The Screen Actors Guild, and Oscar awards are right around the corner, and soon, elated actors and actresses will be graced with a shiny, coveted statue to prominently feature on their mantles. The breakout film of the season is “Precious,” directed by Lee Daniels. (The Golden Globes were held Sunday. Mo’Nique won for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Precious”), and the movie will likely be nominated for an Oscar as well. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that the character “Joann,” one of the students in Precious’ writing class, is played by actress Xosha Roquemore, the daughter of Shay Wafer, vice president of Programs at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture.
While neither Wafer nor Roquemore are native to Pittsburgh, Wafer had just accepted the vice president position when she heard her daughter would be playing alongside Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe in this groundbreaking film. “She called me. It was my first month at the August Wilson Center when she was cast. It was just me and Neal Barclay in the office, so I rushed to his office to tell him. I was excited, but I felt alone because I was new to Pittsburgh,” Wafer said.
“Precious” was filmed in 2007, though it debuted in theaters last year. Roquemore recalled the experience as being “amazing, fun and full of improv.” “I’ve always had my same personality and performed in plays. I was always close to theater,” said Roquemore. “Lee (Daniels) had all the girls hang out together, and have a natural rapport. I just let go, and Lee gave us a lot of freedom to improvise,” she said.
Roquemore’s father, Ciff Roquemore, is a playwright and director. Wafer has worked in the theater all her life, and has been the managing director for theater companies, including St. Louis Black Rep and Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, so it seemed natural that their daughter would pursue an artistic path as well.
“I’m an actor. We go out and audition. I just worked a guest spot on a television show. The next thing is to live in the moment, to audition, and hope to work jobs,” Roquemore said.
As a mother, Wafer, was pleased for her daughter.
“I was elated on a couple of levels. This was one of the first jobs she booked within months of graduating from college. She went to NYU, to the Tisch School of the Arts. We had read the book (“Push,” on which the movie is based) when she was in middle school, even though it was provocative. It was the first book we read together, so when it came back around that this movie was being made, it was audacious. I was happy for her, and I was a fan of Lee Daniels. I knew she would be safe in his hands,” Wafer said.
“It did take courage to support her as an artist. I had to trust what she felt, and not what I felt. I had to trust her instincts, and her gut. It was kind of scary, but I had to realize I had to let her find her way. I had to turn it over to something bigger and greater than me.”