PHOTOGRAPHY BY JABARI JACOBS, STYLING BY JASON REMBERT, MAKEUP BY SHANNON PEZZETTA, HAIR BY ASHLEY NOEL
Hollywood hopefuls have headed to Los Angeles in search of stardom for decades—but how many of them have made those dreams a reality? And of those few, how many can claim they did so before the age of 10? After starting out in commercials in her hometown of Plano, Texas, Marsai Martin moved with her family to California in 2013. Just a year later she secured a role as the fear-less and feisty Diane Johnson on ABC’s Emmy-nominated sitcom black-ish. “That was my first TV show—I felt like I was winning,” Martin says. “It was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.” Soon enough, the young actress won something tangible: the 2018 NAACP Image Award for best supporting actress in a comedy series.
With the April 12 premiere of the film Little, Martin, now 14, becomes the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history. She devised a “little spin” on one of her family’s favorite films— 1988’s Big—and brought it to the big screen with the help of black-ish creator Kenya Barris and Girls Trip producer Will Packer. In the film, demanding tech CEO Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) magically transforms back into her 13-year- old self (Martin), a secret known only to her assistant, April (Issa Rae). “You don’t really see three melanated, amazing, beautiful women [in the same movie],” Martin says. “It was very important to me.” The burgeoning young style icon wore natural hair for most of the film. “We wanted Jordan to be very free,” she says. “What works better than having a big ol’ afro? That is the definition of being yourself.”
In February, Martin signed a first-look deal with Universal Pictures. Her first project with the studio is StepMonster, a comedy about a young girl adjusting to life with a new stepmother. “This is just the start,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 4 or 84—I don’t care—you can do whatever you want at any age. If it’s your passion, then just go for it.” While she’ll surely have many passion projects to pursue, Martin notes that she still feels at home on the set of black-ish. “I’ve been on the show for years, so they’re just considered my family,” she says. “Yara Shahidi is just the best person ever, and Tracee Ellis Ross is the definition of Black Girl Magic. I love them very much.”