Interview by Miranda Park
Toronto-born actress Mouna Traoré has taken the Canadian film and television scene by storm. Now, starring in multiple shows, including the BET’s In Contempt, she’s telling the stories closest to her.
Hi Mouna! Where are you from?
What is something people might not know about the Canadian film and television scene?
I think a lot of people don’t know how much stuff shoots in Toronto. Your favorite movies, your favorite TV shows: shot in Toronto. And also how many of those actors who come out to Toronto for filming actually end up living there.
Are you living in Toronto now?
I don’t really live anywhere. I gave up my apartment in Toronto, so I’ve just been sort of floating around between different cities.
Well you’ve been keeping very busy; you’ve just come off starring in two television shows: In Contempt, (as Vanessa Hastings) and Condor, (as Iris Loramer). How are you feeling?
It’s really exciting. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve had this kind of momentum in my career, and it’s just interesting seeing the way the industry responds when you have work. I’m so grateful to be in a place where when one show ends, another begins. And now conversations on topics that I care about are happening more and more, too.
You also starred as Ti-Jeanne in Brown Girl Begins, which is a prequel film to the novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, as well as in Murdoch Mysteries. What has your experience been playing such a diverse range of characters?
I feel so lucky because I think for a lot of people, because of how the industry is, you can sometimes get pigeon-holed into playing a certain kind of character. Whereas, I feel like I’ve had so many different kinds of roles across the board. Murdoch Mysteries takes place in 1904. My character Rebecca James is dealing with a whole different reality and circumstance. [Rebecca] is the only regular person of color on the show, so how she navigates that world is completely different than, say, Vanessa (In Contempt), or Ti-Jeanne in Brown Girl Begins.
Brown Girl Begins is science fiction, which is a genre often monopolized by white men. How was it being able to work with a cast and crew made up predominantly of people of color, on an afro-futurist story, by a woman of color?
Honestly it was so wonderful to see on both sides of the camera a tremendous amount of diversity. It just changes the atmosphere—there’s a certain kind of relaxation, acceptance. Everybody is cool to be as black as they want to be. Whereas I find that when I’m in spaces where I’m the minority I don’t speak the same, I don’t act the same, I don’t feel as comfortable to, say, play my music or do certain things. It was sort of the first step towards having a career that reflects the things that I care about and the kinds of stories I want to tell. You know, so often I’m just playing a role in someone else’s story, and now, more and more, I get to step into my own [story], and into the stories that reflect the community that I’m from.
Speaking of science fiction, if you could be a book, what kind of book would you be?
I would be a book by Octavia Butler. I love Octavia Butler. Speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy—all of it. I feel like Butler is the perfect example of someone who not only deals with very real issues that we have: racism, sexism. She deals with those things, but then she puts them into the very near future and then sprinkles in a little science fiction. And all of the characters reflect the kinds of people I find in my life—people who are of mixed heritage, people who are black and brown, people who have names that are not common and hard to pronounce. I think she’s the only writer I’ve ever encountered who writes for people who are truly intersectional.
Do you have any advice for young girls who want to pursue acting?
Study, study, study. Study the greats. Study the people you want to be like. Treat your passion like it’s sacred. And I think prepare yourself for a lot of rejection. This industry is full of rejection, and it could take years before you will ever find the industry affirming you or reflecting back to you what you’re giving it. But, if it’s something that you really love, stay in it. Sooner or later it’s going to give back to you what you’ve been giving it.
What’s a charity that is closest to your heart?
Right now, because of In Contempt, I’m really concerned with charities that are about advocating for low-income people, and people of color, who experience unfair treatment within the criminal justice system. So an organization like the Innocence Project, to me, is doing really great work. They want to end the money bail system. They’re trying to create systemic change to mitigate the injustices that people of color and poor people face, and how they’re actually preyed upon by the criminal justice system.
What’s next for you? What are you excited about?
I’m excited for my film, Acquainted to come out, and for its theatrical release. I also have a few guest spots in some TV shows coming out, but I don’t really know what’s next, and I’m just eagerly waiting to find out.