women and power

Brooklynn Prince, Age 8, Already Knows How to Make People Listen

Brooklynn Prince. Photo: Amanda Demme

Brooklynn Prince’s latest collaborators include actors Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston, and Angelina Jolie (The One and Only Ivan); executive producers Steven Spielberg (The Turning), Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part); and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu (a to-be-titled Apple series). These forthcoming projects came to the 8-year-old via The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s searing, Oscar-nominated film based on the “hidden homeless” families struggling to afford hotel rooms in tourist-haven Orlando.

Her own parents initially resisted when Brooklynn was approached to play its tiny hellion protagonist, Moonee. “She had only ever really done commercials until this point,” her agent turned acting coach mom, Courtney, told the Cut, remembering her daughter’s early work for Danimals yogurt and Chuck E. Cheese. “We felt like it was an important story, and I just hadn’t really seen her do anything that was at that magnitude. And I was just like, ‘This is something that really has to be done with caution and care.’ ”

Baker did just that, and Brooklynn’s personal accolades ranged from a Gotham Award nomination to a place alongside Nicole Kidman and Jake Gyllenhaal on The New York Times Magazine’s list of the 10 best actors of 2017. The Winter Springs, Florida, native also won Best Young Performer at the Critics’ Choice Awards in January. Sobbing, she implored TV viewers and attending celebrities to “go out there and help” homeless kids like her character, Moonee, who are absent from statistics.

Clad in a floral dress and glittering hi-tops, Brooklynn recently plunked down next to the Cut at Good Boy Bob Coffee in Santa Monica. Aside from her newfound influence, we discussed everything from Donald Trump’s missteps to Gal Gadot’s hugs.

When you hear the term “power,” what does that mean to you?
Power means that people are strong, and brave, and kind.

Who was the first woman you knew who had power?
My mom, but the first actress was Gal Gadot. When I saw Wonder Woman, I knew I could stand up and have a voice like she did. That one scene where she follows her heart, it made me cry. Where’s she’s in the trench and they’re like, “We have to go, just let those people suffer,” and she’s like, “No.”

Why did that performance mean so much to you?
I knew that women could do anything, really, the same as men. They could be in the Army, work out, run marathons, do whatever.

What was it like when you met her?
So, I went to the Governors [Ball] — I wasn’t nominated [for an Oscar], but I was like, “I have to meet Gal Gadot,” that was my mission. I saw her and was like, “I dressed up as you for Halloween!” and me and her just had this natural vibe. And I saw her at the AFI Awards and they showed that scene and I just cried. She ran over to me, and we were hugging each other like a mother and daughter.

Wonder Woman’s based on comic book from a long time ago. Had you ever seen a girl superhero before?
Well, I heard about Harley Quinn, but she’s not a superhero, she’s a villain. And I knew Poison Ivy, but she’s also a villain . I knew about Supergirl, but, like, I haven’t cried about Supergirl. When people see this [crosses her wrists], they get confused if I’m doing “Wakanda forever” [from Black Panther] or Wonder Woman. I have to explain what I’m doing. Sometimes I am doing “Wakanda forever.” Like, if I meet Chadwick Boseman. When I meet Gal Gadot, that wasn’t meant to be “Wakanda forever.”

When did you realize your mom was powerful?
She risked everything for me. When she was [going] through hard times, she made sure she didn’t really show me and that I had everything I wanted and needed. Hard times mean maybe financially, or in the family, or if she was just having a hard day. She didn’t want me to be sad, so she would act all happy, and I feel like that would take a mother a lot.

Do you feel like you have power?
A little. Well, yes. With Community Hope Center [which helps homeless families in Osceola County, Florida], or She Is More Than [the nonprofit working to end human trafficking among woman in Uganda], I would say, “Hey, these people need help,” and people would actually listen to me, they wouldn’t think, Oh, it’s this little girl talking. I think I have the power to spread that I’m a little kid. People have come up to me and said, ‘How do I get into the industry?’ and I tell them exactly how. If you count the kid actresses [from] a while ago, [it’s] like Shirley Temple and a couple other people. But now, you can count thousands of child actresses and actors.

During that emotional speech you gave at the Critics’ Choice Awards, you had a really funny aside where you thanked “my team” like every Hollywood veteran. But you dedicated it to the real Moonees of the world, and reminded the audience how much people who are homeless need help.
I just needed everyone to know that these people aren’t aliens from space that you need to be scared of and treat like kicking dirt, or stepping on them like a stick. You need to treat them like they’re glass, like they’re valuables.

The idea that you have some power because people listen to you — was there a moment when you first realized that was happening?
I went to the Community Hope Center Christmas event, and my best friend was there, who wasn’t even involved with the homeless. And I saw a bunch of other people there, and they saw The Florida Project, they saw my speeches, and said, “You really motivated me to help out” and I just felt really, really good.

I want to hear not only what it’s like to be an 8-year-old right now, but also what it’s like to be an 8-year-old girl right now.
It’s a good time to be a girl, because sometimes I can be like, “Cullen, makeover time!” which is my little brother.

There’s a lot of talk right now about whether men and women are treated equally.  Do you follow that debate or have opinions?
We’re getting there, but say you had a movie: Men would get paid more than women would. The more that people stand up for their rights, the more people share their voices, and the more people talk about the issue, then they’ll be treated equally. It’ll be like a scale [holds up her hands]. Now it’s a rock and a feather. But eventually there’s two rocks, and it’s going to be balanced.

