Marsai Martin is a 14-year-old force to be reckoned with. And no, I don’t mean in the way that the 14-year-olds on the train home make you feel uneasy because you know they’re cooler than you. (Just me? Okay.) Well, I mean a certifiable force.
Best known for her role as the too-wise-for-her-own-good Diane Johnson on black-ish, Marsai is now the youngest executive producer in Hollywood after dreaming up the concept for and starring in the feature film Little.
Martin was literally 10 years old when she came up with the idea for the body swap comedy. Yes, you read that right. While you were on the playground playing “The Floor Is Lava” Marsai Martin was in a room with executives pitching Little. In the words of producer Will Packer, “It’s crazy. I mean, what were we doing at 10 years old?”
A lot of Martin’s go-getter attitude can be attributed to her parents. Sure, she’s talented and persistent in her own right, but listening to her father speak to a room of journalists on set in Atlanta, you get the idea that she’s got a killer support system. Marsai’s dad said that he and Marsai’s mother are passionate about giving their daughter a voice. “We’re always listening to her ideas, we’re always listening to what she wants to do,” he said. “We’re always trying to push her to be better than she was before.”
In fact, Marsai explained that it was a conversation with her parents that sparked the idea for the film. “Well, before the [pitch] happened we were talking–it was me, Mommy and Daddy–and we were talking about the movies they were watching back then, and one of my mom’s favorite movies growing up was Big. So, that’s really how the idea was just, like, brought out to us and I think that’s just where it all started! And then we just started brainstorming and seeing how it could be be turned into this like…black girl magic type situation!”
Black girl magic indeed. Those words are repeated over and over during various interviews with the cast, producers, costume designers and director of Little and yet, every time they’re said they ring just a little more true. If the set really is built on black girl magic, then every time the words are uttered the spell gets stronger and stronger. One thing is clear: these words aren’t a talking point, they’re the foundation of the whole film. They’re what will make it a success.
After the season one finale of black-ish the ball really got rolling. The idea became a reality as it moved from Kenya Barris (the creator of black-ish) to Girls Trip producer Tracy Y. Oliver to Will Packer and eventually landed with Universal where, if history repeats itself as it is wont to do, Little is soon to be a hit.
True story: I went into Universal to do a joint pitch with a then 11 year old @marsaimartin for this movie that SHE dreamt up. So young, but so confident! WAY more than me. Thank you for the honor of writing this movie! Proud of you, girl https://t.co/wVrJyhX9jR
— Tracy Y. Oliver (@TracyYOliver) January 10, 2019
The film’s premise is similar to the Tom Hanks film, but reversed and with a whole bunch of girl bosses in the mix. In Little Marsai plays the younger version of Regina Hall’s character, a businesswoman named Jordan who was bullied in her youth, which turned her into, as many of the cast puts it on set that day “a monster.” She’s the head of a tech company who puts her assistant April (played by Issa Rae) through the ringer. She pushes literally everybody around. That is, until one day, Jordan is rude to the wrong little girl and, with the flick of a plastic wand, she is sent back to middle school. Young Jordan then has to navigate life as a middle-schooler and keep her company running. With the help of April, it might just be possible. Watch the whole trailer here, it’s truly a delight:
Packer was passionate about making the magic of the film a reality from the start. “When I was talking to Universal about it, I said, ’You don’t have a movie for mothers to take their daughters to, especially black mothers and black daughters, brown mothers and brown daughters.'” Enter a whole slew of badass women who were ready to make this dream a reality. Regina Hall, who is also an executive producer on the film, signed onto the project very early on, and then came Tina Gordon. According to Packer, if there’s one thing he knows how to do well, it’s “get out of the way when black women are doing their thing.”
From there, Gordon says that it became a running theme: “We just embraced that [black girl magic], and found artists, production designers, costume designers. Everything you see on the walls, the wine you see in the movie —it’s young, black women, women of all colors that came together to support that idea.”
And it all started with a 10-year-old girl. But don’t let Martin’s incredible story (both on the screen and off) make you feel too badly. After all, she says, “It doesn’t matter if you’re 4 or 84, there’s no age limit to what you can do. If you think you can do it at this time, you don’t have to wait.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna go ahead and trust that advice. Sounds pretty solid to me.
Little will hit theaters this spring.