Last Saturday night, June 24, marked yet another first for the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts as it, in collaboration with the Arkansas Cinema Society, hosted its very first movie screening since reopening its doors. An audience gathered in the Performance Arts Theater to not only view Spike Lee’s 2018 biopic and comedy, “BlacKkKlansman,” but to also participate in a special Q&A with Arkansas-raised actress Ashlie Atkinson. 

 

Atkinson, who is originally from Little Rock, is known for playing roles in a wide range of movies and TV series, including “Juanita,” “Compliance,” “Remedy,” “Lyle,” “And Just Like That…” and more. The actress got her start in the performing arts early on and participated in Children’s Theatre at AMFA. She attended Hendrix College and was questioning her desire to act professionally when she stumbled across friends who were part of the performing arts. 

 

“All my friends were theater department people. And it just seemed so fun. And I remember having a late night conversation with some of my friends, and one of them said, ‘I just think a life on the surface of art is a great life, and it’s the kind of life I want,’” Atkinson said. “It sort of recalibrated to me what a life of acting could really be. There’s this idea that you are either at a Nicole Kidman level of success or you’re starving, and I have found that there are a lot of beautiful spaces in between.” 

 

Atkinson’s career led her to work with Spike Lee multiple times, with “BlacKkKlansman” being one of her most recognizable performances, playing the role of Connie Kendrickson, a villainous wife of a Ku Klux Klan member. 

 

“This was the fourth project that I worked with Spike Lee on, and it meant a lot to me that he trusted me with this role,” Atkinson said, explaining that this role required her to say a lot of things she had never said before and express a lot of ideas that she does not align with in real life. “I used a lot of substitution in these scenes. For example, when Connie and her husband Felix are discussing this idea of killing people, I was thinking about the excitement of buying an apartment in New York City, I substituted that for what she was talking about with Felix,” Atkinson said. “There is no part of me that could find joy in the things that Connie and Felix are talking about in those scenes, so substitution was necessary for me.” 

 

The movie, in Atkinson’s opinion, is a love letter to Ron Stallworth, who is very complex, a love letter to the Black community and a challenge for other people to examine themselves and see how discomfort may have a ripple effect. 

 

Atkinson said she believes that cinema can play an important role in both social justice and liberation. 

 

“I think that cinema is how the world talks to itself. I like to think of the American sitcom as how America talks to itself. ‘Will and Grace’ introduced me to new ideas that were part of the American experience, but cinema is part of a bigger conversation. Cinema is how the world talks, so I can watch films such as ‘Parasite,’ and see parallels from that culture to my culture, and connect that story to my own stories,” Atkinson said. 

 

Atkinson is currently working on a few different projects, though details have not yet been released to the public. 

 

For more information about Atkinson, click here, and to see Arkansas Cinema Society’s schedule, visit its website. 

 

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