NEW YORK, NY – JULY 13: Actress Naturi Naughton attends the AOL Build Speaker Series to discuss … [+] “Power” at AOL HQ on July 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

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Naturi Naughton is globally known for her breakout role as Tasha St. Patrick in the hit series Power, created by powerhouse producer/writer Courtney Kemp and executive produced by 50 Cent on the Starz Network. She currently stars in the series spinoff with her original character in the riveting Power Book II: Ghost.

Naughton has carved out an impressive career that spans music, television, and film. Unquestionably her talent makes her an in-demand actress. Yet, her tenacity to march successfully through an industry that initially wanted to pass over her is one of her most remarkable qualities.

She has publicly acknowledged the obstacles she endured with colorism during the start of her career as a member of the platinum-selling teen musical group 3LW. In addition, to the controversy she faced with Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York rap star Lil’ Kim over her portrayal of the “Lighters Up” artist in the bio-pic of the film Notorious about East Coast rapper Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G.

Naughton understands firsthand how the entertainment industry has weaponized her appearance of being a dark-skinned woman as a means to question her talent and ability to contribute to lucrative artistic endeavors.

Again to reiterate, her perseverance gave her unlimited license to overcome these shallow ideologies, ignore the naysayers, and become a triple threat within her career which has afforded her numerous opportunities and accolades.

For her latest project, it is quite apropos that Naughton would slide into the director’s chair to tell the story of a newscaster with vitiligo who is torn between her dream job and preserving her authentic self. Naughton collaborated on her directorial debut Behind The Smile with BETHer and executive producer Tressa Smallwood of MegaMind Media for BETHer Presents:The Couch is a collection of moving short films narratives unfolding the truth of mental illness.

The series franchise Her Stories addresses breast cancer, mental health topics, and domestic violence within the Black community.

The long production shooting hours Naughton spent on the Power set grew her interest to segue into directing because she wanted to “venture more into storytelling.”

“Around season three, I fell in love with the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking and television. So I went to the New York Film Academy and took a course on directing for film, and I just started studying, reading, and doing my research on what it takes,” she reveals. “I was excited to tell the story, particularly things that I was passionate about, and to have a perspective as a director, through your lens with the writer and with a team, I was naturally going to go in this direction.”

Naturi directing behind the scenes on Behind The Smile for BETHer.

Images Courtesy of Foster Lewis.

Naughton appreciated that BETHer and the BET family decided to explore and bring to life issues often considered taboo in the Black community, like discussing mental illness and mental health.

“That was exciting to me, and Behind The Smile is the story about a woman who is a news anchor dealing with vitiligo and struggling in her life to be accepted and have support from her community,” she says. Naughton admits she deeply related to the theme of the short film and connected to hiding behind a smile even when she was hurting or in pain.

“I just wanted to tell stories about women. I want to tell stories that bring awareness to mental health and hopefully inspire and empower [people],” she adds.

Most members of the Black community were once heavily resistant to speaking about mental health. Still, there is a concerted effort in every facet of society to shift the points of view of African-Americans.

“The fact there is a mental health initiative for BET is a good sign. There are also different panel discussions [with] leaders and celebrities who have opened up and talked about their journey with mental health,” she says. Naughton also points out how renowned Olympic gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles bravely took a break from the demands of her career to tend to her well-being.

“A lot of people have come forward been open about it, which I think starts to open up the door of conversation,” she says.

Honest conversations about mental wellness are necessary, especially in the film industry, where navigating the grinding terrain of Hollywood is challenging; Naughton takes extra measures to guard her mental health.

“It is challenging because the business is driven by how you look and what you post on social media, who’s following you, it’s so enraptured with superficial things that sometimes you can get lost in it. The way I maintain my mental health is to stay grounded in what matters to me. My priorities are my family, my beautiful 5-year-old daughter, and my husband, and pouring into those things the business can’t take away,” she discloses, adding she is committed to having a prayer life and surrounding herself with good people.

“No matter how successful you are, if you’re not happy and if you are not mentally healthy, then it means nothing, and you can not enjoy that success, so I’m very big on that,” Naughton stresses.

PASADENA, CA – FEBRUARY 11: Actors (L-R) Joseph Sikora, Naturi Naughton, and Omari Hardwick attend … [+] the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images )

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Her keen self-awareness and maturity help to keep her centered, booked, busy and blessed as she prepares to work on her next short film titled 333, which she wrote that centers around women’s rights. She will be working with Swirl Films in Atlanta, who have supported her since her episode for TV One Uncensored.

She also plans to release music in 2023, “I can’t wait to give the audience and my fans a little piece of where I am in my life right now; I’m in such a joyous, happy space that I want to sing about it,” she says, knowing her fans are patiently waiting to join her in the celebration.

Check out Behind The Smile here.

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