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Kendra C. Johnson: The Positive Side of Phat Girlz
By Deardra Shuler
Kendra C. Johnson was meeting with her dress designer to secure a dress for the upcoming Phat Girlz movie premiere in L.A., the day of our interview. Kendra plays the best friend to Mo'Nique in this romantic comedy about the mutiny of the bountiful. Phat Girlz opens April 7th.
A size 14, Kendra represents the average American women. Therefore, one wonders why from a common sense and purely business perspective, the fashion industry/Hollywood continues to ignore this sizably larger sized market in favor of an unhealthy media created market of size '0's. In Phat Girlz the characters put a positive spin on being both big and beautiful.
Drawn to Show Business at an early age, Kendra plays the role of a mousy, plus size department store manager in Phat Girlz who learns to appreciate her assets after meeting a Nigerian doctor played by comedian Godfrey. 'In Phat Girlz the characters find self love. They come to see they are not so different from any other woman. All women want to be appreciated. Why wouldn't a plus sized woman want to feel beautiful, find love, and self acceptance? After all, the human body does not come in only one size. So, why should one size get praised while another doesn't? People often say: "You have such a cute face" when I hear that, I say "I have a cute everything, how about that! -- If I am F.A.T., I am FLUFFY AND TASTY" giggled Kendra.
Johnson discussed her experiences as a bigger sized woman in an industry that leans toward lean women. "I knew I was going to have to carve out my niche and make people aware of my value. I'm aware I'm different from most of the other girls I audition with and that I might not be called back because of my size; however I am positive about making my career happen. I decided that my weight was not going to be an obstacle to overcome. My experiences will simply be a part of my story, a part of what I went through to survive in Hollywood. "claimed the voluptuous and curvaceous artist. There was a time people loved Marilyn Monroe and women like Jane Mansfield, Jane Russell, and Mae West. "They were all voluptuous curvy women," remarked the up and coming thespian. "Just because someone is not a size 6, doesn't mean they are obese or unhealthy. Ask yourself this, how healthy is it to see someone's bones sticking out through their skin? Is it healthy when your face is so thin, it looks sunken in? Anorexia and bulimia is now affecting young women. Look what we have given them to aspire to --unreal expectations of what their bodies can and should look like to be desirable. These diseases are not just physical diseases they are emotional diseases. Those girls that are size '2' look in the mirror and think they are too fat because they are not a size '0.' Standards are being set that encourage women to strive for unhealthy and unrealistic body images. Personally, I feel like a shift is coming --perhaps in my industry and even in society. So, a movie like Phat Girlz is coming out at exactly the right time.
Kendra has always been a dynamic force. Her parents recognized her vivacious personality and enrolled her in The Artists Collective in Hartford, Connecticut, her home state. While there, Kendra took piano, jazz, tap, voice, and acting classes. She was in a number of school productions that allowed her to write, direct, and perform.
"When I first came to Hollywood, I had never been in a movie or television, so I signed up with Central Casting in Burbank to do background work. I worked as an extra in order to prepare myself and learn all the TV vernacular. Eventually, I ended up being Queen Latifah's stand-in. I worked with her on 'Last Holiday,' 'Taxi,' 'Beauty Shop' and even Cover Girl commercials. Every day, Latifah worked, I worked. That is how I got into SAG. Queen Latifah has been very supportive of my acting career. In fact, both she and Mo'Nique have been more than generous. Neither woman is threatened thus have no problem helping striving actors succeed." said Kendra respectfully referring to Mo'Nique and Latifah.
"If you don't know what a stand-in does, I'll explain. If the camera/lighting crew wants to set up a shot, instead of using the principal actors, they call in what is known as the second team (the stand-ins), so that the principal actors (the first team) can do make-up, wardrobe, learn lines or whatever. The stand-in recreates what is happening in the scene so that the camera and lighting crew can set up the scene and be ready to shoot with the principal actors. Sometimes a director may want to do a second team rehearsal. The rehearsal helps the director see whether the scene works or not" explained Kendra about the inside workings of filmmaking.
Only 4 years in Hollywood, Phat Girlz will showcase Kendra in her first lead character role. "I saw this huge poster of Phat Girlz advertising the movie and got so excited. I thought: "Wow, I'm in a movie!" Though, my TV roles have been co-starring spots on 'Bones,' 'The Shield,' and Strong Medicine, the good part is that I was cast for my acting ability alone and not because of my size. A lot of that is due to my management team. They are wonderful and are supportive of my talent, thus send me out on auditions for any part, not just big girl parts," said Johnson.
"The most important thing in life is to persist in your passion" claims Kendra. "Teach your children to pursue their passions too so that when they are adults, they already know how to acquire them. In my having come to Hollywood, I have pursued my passion and am just beginning to realize my dreams. Everything is a work in progress."
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