and services, and promote public awareness of mental illness. More information is available on the National Alliance of Mental Illness website.
KYLA PRATT (TIA)
About Her Character: Tia is a very accomplished lawyer running for District Attorney – following in her family’s footsteps. She has an interesting past that her boyfriend knows nothing about.
Kim Alsup: What made this role special and made you want to play Tia?
Kyla Pratt: The character of Tia tackles a subject that the black community doesn’t take seriously [mental illness]. It is something that needs to be addressed and something that needs to be told.
Kim Alsup: Does your character resemble you in any way?
Kyla Pratt: Tia resembles my life slightly, but I don’t want to get into the specifics of that. I had to do a bit of research to make sure I was executing the emotions and battling things correctly for the situation.
Kim Alsup: Could you share your success tips?
Kyla Pratt: Don’t let anyone drive you crazy. Having a love for what you do. Love it, and if it’s something that you love, keep fighting for it. If you want it bad enough you will continue to go after it and pursue it.
VANESSA A. WILLIAMS (BEVERLY)
About Her Character: Beverly and her brother Lance inherited the family business, a web magazine. Beverly has to take on the role as sister, mother, father, and best friend to her brother. Her brother is dating Tia (Kyla Pratt), whom she doesn’t like because she thinks that he deserves someone better. She feels that he is jumping into this marriage for all the wrong reasons.
Kim Alsup: What made this role special and made you want to play Beverly?
Vanessa A. Williams: I was offered the role. They felt like I had proven myself for the role because of the very sensitive subject that needed to be told. Mental illness is something that is not dealt with in the black community, so this project sheds light on that.
Kim Alsup: Does this character resemble you in any way and was there a preparation for the role?
Vanessa A. Williams: My mother suffered from a nervous breakdown, which they later discovered was depression.
Note: Vanessa said she turned to therapy in order to stay sane, and stressed that Mental Illness needs to be addressed. She said we need to embrace that there is a need for therapy and address the demons inside.
Kim Alsup: And what tips would you give to someone who might be suffering from depression?
Vanessa A. Williams: Seek therapy and address what is bothering you. Recognize that you don’t have it all together.
Kim Alsup: And what advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Vanessa A. Williams: Get the proper training. Be proficient with your craft, diving in and gaining the expertise of this industry. Be ready for your breakthrough. Never give up, and keep going.
KELLITA SMITH (VIRGINIA)
About Her Character: Virginia is a judge with a long line of education. She is the loving protective mother of Tia whom she effectionally calls “ANGEL FACE”. Often misunderstood, Virginia doesn’t try to keep Tia’s condition a secret, but she also doesn’t allow it to become a curse.
Kim Alsup: What made this role special and made you want to play Virginia?
Kelitta Smith: I got to play a judge which was something completely different from what I normally play. This was a nice change. The subject matter as well, and is something that needs to be addressed in our culture.
Kim Alsup: How long have you been acting?
Kelitta Smith: 25 years.
Note: Kelitta thought she wanted to be lawyer at first which is parallel to her now playing a judge. She revealed that she was once with the Black Panthers, and got into acting after being fired from four jobs. After moving to L.A., she studied under Charles Dutton and later became his assistant. Dutton taught her the business and how to break into it. She contributes her longevity to always believing that there is “NO ENDING POINT”, being purposeful in it, and having a love for what she does.
Kim Alsup: What tips do you give for those wanting to pursue acting?
Kelitta Smith: You have to love it. If you don’t love it, then why are you in it? Love the art in yourself. Seek it for the love of it and not the fame.
(@ReShondaT) and Instagram (@ReshondaTateBillingsley). In addition, viewers are encouraged to participate in a nationwide Twitter Party with Billingsley during the movie’s premiere on Sunday, July 10, 7-9 p.m. ET using the hashtag #SecretSheKept.