Actress creates a different lane

Harlem-based actress Aixa Kendrick as ‘Oni’ in the Off-Broadway production, “Black Sparta.”
Layon Gray

A Harlem-based stage performer is shifting the way women performers are portrayed in theater. Recently playing the role of a Dahomey Amazon in the Off-Broadway show titled “Black Sparta,” actress Aixa Kendrick is a unique standout in her profession. Topped with her unique look and signature Mohawk hairstyle, the performer says she is drawn to roles about history and presenting women as fearsome beings because it’s not something she usually gets to see.

“What I really liked about the show is that it’s about the Dahomey warrior women, and even though I knew about them, I said to myself, ‘You don’t get to see women of African descent portrayed in those roles,” said Kendrick.

“Black Sparta” follows the all-women military infantry taking on French colonization in the late 1800s. As one of the very few known female combat groups in history, Kendrick says she felt honored to play in the role of one.

She noted that the likes of comic book and fiction characters like Wonder Woman and Xena are regularly celebrated in mainstream as opposed to actual heroines, and also lamented the overall lack of actual historical figures of African ancestry.

“We don’t really see enough stories about Queen Nzinga or Shaka Zulu, or the Dahomey Amazons — an actual historic group of women who were a force,” said Kendrick.

The actress, who is of Puerto Rican and African-American descent, says she was drawn to the role because she enjoys seeing strong women on stage and on screen, and wants to continue help being a driving force.

“I really like the concept of women holding their own and representing a larger truth about our about energies and the truth to who and what we are,” added Kendrick.

Kendrick says she enjoyed playing the role because it gave her a chance to showcase a story about the Dahomey Amazons.
Layon Gray

As an older actress, and someone who defies the expected looks set by the status quo — Kendrick maintains that she has always set herself apart from the norm. Speaking about her hair style of choice, she says she didn’t intentionally set out for that particular style, and adds the switch naturally fell into her lap.

“I didn’t really choose it — I found a look and I evolved into it for many reasons,” said Kendrick.

She explains that in her 20s, she was going through a time of self-exploration, pride, and consciousness. And says this period opened her eyes forming her identity.

“After college I was done with the straight hair thing, and I traveled and went to other countries, and I think when you see other cultures, you really start to love the beauty of your own,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick acknowledges that the acting business can be strict and crucial at times to women who aren’t young, and those who stray from the preferred look. But that is no barrier to the bold actress who prides herself on her optimism, and seeking out parts that appeal to her.

“I’m getting more roles because people like my look, and they really like when you are yourself,” she said. “I’m at the point where I’m on the line but not quite in the door. But I’m on the line because I’m on the list and I’m going to get in, and it’s a matter of being lucky.”

She reprises her role as ‘Oni,’ in early November when “Black Sparta” runs in Pittsburgh, and her next project — a sci-fi web series titled “Fighterz,” debuts on the RLTV network on Nov. 9.

As actress, Kendrick says she is drawn to roles about powerful women.
Layon Gray

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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