As a child, television meant everything to writer, producer, showrunner and actress Asha Michelle Wilson. So much so that Wilson’s mother wouldn’t allow her to watch TV during the week, knowing that if she let her daughter indulge, she wouldn’t do anything else. But Wilson was smart and found ways around his mother’s no-TV mandate.
“I remember one time sitting at the dining room table, behind me my parents were watching television and above me was this picture on the wall,” Wilson recalled. “In the reflection of the glass I could see the TV, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do my homework but I’ll watch on the sly.’ Whatever it was, I really liked the stories that were told.
At the age of six, Wilson had decided that she wanted to be a part of this world in some way. As her career gave her the opportunity to get involved in television in virtually every way, Wilson took up writing.
“I would go to my parents’ computer and write a little scene and work on it every few days, back when we had a computer room,” Wilson tells ESSENCE with a laugh.
Growing up in South Florida, she didn’t know anyone who worked in television, so she pursued anything art-related. Wilson went to writing and acting camps, wrote for her high school newspaper and yearbook. These pursuits aren’t the most traditional route to a career in entertainment, but Wilson says participating has helped her hone her voice. Eventually, she made a more typical decision for her career and moved to Los Angeles. But at the time, Wilson didn’t consider the move that important.
“I originally planned to go to New York and do comedy sketches,” she says. “Then I wanted to move to London and do British comedy. Funnily enough, coming to LA, I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll go. There’s like an internship program I could do. I guess it works for now.”
It worked. A family friend knew Debra Martin Chase, the woman behind TV movies like princess diaries, Cheetah Girls, and the Brotherhood of Traveling Pants. Wilson asked this family friend if she could have a minute to talk with Martin Chase and that’s how she got the job.
Being so close to the action for the first time, Wilson began to understand the importance of being in Hollywood. “I really got to see for the first time how directing a project really works. I did a script cover for the first time and realized that I had to be in LA to make this career a reality.
The following summer, Wilson returned to Los Angeles and worked on a scripted YouTube show in the writer’s bedroom. After this internship, Wilson went from project to project, slowly establishing himself in the business. But after the animated show she was working on was canceled after its second season, she had to accept a job as a nanny. Luckily, even this position helped her advance her career.
“The woman I was babysitting for was more like, ‘I’m not looking for a full-time nanny.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to be a full-time nanny.’ So we became friends,” Wilson explains. “I told her that I was a writer and she very generously offered to read my writings. She was also a writer. After a few months of working with her – she obviously trusted, I was watching her daughter – she heard about a job as a production assistant.
The woman forwarded Wilson’s resume and the following week she went for an interview. Eventually, he was offered the job on Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens. Wilson will work with Murphy again on american horror story and Feud: Bette and Joan.
Wilson knows for a fact that she wouldn’t have gotten the job if not for the connection of the woman she was nannying to and uses her experience to encourage other creatives who might find themselves doing odd jobs outside of their field in the meantime. let things fall into place.
“I worked as a waiter, I worked in bookstores. I drove Lyft a bit,” Wilson admits. “I think it’s kind of remembering that if you know you’re going to hustle, you’ll get to the next thing. It doesn’t have to be forever.
It’s no secret that Hollywood, while getting better, isn’t exactly known for its diversity. Reflecting on his own experiences so far, Wilson says it’s been a mixed bag.
“There were amazing, amazing times and there were really tough times,” Wilson said. “I am so, so, so grateful to the people who came before me and made the path so much easier. I am thinking of Yvette Lee Bowser, who created To live alone. She was the first black woman to sell a network comedy. I wouldn’t be where I am without people like her. The woman who sent my resume to Scream Queens was a black woman. I think of things like that in terms of the support that I got in such an amazing way.
But there is also the other side of the coin. “Then there were times when I was in rooms where the whole cast was white and I said, ‘It would be really great if we had a person of color here’ and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We will get there.’ Then one of my assistant friends told me he overheard a conversation with my bosses where they said, “Asha really needs to get rid of diversity.”
Wilson says she’s had to find the balance between respecting her bosses but also reminding them why she’s in the room in the first place. She says she is surprised and impressed by his outspokenness in the face of exclusion.
“I always thought of myself as someone who was like, ‘I’m just going to ride the wave. I don’t want to rock the boat. And then actually be in space and be like, ‘No, I’m going to rock the boat.’ “
Next, Wilson is working on a new Netflix series called Agent King and is attached to an upcoming project for Paramount+. She also steps in front of the camera, after being away from it for some time. “I think I’m always going to be a writer first,” Wilson says. “But as I lived longer in LA and had more friends participating in both spaces, I thought, ‘Okay, this is something that I’m still interested in and something that I feel always called upon to do.
Wilson starred in his own short friends like these, which won the London Shorts Film Festival in 2021. She is currently working on another project which will have her acting again.
“I was really holding myself back because I felt like the roles I would get — especially in high school —[they were] always the friend or the teacher, the sassy girl. I was like, ‘Ok, if that’s the box I’m going to be put in, I don’t think that’s going to be the path for me.’ »
But with the industry constantly changing and Wilson calling so many of her own shots, the landscape has changed for black women.
“There was a very small box that people were placed in,” Wilson says. “But I think now the box is being opened.”