Children are often told to wait until they get older: wait for more responsibility, wait for more respectability, and wait to realize dreams. But Marsai Martin didn’t have to bide her time. After landing a national commercial at five years old, she moved to Los Angeles and was cast in the hit ABC comedy Black-ish shortly thereafter. During the show’s seven seasons, Martin has won seven NAACP Image Awards and two BET Awards, and is a fan favorite for her ability to deliver witty one-liners.
She could’ve slowed down, and maybe waited for later success. But at 10, Martin conceptualized and pitched a movie idea to producer Will Packer and Universal, and it became the premise of the feature film Little. Not only did this movie make nearly $50 million at the box office during its 2019 release, but since Martin was also its executive producer, it made history as having the youngest person in Hollywood to ever take on that title, breaking a Guinness World Record in the process.
Now that Martin is 16 years old, she’s proving once again that patience isn’t always a virtue. She’s at the helm of her own company, Genius Productions, and she’s committed to amplifying the voices of young and diverse talent. It’s too bad that everyone else has to wait to see what she’ll do next.
While we all watch and adore you as Diane Johnson on Black-ish, you became Hollywood's youngest executive producer at 14 with the film Little. What did this experience teach you about yourself and the direction you want to take your career in entertainment?
It taught me that I don’t have to wait on others to create opportunities for myself. I also learned that you just need to find your people, the ones who believe in you, and you can accomplish your goals.
In a GMA interview, you said that the whole goal of anything you do “is just to be myself.” How have you remained true and authentic to who you are, and what advice can you share for women who are struggling with that?
My family keeps me grounded and that’s been the case ever since I was born. For example, in the public I am known by my middle name, Marsai, but they call me by my first name, Caila, at home. That helps me mentally separate the outside stuff from who I am inside.
How are you making a difference and pushing your industry forward?
By believing that I can do anything, and then doing everything without pause. I am grateful for those who showed me that I was allowed to have outlandish dreams.
2020 presented everybody around the globe with new, unprecedented challenges. How did you #FindNewRoads and switch gears towards your new version of success?
I’m very fortunate to say that I think 2020 has been my busiest and most successful year yet. So if I’m able to flourish in a pandemic, as far as my work is concerned, then I believe that there is much more that I can achieve in the future.
Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams?
Go get your “yes,” it's out there. The answer is always gonna be “no” if you don’t try. Don't be afraid to go for it, because if you’re already not doing anything to realize a dream, what do you have to lose?
What has been the biggest learning curve throughout your career?
Managing personnel, because hiring and letting people go is really hard. Also learning to keep my circle of trustworthy friends and family tight. Sometimes people will just act like they have your best interest at heart, but really they just want to say that they’re in your circle.
It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?
I don't look at things that don't work out as a failure. I believe that what’s for me is for me, and it will not miss me. So if something doesn't pan out, it wasn't supposed to. It makes room for me to receive what is rightfully mine.
With success comes opportunity, but that also means you have your hands full. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep going even on your most challenging days?
Music, cleaning and organizing my room, swimming, hanging with loved ones, and sleeping!
If you could go back to the beginning of your career journey—with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself?
Get Invisalign sooner...just kidding. I would say to hold on to the fearlessness I had before I turned 10. Don't let other people’s insecurities make me dim my light, and journal all of your ideas! It’ll pay off big one day.
Fill in the blanks:
I turn bad days around by…
Listening to my favorite songs.
If there were more hours in the day, I would…
If I wasn’t in my job now, I would be…
Living in Texas, probably going to Little Elm High School and spending time with my family.
Three qualities that got me to where I am today are…
My humor, my fearlessness, and my faith.
The change I’d like to see in my industry is…
More female creators getting proper opportunities to shine.