Someday you’re going to be the adult actress. Do you worry, Oh, no, my male co-stars are going to make more than me?
No, no, no, I don’t care about the money, anyways.

As of today, what do you want to be when you’re a grown-up?
A director and an actress. A director because I met Floria Sigismondi and Sean Baker. Floria Sigismondi was a director on The Turning, one of my movies. She just showed me that I could be anything I wanted, it didn’t really matter what kind of person you were. People will be like, “Oh, this little girl wants to become a director and have a movie, how sweet!” And once it comes out, they’re going to be like, “Oh, this girl’s legit.”

What’s the hardest part about being a child actor?
Having to leave sets early. And I feel like grown-ups can get respect faster than kids. You have to do a couple movies for people to believe [switches to a very emphatic voice], “Wow! This girl’s really a legit actress” … For grown-ups, they only have to send in an audition. Or do a movie, or like a short film or something.

People got torn up watching you in The Florida Project.
Because I put myself in the real situation. I felt like I was really struggling. I felt really, really sad for Moonee, also. I want that name, too. Moonee.

When you don’t know what to do about something in your career, who do you ask for help?
My parents, if I don’t feel comfortable with something. Or, my mom might call my manager. One time I was nervous in an audition, and my mom always tells me, “Don’t care what other people think. Just be yourself, and if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. And it’s God’s will.”

Are you able to do that — to not care what other people think?
Yeah. Sometimes it hurts to think what other people think of me, but you can be sad about that. I have the right to feel sad.

Do you follow the news?
Hilde Lysiak, who’s an 11-year-old journalist, solved a murder, even before the police did. That’s who I’m playing in the new Apple series. I follow her, and I follow GMA and [Live With] Kelly & Ryan. But I feel like the other news is very sad. My mom will tell me something I need to know that I could help out with, or maybe post on Instagram.

Like what?
Pulse nightclub.

How’d you find out about the kids at the border?
My mom told me. And I’ve heard my dad talking about it, too. I think that’s very, very unfair. If someone came down from a place that was worse, they get separated from their child, and then they get sent out to the streets — that’s just even worse than what they hoped for.

When you hear about something like the Pulse nightclub shooting, how do you stay positive?
I try to think of things like maybe they’re in a better place, maybe they were struggling. But I couldn’t really stay positive about that. I just kind of worked through, took a deep breath.

How do feel about the generation you’re a part of? Do you see activism, or do you see a lot of kids just trying to be kids, or maybe kids not able to stay kids as long as they want to?
Well the kids that I know very closely aren’t actors. They’re just doing their little kid life, going to school, taking care of their pet turtle, chasing their cat around. There’s a group of kids, they all have charities. And one of them’s like a sack that has like water, toiletries, blankets, and it comes in this little bag [called a Snuggle Sack]. They hand them out to people on the street. Other people help with cancer. This boy named Campbell [Remess, of Project 365] goes to kids in the hospital and hands out these adorable little bears, and they’re fuzzy. And then I presented a CNN Heroes Award to Ryan Hickman, who recycles, and says he wants to save the ocean from pollution, and save Earth, make it green.

What’s the first decision that you made that you really felt like you were in control of?
The Florida Project. I said yes because I wanted to help out these people, and I loved the — well, I didn’t read the script — but I love the story line and how they were telling a message. We usually have our church Sunday where we wake up and read the devotion, and watch a video on the devotion, have breakfast in bed. One day I came in and said, “Mom, Dad, I want to do The Florida Project, I want to tell Moonee’s story.” They didn’t really expect that from me, but they’re good enough parents that they’re like, “Let’s have a meeting with the director, sort some things out, and if Brooklynn wants to do this, let her do it!”

What’s the most recent big decision you made?
I sponsored a girl in She Is More Than. It’s an organization for girls in Uganda. All the girls have beautiful smiles, and all of them are really, really beautiful, but Sarah stood out to me because she had a really hard time, but she also was very positive about it. She had a very big smile, and she sent me a note saying, “Thank you for everything, and God bless you,” and I was like, I made the right choice.

You told The Wrap that you want to run for president. Do you still feel that way?
I kinda changed it up a little bit. I want Angie for president now, but I would love to be the president.

Who’s Angie? Oh, Angelina Jolie. What would you want one of you to do as president? What would you change?
I’d be like, “Bye-bye, Donald Trump!” And I would also be like, “I’m allowing you to get through with your kids at the border,” and I’d let every ethnicity, every gender, every religion, every country that they came from, every skin color, every anyone come and have the luxury that we do. Everyone would be able to live in peace, everyone would have a home, and I would just treat people the right way. Make sure everyone cleans up the Earth the way they should, make sure that people get punished for their bad actions, and make sure a lot would happen.

There are going to be women reading this who aren’t actresses, who maybe feel like they have no power, no voice. I know you’re only 8, but do you have any advice for them?
If you are getting judged or anything because you’re a girl, don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I’m not going to be treated this way.” If you do that, then make sure that you also have voices for people who do not have that voice, either.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.

*A version of this article appears in the October 15, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Brooklynn Prince, 8, Already Knows How to Make People Listen