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“I don’t want any more firsts in the industry”: Little star Marsai Martin is leading Hollywood’s youth revolt

The Black-ish star is making history with her film Little, but she’s pushing past the hollow victory to a more fulfilling prize.

“I don’t want any more firsts in the industry”: Little star Marsai Martin is leading Hollywood’s youth revolt
[Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]

At just 14 years old, Black-ish star Marsai Martin became the youngest executive producer of a major film with her comedy Little. Age aside, Martin being a black and female producer is an enough of an anomaly in an industry that remains stubbornly white and male.

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But making waves in Hollywood because of her age, gender, and/or race feels like a hollow victory to her.

“I don’t want any more firsts in the industry,” Martin says. “I thought there were people younger than me that were already doing something like that. But now that’s pushing me to inspire more young kids like me to keep on moving forward.”

Martin is taking control of the stories that are so often targeted to her demographic–yet rarely have anyone from it weighing in–through her production company, Genius Productions, that launched earlier this year under a first-look deal with Universal.

“I hope to bring fresh ideas to the big screen,” she says. “There are already so many of them, but just to have more diversity, more inclusivity, more YA-type films that people my age can relate to.”

Marsai Martin as little Jordan Sanders in Little. [Photo: Eli Joshua Adé/Universal Pictures]
For example, the first project to come out of Genius will be the comedy StepMonster, which finds her as a teenager struggling to adjust to life with a new stepmom. And in Little, bullying became a central theme that Martin was able to pull from personally.

“I’ve been through that before, being the only black girl in the school that has glasses on,” Martin says of her character in Little. “The audience will understand something that’s very authentic, and that’s all that I want to create.”

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Having the platform to create those stories has been a lesson in finding her voice in a room of adults.

Martin first pitched the concept of Little four years ago (yes, when she was 10), after being inspired by the 1988 Tom Hanks classic Big. Martin and her dad pitched the idea to Kenya Barris, the creator of Martin’s breakout vehicle Black-ish, who then looped in Girls Trip producer Will Packer. Soon enough, Little was born with Martin having an active voice in casting and shaping the story.

Martin’s idea could’ve easily been cast aside by adults who didn’t take her seriously. But Barris was just as adept in spotting her potential in front of the camera as behind it.

“At first I thought my voice wasn’t heard because I was young. I still have high anxiety, and I’m kind of shy to say what I mean,” Martin admits. “But when you have the right people with you that you really trust, and you care about what they think, then you would tell them anything you want.”

Martin has proved her young age is an asset in an aging industry–and she’s making it her mission to leave the door open for more kids and teens to get their own ideas on screen.

“This is the next generation,” Martin says. “It’s about getting Hollywood to understand us, listen to us, and follow in our footsteps.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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