Gabourey “Gabby’’ Sidibe’s winning smile and affable personality lights up the room as she talked this week about her unconventional rise to stardom.
The 29-year-old actress nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Claireece “Precious” Jones in the 2009 film “Precious,” visited Savannah this week to teach a master class at the Savannah College of Art and Design during the Savannah Film Festival.
The festival, which includes the screening of short and feature films, is being held at the Savannah’s Trustees and Lucas theaters. It wraps up Nov. 3.
Sidibe’s story is nothing short of miraculous. She was in college studying to become a psychologist when a friend challenged her to skip class so she could audition for “Precious,’’ an abused and illiterate teen mother who struggled to survive. She received the role written by film maker Geoffrey Fletcher based upon the novel “Push.’’
At some points during the past few years, Sidibe said her success made her feel guilty, but not anymore. When she spoke to SCAD students studying film this week, she said, “It was a lot of fun. These students want to be me. For a long time,
I felt guilty because I was ignorant. But then, I thought I work hard too. I think now everything is ordained. I do work hard.”
Since “Precious,” she has appeared in “Tower Heist,’’ with Eddie Murphy. And, she is currently acting in the role of Andrea in the Showtime series, “The Big C.”
The character of Andrea is the polar opposite of the role of Precious but she understands them both.
“I grew up with girls like Precious and I know girls like that now in New York,’’ she said. Conversely, she said, her character in “The Big C” “reminds me of the person I wanted to be: that girl with the nice hair, perfect makeup and the best clothes. I envied those girls growing up.”
Indeed, Sidibe has become the latter, sporting her long flowing hair and glamorous makeup. During an interview, she was comfortable in her own skin wearing animal print high top sneakers, tight pants and lace top.
Asked how she prepares to face the world of Hollywood, Sidibe said “I’m crazy about music. I listen to a lot of it. Kanye West and gangster rap. When I’m on the set it’s my fight music. It pumps me up. I need that gangster edge. ….In my imagination, I’m the rapper’’ lashing out at naysayers who’ve said an overweight African-American young woman who grew up poor couldn’t make it on the big screen.
While Sidibe didn’t play a leading role at The Savannah Film Festival other African-American actors and filmmakers did.
In the film “Flight,” which was shown during the festival, Denzel Washington stars as an airline pilot whose struggles with alcoholism and cocaine addiction. He is placed in the spotlight when he makes a heroic landing and saves hundreds of lives. Don Cheadle plays his lawyer.
“Violet & Daisy’’ was also shown at the festival. It was written and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher, the first African-American screenwriter to win an Oscar for writing “Precious” for the big screen. The Savannah Film Festival gave him its Cinevation Award. “Violet & Daisy,” his first directorial debut, may remind viewers of the violence acted out in films, such as “Pulp Fiction.”
The Savannah Film Festival continues through Saturday, Nov. 3.
Tina A. Brown is an independent journalist based in Savannah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org