There is a certain striking elegance that Essence Atkins and Golden Brooks carry with them. For a pair of Black women who have been in Hollywood for three decades — it’s an earned grace and an assuredness that has in many ways allowed them to transcend that confining and often confounding label of leading lady. When speaking with them, just a couple of weeks away from the debut of their latest film, Coins Forever, Atkins and Brooks are stunning, vulnerable, and warm.
For years Brooks and Atkins have orbited around each other. Emerging from opposite sides of the country, the actresses began their careers in the ’80s and ’90s, Atkins with a guest role on The Cosby Show and Brooks just a few years later on the cult classic Nickelodeon series, The Adventures of Pete & Pete. In the early 2000s, Atkins starred on UPN’s Half & Half as Dee Dee Thorne, while Brooks portrayed the iconic Maya Wilkes on Girlfriends. However, Coins Forever — the final movie in the popular TV One franchise is the first time the “Blactresses,” as Brooks likes to call them, will be sharing the screen.
Since Atkins and Brooks began their careers as teens, much has happened to and for Black women in entertainment. Yet, their journeys have led them here to a film that’s enabled Black women to see themselves loved openly and authentically. More than that, the women have formed an impenetrable sisterhood.
Coins Forever is the final chapter in a love story that began in Coins For Christmas and Coins For Love. The latest film finds Madison (Atkins) and Alec (Stephen Bishop) blossoming in their respective careers. At long last, the pair may finally be ready to explore the romance that has been slowly building between them. However, life has a few more curveballs for the duo, namely from Veronica (Brooks), a woman who could shatter everything Madison and Alec have established.
“The final installment is a bit of a goodbye,” Atkins reflected. “It’s wrapping things up. At the same time, I think the story is a satisfying one. It gives the audience what they’ve been hoping and waiting for. Madison and Alex’s friendship began in her honesty and their honest conversations. I think that Alec’s respect for Madison grew into liking her and grew into seeing her and vice versa. It’s an important lesson to take away from the film. Having a relationship that spans the test of time is developing communication and respect. That’s critical.”
The Coins Trilogy has not been one of those sugary sweet romance series typically found on Hallmark or Lifetime. Atkins is most proud of the authenticity of Madison and Alec’s journey. “I think it was a little bit more complicated,” she explained. “And there were obstacles that I don’t think people anticipated would come up. I also love the value and effort in Coins for Love that Madison makes to try and restore her first marriage. I love that she allows herself to give it a try because she once really was in love with her first husband, and for her children’s sake. We sprinkled in that aspect of what it is to be a woman, to be divorced, and to be a mom.”
Madison and Alec certainly deserve their happily ever after. Yet, Coins Forever isn’t solely focused on their love story. For Brooks’ character Veronica, there is more lurking under the surface than initially might meet the eye. “There’s a little love story for my character as well,” Brooks explained. “More of a coming to the self moment. Her whole objective is to inject her pain under the umbrella of being this seductress just because she never had love. She thought that was her way of getting ahead in a man’s world. It really made her look at herself at the end of the movie. I love the full circle of the character.”
There has been much talk about Black women, how we’re perceived, and what we deserve in the media and popular culture. From lengthy discussions about “preferences” to “gold-digging” and “things brought to the table,” no one seems to care about what we actually want and need. With these constant and exhausting debates, it has never been more important to see Black women being properly loved and loving themselves.
“I have seen the progression of Black love and what that means and how it’s represented in today’s pop culture,” Brooks said. “I have to say Mara Brock Akil; she did such a great job with that. She showed the ins and outs of what Black love looks like. It is flawed. It’s not perfect, and not everyone’s going to be the Huxtables. Even in this movie, it wasn’t always an easy journey. I think it’s important to show that Black folks do invest in love. We do see things through. I think it’s great to show that we work at it.”
Just as there has been a long-held narrative about the “unworthiness” of Black women, there is also the ever-present falsehood of the scarcity of quality Black men. The Coins Trilogy shatters that all without the illusion of perfection.
