In the latest season of the Netflix series ‘You,’ starring Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti, Joe Goldberg (Badgley) and wife Love Quinn (Pedretti) move to the suburban town of Madre Linda for a new start. There they meet queen bee mommy blogger Sherry Conrad (Shalita Grant) and librarian Marienne Bellamy (Tati Gabrielle), two Black women who play an integral part in the lives of the newlyweds as they raise their son Henry. On screen, these characters disrupt Joe’s plans for becoming a quiet, non-murderous family man. In real life, these actresses are living out their passion for increasing representation of Black women in Hollywood.
Unlike her condescending character who is typically accompanied by her elitist circle of “friends,” Grant, a Julliard-trained, Tony-nominated actress, likes to channel traits that are completely opposite of her own when choosing roles. “One of the things that I found the most exciting about Sherry was just how horrible she was and how she weaponizes her femininity,” Grant said. “Because I know what it’s like to be in these super straight, super hyper-feminine spaces where women are competing for men’s attention, I know what the a–hole looks like. It was really fun to put it on and trigger a lot of people,” she explained. “A lot of people are really upset and annoyed with Sherry because the thing about Sherry is that it’s a community where suburbia is a construct. Madre Linda is very much like the people that make up the community — they’re all f-cking fake. Everybody is, but Sherry’s just the best at playing the game. She’s the best and she’s the most successful at it.”
Tatiana Hobson, known in the industry as Tati Gabrielle, takes on the role of Marienne, an undercover artist and Joe’s boss at the local library. As the new object of Joe’s toxic, yet genuine affection, Marienne reveals to him that she’s a single mother battling for custody of her daughter against her public figure ex, a recovering drug addict, and a beautifully-wrapped educated Black woman passionate about education and being a good mother and samaritan. As seen in ‘The 100’ and ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,’ Gabrielle has instantly become a fan-favorite in every project that she has been part of. This season of the Badgley-produced series has been no exception. “I was a big fan of the show prior to,” Gabrielle admitted. “It was definitely one of my top 10 in Netflix.”
When asked how her role as Marienne differs from those of Prudence Night or Gaia, Gabrielle explained, “Just off rip, it’s a real person and I’m not living in a fantasy world anymore. She’s more grounded in that way, which was a fun challenge for me doing fantasy for so many years, to be able to tackle a role that was grounded and very real. It was a good way to reel me back in after the last four years,” Gabrielle admitted.
Gabrielle, who briefly attended Spelman College, double majoring in French and Drama, revealed that she prioritized the authenticity of her character in conversations with executive producers Sera Gamble and Silver Tree, asking them, “I’m a Black woman, so therefore Marienne will be a Black woman. Are you guys going to honor and respect that and be truthful in that?”
Detailing her character’s arc, she added, “Joe has to make his killings and she can’t necessarily be aware of it, but then how do you make her blind to it in a way that’s actually real for Black people? Because we’re not going to just miss signs like that. We just made the focus then more toward her life and the chaos going on in her own life, and that would make anybody not pay attention to what is happening around.”
Grant gushed about her co-star’s artistry as a thespian. “Tati, she’s great. She’s f-cking amazing. I actually couldn’t get to work with her too often, but when I did it was just awesome, but it was also terrible because I had to be horrible to her,” she explained. “In the library in episode seven, that was actually the first time that I met her.”
In her opinion, the contrast between Marienne and Sherry makes their addition to the cast an important aspect of demonstrating the complexity and scope of Black women.
“It’s important for audiences to see a diverse range of human beings in this community, and that at the end of the day, power corrupts what people respond to with Sherry and why they hate her so much, it’s that white woman fragility. At the end of the day, we all can point to some person that has bought into the pattern of what it’s like to be wealthy,” Grant explained. “For Marienne, unfortunately, she’s the other side. She doesn’t have the wealth that Sherry and Cary have amassed, but her husband lives here and she has to be here to be with her kid. She’s a Black woman who’s educated and well-traveled and intelligent and she doesn’t have the kind of cash to fight this white man who she married and his attempt to destroy her as a woman and as a mother. What I love about Marienne’s character is that she can really explicate what those limitations are.”
Having the opportunity to play characters like Marienne is an honor, Gabrielle said. “I always believe that art and what we do should reflect the real world in full. It should not be a caricature of it. It should not be what somebody’s imagination thinks that it is; it should be as much of a true reflection as it can.
“It means a lot to me to be able to,” she added. “Those are the conversations I have around my characters once I get into them and making sure that they’re multilayered. Making sure that they have the fire that every Black woman does have.”
Gabrielle’s mission is bigger than her. She wants to have an impact on the next generation and fuel their engines to become whatever they want to be in the real world. “It is very important for the little girls out there who are sitting in front of their TV to be able to see this is what you can be. This is what the world looks like. You are the better expectation for you to be,” she said. “Don’t fall into the expectation of a smaller or auxiliary person that somebody uses as a token on a show or a movie or whatever. Come into the realness of it. I always hope that I can inspire little girls to be like, ‘I can be a librarian. I could be a doctor. I could be in a movie if I wanted to.’ Whatever the case may be. It’s a huge honor.”
Season three of ‘You’ is currently streaming on Netflix.