'Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia' Full Cast List: Meet Danielle Brooks, Olivia Washington and rest of the actors of Lifetime's biopic
Mahalia Jackson wasn't just a powerful singer but also a powerful force, using her talent to uplift the Civil Rights movement
'Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia' follows the life of the 'Queen of Gospel' Mahalia Jackson. The Lifetime biopic marks the first project produced under the partnership between 'Good Morning America' anchor Robin Roberts and Lifetime. Jackson wasn't just a powerful singer but also a powerful force, using her talent to uplift the Civil Rights movement. She famously also inspired Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream Speech', encouraging King to go off script and deliver one of the most inspiring speeches in history.
Kenny Leon, who directs the film, talked about his vision for the film saying, "The film explores her struggle to just be the best person that she can be on the planet, and that's something all of us can learn from. So I was looking for that universal appeal." He's also hoping that watching the film will encourage more curiosity about Jackson. He says, "So when people see this they will, of course, want to go and read more about her, but not just about her, about people that lived in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s." Let's now find out more about the cast of the film, which fittingly releases a day before Martin Luther King's death anniversary.
Danielle Brooks as Mahalia
Deciding who would play such an iconic person is never easy, but it seemed almost destined that Danielle Brooks would play Mahalia. Brooks, who fans know best from 'Orange Is the New Black', is also an accomplished stage actor. It was when she was a part of the Broadway production 'The Color Purple' that she first heard that she would make a great Jackson. Brooks says, "I had the privilege of working with Jennifer Hudson and I remember her coming to my dressing room, which she did every day before she got on stage, and we would chat and she said, ‘you should play Mahalia Jackson'. I didn’t think too hard about it but then when Jennifer Holliday came and stepped into her same shoe (Jennifer Holliday took over Jennifer Hudson’s role in The Color Purple revival), she said the same thing.”
Before playing Jackson, Brooks' was best known for her role as Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson in 'Orange Is the New Black' and the voice of Officer Pearle Watson on the animated series 'Close Enough'. She received a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Sofia in the 2015 Broadway production of 'The Color Purple'.
Olivia Washington as Estelle
Olivia Washington portrays Estelle, a piano teacher Jackson meets at church who goes on to become her friend for life. Olivia, like her co-star Danielle Brooks, was also a part of 'Much Ado About Nothing.' Her memorable work includes Lee Daniels’ 'The Butler', and guest performances on 'Empire', 'Madoff', 'Mr. Robot' and Spike Lee’s 'She’s Gotta Have It'. She will next be seen in Joel Coen’s upcoming Shakespeare adaptation, 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' from Scott Rudin as well as the John Lee Hancock thriller 'The Little Things' from Warner Bros. She will also soon star in the film 'Solitary' alongside David Oyelowo.
Jason Dirden as Russell
Jason Dirden is probably best known for his role as the pastor with a devious side, Basie Skanks, on OWN's 'Greenleaf'. His other television credits include roles in Tyler Perry's 'House of Payne', 'Hawaii 5-0' and 'Elementary'. Dirden is also an accomplished stage actor and has appeared on Broadway in revivals of 'Fences' and 'A Raisin In The Sun'. Most recently he starred as Levee in a revival of 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'.
Joaquina Kalukango as Mildred
Joaquina Kalukango plays Mildred, Mahalia’s talented long-time pianist. Joaquina is perhaps best known for her roles in 'One Night in Miami' and 'Lovecraft Country'. She is also a force to reckon with on stage and recently received a Tony nomination for her much-lauded performance in the critically acclaimed Broadway production of 'Slave Play'. Her other TV credits include Ava Duvernay’s Netflix series 'When They See Us'. Joaquina has also appeared in several Broadway productions such as 'The Color Purple', 'Holler If You Hear Me' and 'Godspell'.
Who are the other stars?
The other stars of the film include Benjamin Charles Watson, director Kenny Leon who acts in the film as well, and Rob Demery.
The film is directed by Kenny Leon and is executive produced by Robin Roberts and Linda Berman. Brooks and Leon are co-executive producers. 'Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia Jackson' will premiere on Saturday, April 3, at 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime. You can catch the trailer below.