Natalie Desselle Reid Was More Than A Sidekick — She Was A Masterful Black Hollywood Mainstay

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I was dazzled by Natalie Desselle Reid for the first time as a gold-toothed sweetheart in 1997's gut-busting comedy, B*A*P*S. Directed by Robert Townsend, the Louisiana-born comedic star played Mickey—a goofy, aspiring restaurateur who jets from Atlanta to L.A. alongside her blonde-haired homegirl, Nisi (played by Halle Berry). Berry's then-megawatt star power and ill-written reviews could've eclipsed the small-budget film. Yet, Desselle Reid's performance was not overshadowed and lifted the comedy into the critically acclaimed pantheon of Black cult-classics. 
She’s one of those actresses whose work is woven so delicately into the fabric of your upbringing that you may not recognise its lasting impact. It was the way she stretched, danced, and Boo-Yaw'd wildly on screen, making space for her character's full self in a land as foreign as Rodeo Drive that captured my undivided attention. By no means was this Desselle Reid's first (or last) tour de force, but her physical performance was utterly warm and familiar—and hilarious—akin to that of a favourite cousin or big sis. Her witty lines, lust for LL Cool J, and naivety stuck to your ribs long after your first watch.
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"The thing that was so successful with Robert is that he just let me ad-lib throughout the whole movie, and that made me free," the Louisiana-born comedic star told The Roll Out Show in 2016.
Although fans can't mention Desselle Reid without diving into B*A*P*S' cultural relevance, it was that same expansive, full-body acting and heart that continued to capture audiences in her many other roles. Arguably, Deselle Reid never achieved a storybook career by Hollywood standards—no box office-shattering blockbuster or trove of Academy hardware—but Desselle is by and large an icon in the Black community for the staying power of her roles. 
She was at the epicentre of the golden era for Black cinema and television in the '90s and quietly emerged as a skilful vessel used to help shape the work of Black auteurs whose intent was to reflect the Black community: F. Gary Gray's Set It Off, UPN’s popular TV series Eve, the Bill Bellamy-led How to Be a Player, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. She morphed from snotty, bickering stepsister to a wise companion and back to a scheming 20-something girl with the ease of a seasoned Broadway vet. And she is a part of the work that is so timeless it will be memorialised as remakes, reboots, and on streaming platforms. 
Specifically, Cinderella was a magical moment in Desselle Reid's career. Disney's live-action reimagining of one of its fondest musicals was intentionally progressive—the cast consisted of several different races—and is the most diverse representation in one film I’ve ever seen. 
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Like many Black legends, Desselle Reid was on the cusp of her second act at the time of her passing. Following her last acting credit in 2017 for Ya Killin' Me, she was readying a live tour of her most known work, B*A*P*S, with comedian Jasmin Brown (who was set to play Nisi).
"When I did Madea's Big Happy Family, [Tyler Perry] didn't even ask me to audition. He called my people and said, 'Is she available this day?'" she said, alluding to the level of respect she had garnered for her work along her journey. And that respect has not wavered. After succumbing to a private battle with colon cancer, Desselle Reid, who is survived by a loving husband, Leonard and three children, has received an outpouring of love and praise from friends and colleagues. 
It's a legacy that proves that EGOTs aren't the only flowers an artist can receive. Sometimes, the enduring praise and love is in the work and how it is eternally cradled in the bosom of our culture, through anniversary celebrations, Halloween costumes, and how we honour the transition from earthly goddess to ancestor.
Rest beautifully, Natalie. 
The JeCaryous Johnson Foundation has established a fund for Natalie Desselle's homegoing services. You can donate here.

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