Art / Movies

Ashley Jackson Advocates for the Underrepresented in Art

By Ashley Castillo

Ashley Jackson is creating a space for herself within the film industry.  She recently completed the inaugural Disney General Entertainment Apprenticeship Program and is now pursuing a Masters’ degree as part of the renowned Peter Stark Producing Program. There is no doubt that her future shines bright. Already she has created a name for herself as an actress, starring in roles such as Niyah in the Netflix original BEATS alongside Anthony Anderson and Nessa in SONY and MACRO Entertainment’s Blast Beat with Diane Guerrero. 

As a child, she was part of dance teams and performed with school choirs at venues like Carnegie Hall and Disneyland. During her teenage years, Ashley participated in conservatory-styled programs as a performer in musical theatre productions. While being on stage and studying the performances of others, she developed her passion for acting and eventually became veteran actor, Richard Lawson’s protege. By the age of sixteen, she co-wrote and produced her first short, “The Counter: 1960,” a story of three students’ time-travel to the 1960s sit-in movement. Ashley’s ability to merge civil rights politics with visual art comes naturally. Her parents are social and political activists. Her father, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., was a stalwart leader during that important era, an African-American presidential contender, and continues to fight for peace and equity worldwide. Her mother, Dr. Karin Stanford, is a college professor and NAACP Image Award-nominated author. 

What intrigued Ashley about becoming a producer can be summed up in two words, “expression and representation.” She loves illuminating stories visually by crafting worlds, characters, and stories. The person who enlightened Ashley to become a producer is the talented Debbie Allen, the first black woman she studied who wears many extraordinary hats, including actress, director, and producer. Allen’s work as a producer on A Different World taught her a great deal about the power that role withholds. Ashley’s current mentor, Mara Brock Akil, wrote and produced Girlfriends, which ignited her passion for screenwriting and honest storytelling.

Although choosing her favorite movie genre is difficult, she enjoys historical or political dramas and comedies. She is also excited about the upcoming release of The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey, a childhood friend. She believes that Halle’s role will provide a legacy of representation for young girls worldwide, especially those of color. Ashley grew up with Brandy as a Cinderella character; now, Halle will provide a meaningful way on a global scale is inspiring.

In 2020, Ashley graduated Summa Cum Laude from Spelman College with an independent major, emphasizing African American Narratives in Cinema and Television and screenwriting. At USC, she hopes to deepen her artistic knowledge and upgrade her business acumen. She discovered that the Peter Stark Producing Program offers a rare combination of education and active participation with access to mentorships from industry experts and world-renowned faculty. She believes that higher education can uplift her personal and professional in an evolving industry. Because of her dad’s impact on politics and civil rights and her mother’s research on Hip Hop in higher education and the Black Power movement, her current writing incorporates their work and stems from her own life experience as a member of Generation Z. Still, she is open to exploring different genres in graduate school. Ashley says she’ll cry, swoon, laugh at romantic comedies, and then write a biopic.

Driven by a strong sense of purpose, Ashley is a firm believer in the power of “Sankofa,” a principle derived from the Akan proverb, “se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi” which translates to “it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” It is a Ghanaian philosophy explaining the importance of reconnecting. She also understands that her future is not only intricately connected to artistry, but also to advocacy. Ashley also spends her time volunteering with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), informing audiences through social media platforms about public policy that can help end exploitation.

Ultimately, Ashley expects to develop stories about underrepresented people, reflecting her cultural heritage and experiences as a young black woman. She will also tell authentic stories of people who are navigating invisible illnesses like Long Covid, something she has experienced. She hopes to challenge stereotypes and foster a greater understanding and appreciation for the diverse experiences of marginalized communities globally.

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Ashley Jackson Advocates for the Underrepresented in Art. Photo Credit: Kelsey Hale.

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