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CSI: Vegas star Paula Newsome shares what Black joy means to her - and the teacher that helped her to express it

Paula tells HELLO! what changes she would like to see for Black and brown faces in Hollywood

Rebecca Lewis
Rebecca Lewis - Los Angeles
ReporterLos Angeles
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Born and raised in Chicago, CBS star Paula Newsome has been working for over three decades, appearing on Broadway and on the small and big screen. Now appearing as Max Roby, the lead on CBS' hit procedural CSI: Vegas, Paula writes for HELLO! to share what Black joy means to her, how the success of her peers has changed the game, and how she has navigated challenges faced over the years… 

Asking a Black woman about the challenges they've faced is like asking a fish what water is; when it's your only experience it's hard to answer. But I'm the youngest of three girls, and naturally I'm just a fighter. I have a stubborn streak that says, 'Why not me? Who says?'

I'm very fortunate that I'm working at CBS, whose eye is on the prize of making sure that their casts look like the world. CSI: Vegas isn't my first procedural but I love them because they challenge us as actors. It's like Shakespeare in a way; it's like a safe you have to crack, and then you find the emotional connection. 

"Max" is a family name — my parents almost named me Max and my dear beloved father's name was Doctor Max Newsome so when CSI: Vegas and the character of Max Roby came to me, it felt like the universe was saying, Come here, come here. I was also given permission to make Max my own, and tweak the things that did not ring true to me so we created a different storyline for my son, played by Luke Tenny who is an amazing actor, and what I love about the storyline is that it is universal, everybody can identify with that. 

On procedural shows, Black women are leading across all networks, with Angela Bassett on 9-1-1, Queen Latifah on The Equalizer, Niecy Nash on Rookie: Feds and so the opportunities for Black actors have changed immensely, but I would welcome more brown faces on the creative side. CSI: Vegas showrunner Jason Tracy and I have also been able to have some challenging conversations with grace and respect about this topic, and I look forward to seeing — across the entire TV landscape — more brown faces behind the camera and putting the words in our mouths.

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Regina Taylor and Paula Newsome in CSI: Vegas© CBS
Regina Taylor and Paula Newsome in CSI: Vegas

My life took a huge turn after the HBO comedy Barry because Hollywood saw this show where I was allowed to play a role that I absolutely loved; Detective Janice Moss was funny, she was poignant, and finally Hollywood was like, Wait a minute, get her, get her!

But I'd been doing that work for years! 

I began acting in first grade when my teacher sent me home with a note pinned to my shirt that said, "Put Paula in creative dramatics class." After college, in 1992,  I played Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill and that changed my life because the casting directors at Lincoln Center found out, and next thing I know I have moved to New York and four months later I'm on Broadway in a multicultural version of Carousel.

But it was my high school drama teacher Lilian Mackal who really changed my life. Lillian filled my well, and she made it possible for me to express joy. When I got to college, suddenly I was in spaces where I felt that they thought I was bad — but I knew I had a gift because of Lillian. 

She had told me that the thing that made my heart sing was a gift. 

I remember once reading this horrific story about little Black girls who were jumping around playing, having a wonderful time, and someone came up and thought they were doing something, and they were reprimanded, so to me, Black joy means freedom. 

We should all be free to express joy.

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