“I love the idea of dispelling all of the supposed statistics about Black women finding love and being of a certain age,” Atkins said. “And also just dispelling the myth that there are no good Black men out there for us to partner with. The character that Steven Bishop plays, he goes through a bit of an evolution, but at his core, he’s definitely a good man.”
With films like the Coins movies and other projects that both women have worked on, talented Black women have been at the core. With Coins Forever, Don’t Waste Your Pretty director Tamara LaSeon Bass is taking the reins from filmmaker Jamal Hill. “Tamara really put her tone and her spin on it and gave it such a vulnerability,” Brooks explained. “She really worked hard, making sure these characters were not caricatures and playing the real emotion and the vulnerability of their experiences.”
When Bass stepped onto the scene, she set the tone for Madison and Alec’s closing chapter. Films like The Coins Trilogy, The Photograph, Really Love, and even the forthcoming A Journal For Jordan prove there is plenty of room for all types of stories and perspectives, even within one specific genre. Colorism, misogynoir, and ageism are still issues, undoubtedly, but Black women no longer have to accept mediocre roles. “Tamara loves love stories, and she loves Black love,” Atkins explained. “That is so evident in her approach. With distribution avenues opening up and so many suppliers now, you do not just have to go to the big four to tell your stories on television screens or even the big studios to produce your movies. I think it’s going to open up a vast array of perspectives, and a vast array of storytellers, both in front and behind the camera. I love that. I love when art imitates life and looks a lot more colorful and varied and diverse than what we’ve seen in the past.”
While romance has been a throughline in the Coins films, Atkins is most proud of Madison’s dedication to herself. “It’s been so fun to tell her story and to see Madison grow,” she explained. “When we met her, she worked in a bookstore, and now she is an assistant publisher at her dream job. She had to fight through her insecurities. She had to fight through resources and time and sleep deprivation and prioritizing her kids. She had to fight for a lot to get to that place. I hope that the audiences see a bit of themselves somewhere in this story.”
It’s certainly been a blessing to lean into roles with substance that mirror real life. But when these opportunities weren’t as robust, Brooks and Atkins were sustained by the sisterhood of Black women in Hollywood.
“I love it when I get to work with someone as iconic as Golden,” Atkins said of her bond with Brooks. “I love having the opportunity to tell stories together and to cheer each other on. I think it’s imperative. I see it as encouragement. When my sisters are winning, it means that I’m winning and that I will win. I don’t see it as there’s this finite amount of blessings that we have access to, so when I see someone rising and soaring, I’m encouraged. I think it’s a mistake when we look at someone else’s success as a threat. We’re not relegated to a very narrow version of our stories; we can be an awkward Black girl or a gun-slinging, badass saloon owner. I love that we’re getting into these spaces that previously we hadn’t been seen in and allowed to thrive, be regal, and be the object of affection and desire.
Brooks has also watched the floodgates open, which has only inspired her to write her own stories. “A lot of my sisters are creating production companies,” she said. “I’m writing; I’m doing my part. You can’t just sit on the sidelines. You have to be a voice for your own change, and we have no excuse. I’m very inspired by some of the newer talents that I’ve seen. It’s about ownership. In this business, you’re an artist for hire. I think when you get in front of your own career, you completely change the trajectory of where you can go as an artist.”
The Coins Trilogy’s success affirms how much things have changed in the years that Atkins and Brooks have been doing their thing. But the women are also well aware of the audience that has stood with them, supporting them and uplifting them from the very beginning. “It’s really because of you that I’ve been able to have this longevity,” Atkins expressed warmly. “If Black women don’t show up, I don’t keep getting to do what it is I love to do. Your support sustains me. So thank you.”
Watch Coins Forever on TV One, Wednesday 11/17 at 10/9c.
Essence Atkins & Golden Brooks Talk Black Love, Sisterhood And Redefining The Leading Lady was originally published on hellobeautiful.com