Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the square peg in a world of round holes. She doesn’t fit into anyone’s predictable mold. She likes it that way and, actually, so do we.
As the breakout star from 2019’s biopic comedy, Dolemite Is My Name, Randolph held her own acting alongside Hollywood heavy-hitters including Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Mike Epps. Her presence in the Netflix film was undeniable. Portraying Lady Reed, fellow comedian and platonic confidante to Rudy Ray Moore, whose life’s story is the basis for Dolemite, Randolph’s transformation is palpable. By the end of the film, you’re ready for the next installment focusing on Lady Reed as a single mother who used bawdy comedy as her means of storytelling.
Even though it feels like Randolph was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, she actually has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Born in Philadelphia, the 33-year-old says she had the happiest childhood, nurtured by her parents from day one to reach for the stars. In fact, it’s almost as if they ordained it.
“My parents wanted to have kids and were trying for several years. Then they had me and said that it was a divine joy,” said Randolph.
While her neighborhood friends went to schools nearby, Randolph was bused to private school from a young age where she had to almost immediately learn the intricate art of code switching. Her parents, who are both educators, hoped it would set her on a path out of the neighborhood, when in actuality, it prepared her for so much more.
“As a child, you don’t realize the struggles or even the dangers that are around you. It wasn’t until I left, really until I became an adult, that I realized all the sacrifice that my parents made,” said Randolph. “I always got to see the other side of the grass, Monday through Friday. The beautiful thing is it allowed me to have this amazing cultural awareness growing up. I was coming home saying, ‘Have ya’ll tried sushi?’”
Randolph attended Temple University in Philadelphia, majoring in classical vocal performance, and she received an MFA at the Yale School of Drama in 2011. Soon after, she made her Broadway debut in Ghost the Musical, playing the part of Oda Mae Brown, a part made famous by Whoopi Goldberg. In 2012, Randolph was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Like most Black actresses, navigating the choppy waters of Hollywood has not been particularly easy, especially when you’re a classically trained, brown-skinned, curvy girl who can’t help but speak her mind. The heavy hand of rejection can take a serious toll dimming an otherwise brilliant shooting star.
“You have to be grounded, secure and confident in yourself as a Black woman [so] that it doesn’t faze you. It will affect you … but it doesn’t change you to the point where you cannot overcome,” Randolph said.
Before Dolemite, Randolph made appearances on several television shows including, This is Us and Empire. You’ll see her next in Hulu’s, High Fidelity with Zoë Kravitz, and in Lee Daniels’ The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
The lady is pretty busy. Randolph is also working on a show that centers on a group of women whose commitment to social justice and reform mirrors her beliefs about community and activism.
“There was a certain time when Huey Newton went away and this group of women took over and literally held the Black Panthers down, and without them it would not have continued and things would have stopped in their tracks,” said Randolph. “It’s not about being famous. I want to use my exposure and influence for good and start telling narratives of our people, if nothing else [than] to educate people. That is what success truly looks like to me.”
— Wendy L. Wilson