Where Are They Now? “Soul Food” Sisters

I first got hooked on Showtime’s Soul
Food
,
the hit five-season drama based on the 1997 movie of the same
name about the personal and professional lives of three sisters in Chicago,
when I was doing research for AfterEllen.com in 2003 on a potential
lesbian story line
. The lesbian story line never went anywhere, but I got sucked into the series, ordered the first season on DVD, and watched it all in
one long weekend.

I had to wait four years for Paramount to release the second season on DVD,
which they finally did earlier this month, but only a few minutes into the first
disc, the feeling was definitely back.

What’s so great about this series? I mean, besides the fantastic music and
the fact that, as the first long-running and successful dramatic series on television
to feature a predominantly African-American cast (it ran from 2000 to 2004),
it was basically the black community’s The
L Word
without all the lesbians, but with a much better theme song.

It’s all about the sisters.

Three sisters, in particular: Teri, Bird, and Maxine, played by Nicole
Ari Parker, Malinda Williams,
and Vanessa A. Williams
respectively. Their relationship is alternately supportive, meddlesome, and
confrontational. When they’re not laughing, crying, celebrating, or helping
each other out of a jam, they’re driving each other crazy, in big and small
ways.

In other words, they remind me of my own relationship with my sister, except
that we don’t currently live in the same city, so we have to drive each other
crazy using only the internet and the phone. My sister’s favorite trick currently includes IM’ing from my mom’s account pretending to be mom and trying to get me to complain about her (my sister), then laughing at me if I fall for it. Yes, she has too much free time for a grown woman with three kids, but what can I say — our relationship is pretty the same as it was when we were twelve.

But I digress. Here’s a photo of the three actresses celebrating the series’
success in 2004:

Besides digging the sisterly love, I can relate to Parker’s character Teri,
both because she’s a workaholic (which I will quite freely admit to being),
and because she’s a bit of a control freak (which on very, very rare
occasions, I’ve been known to be). I also like the story line about Teri’s struggles
at her (all white male) law firm, and was cheering when she finally stuck it
to them. And I’ve been a fan of Parker’s since she played Laurel Holloman’s
love interest in the campy teen lesbian romance The
Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love
(1995).

But marathoning season two over the last two weeks has led me to wondering: What have Nicole, Malinda, and Vanessa been up to since Soul Food ended three years ago?

I did a little online research, and it looks like they’ve gone from leading
roles on Soul Food to supporting movie roles, in films with predominantly
black casts. This really shouldn’t be a surprise — there are fewer shows
with African American writers/producers/actors since Soul Food went
off the air in 2004 and UPN and The WB merged last year. And Hollywood seems
to allow only three black women in leading roles in mainstream movies at a time
(and those spots are currently taken by Queen Latifah, Halle Berry,
and Kerry Washington). It’s still
frustrating, though.

But read on to find out where you can see them these days…

Nicole Ari Parker (Teri)

Nicole (who, interestingly, has some Cherokee Indian ancestry) and her Soul
Food
boyfriend Boris Kodjoe (who is seriously one of the
best-looking men alive, and that’s coming from a lesbian) married in real life
in 2005, and had a daughter. The two starred in short-lived The UPN sitcom Second
Time Around
in the 2004-2005 season (they were also in the 2002 Taye
Diggs-Sanaa Lathan
romance Brown Sugar together, but were
paired with other people). After All of Us was canceled, Nicole seemed
to turn her focus to the movies.

She’ll be returning to the big screen next year in The Better Man
(2008), a movie about a successful talk show host leaves Los Angeles to reunite
with his family in the Deep South, which stars Michael Clarke Duncan,
Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Joy Bryant,
and Mo’Nique,
among others.

Malinda Williams (Bird)

In 2006, Malinda had a supporting role in Idlewild, a big-screen musical
starring Andre Benjamin and Terrence Howard about a speakeasy performer and
club manager who must contend with gangsters who have their eyes on the club
while his piano player and partner must choose between his love or his obligations
to his father.

Last year she also appeared in the summer series Windfall (NBC), about
the lives of a group of lottery winners dealing with the ramifications of becoming
millionaires overnight. As the sole working-class (and black) winner, Williams’
character was a bit of outcast and branded a troublemaker when she demanded
her fair share of the winnings, but that just made you root for her more. Unfortunately,
not many people were rooting for the show, and it was canceled quickly due to
low ratings.

This year, Malinda had a supporting role in Daddy’s Little Girls,
a sentimental and predictable but still poignant movie about a single, working-class
father of three (Idris Elba, who was great on The Wire)
who falls for a wealthy attorney (Gabrielle Union, who is great
in pretty much everything).

Next up for Malinda is a supporting role in First Sunday (2008), a
drama starring Ice Cube, Katt Williams, Regina Hall, Chi McBride, and
Loretta Devine
about two petty criminals who plot to rip off their
church.

Malinda put up an official
website
last year, with lots of photos and a few bog posts, including one
decrying Survivor‘s racial segregation experiment last year. She is
divorced from actor Mekhi Phifer (who starred in the movie
Soul Food), and has a young son.

Vanessa A. Williams (Maxine)

Vanessa, who I remember from the ’90s when she played the first (and only)
regular African American character on Melrose Place and appeared in
the music video for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s classic song "Parents
Just Don’t Understand", currently appears to be focused more on motherhood
and singing (she’s recording her first CD) than on acting since co-starring
in the indie film Contradictions of the Heart in 2006. She has previously
written a book of poetry and prose entitled Shine, and had poems and
essays published in Essence magazine during her time on Soul Food.
She also dabbles in drawing, and showcases some of her art on her official website,
vanessawilliamsonline.com.

Vanessa will be back on the big screen in January 2008 in the movie Jimmie,
about a woman named Jimmie (played by Tracie Thoms from Rent
and Wonderfalls) who swears off
men and throws herself into her career. Vanessa’s role in the movie isn’t clear,
but I’m guessing she’ll be Jimmie’s best friend and not her secret lover —
because unfortunately for us, it’s not that kind of swearing-off-men
movie.

Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any upcoming roles, and if you haven’t tried Soul Food yet…what are you waiting for?
Get Season
1
or Season
2
on DVD, or watch an edited version of the series in syndication on BET.

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