Jerrika Hinton Confronts Ashley’s Need to Belong
By Allie Waxman
The actor behind the do-it-all “mompreneur” discusses her character’s commitment to perfection and complex familial relationships.
HBO: Who is Ashley and what is she going through this season?
Jerrika Hinton: Ashley was born Liberian and adopted into this family when she was an infant. She has a picture-perfect family and a picture-perfect existence but she wants something else. She doesn’t know what, which makes the search messy at times — i.e. coke with models — but she feels this deep dissatisfaction and she’s on a quest to fill it. Is it about her marriage, is it about the confines of motherhood? Is it about her career? There are so many possibilities for her to consider, but I feel like the truth of the matter is it’s about her interior journey and her needing to do a hefty amount of emotional archaeology to find more comfort within herself.
HBO: Ashley and Audrey argue in this episode. Can you describe their relationship?
Jerrika Hinton: When I was working to create Ashley, I spent a lot of time reading books about transracial adoption and reading accounts from transracial adoptees. That gave me such a great foundation for what Ashley’s dealing with and where those wounds reside within her. That relationship with her mother is so complicated. She loves her mother and her mother loves her, but what kind of resentment must she carry towards her and towards the life that she was given?
The crux of the argument they have is that her mother has always defined Ashley for her. As an adolescent when you’re trying to figure out your identity, the biggest way you shape that is through reflections of yourself and the way that you engage with the world. And if the main way you engage with the world is as an outsider, that creates some calluses. When your mother, unbeknownst to her, is pushing you to be even more of an outsider when all you want to do is blend in, it [causes] some deep pain.
When they get to the height of that argument and Audrey says, “I was just trying to tell you who you are,” and Ashley says, “I know who I was. I was a black girl.” I feel like what she’s saying in that moment is, “And that was never good enough for you.” as in “It must not be good enough for you to have a plain old black girl, you wanted something exotic.”
HBO: How did Ashley’s upbringing influence how she parents Haley?
Jerrika Hinton: As with a lot of people, it ends up being a reaction against. She grew up in a family that was like, “Let’s examine everything and talk about your feelings.” Everything was a well to dig deep. She, as an adult, has zero interest in any of that, and that’s how she parents Haley.
HBO: At dinner with Jamila and Corey [Episode 5, “From Sun Up to Sun Down], why isn’t Ashley open about having white parents?
Jerrika Hinton: She’s not offering that up. It’s embarrassing for her. She wants to belong so deeply. There are characters that are driven by fear, and there are characters that are driven by desire, and she’s driven by a deep desire to belong.
HBO: This is the episode where Haley gets called “poopy” at school and that’s obviously very upsetting to Ashley.
Jerrika Hinton: Yes, that’s an actual thing I read in an account from a transracial adoptee. It’s just kids being kids, but she remembered it 30 years later. That was a defining moment in her childhood when she realized, “We’re not the same.”
HBO: What was your approach to the scene where Ashley confronts the little girl’s mom?
Jerrika Hinton: My approach to that scene was purely about being a mother; the audience will add in the additional layers about race. All of that is there, but my focus is on protecting and caring for my child. That’s one of those scenes where everything is happening at once but we are only so human that we can only deal with one layer at a time. She gets to deal with the other layers when she’s safe at home with Malcolm.
HBO: Ashley is confronted with racism throughout the season, but the scene that stands out is in Episode 2, “It’s Coming,” where she and Kristen are arrested. How does Ashley begin to process that experience?
Jerrika Hinton: She doesn’t. Rarely does she encounter the world in such a way that puts her pain on such display, and that’s one of those times. She’s a master of compartmentalization. That’s not a thing she’s going to talk about; it’s too painful. She is someone who believes in respectability politics. She knows in her body that it won’t save her, and in that moment, she’s confronted with that reality.
HBO: After this happens, we see her in Krav Maga class where she meets Denise, who carries a gun in her purse. What’s her reaction to that?
Jerrika Hinton: She’s searching. In that moment, it’s intrigue. It’s something that’s new and dangerous and exciting; like Duc says, she likes to play “near” fire. She’s already been driven to the self-defense class for a reason, so why not take it a step further: Let’s see what that’s about. And the fact that it comes from somebody who is, quite possibly, her first real black friend, it provides an avenue for the bonding and mentorship she wants.