YVM: BMF is a series that takes a look at the creation of the Black Mafia Family, one of the most well-known drug distribution networks in American history. Did you have any hesitation accepting the role of Nicole Flenory considering the dark subject matter?
Laila: Though the thought had crossed my mind, I ultimately knew that despite it being a dark subject matter, this story deserved to be told. After learning about the family, and reading and hearing stories even from some people in my family about their perceptions of BMF, I knew that this project was going to be important. I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.
YVM: Were you able to speak to Nicole Flenory before playing her in the show? What insights did she reveal to you about her experience growing in Detroit with her infamous brothers?
Laila: I got to speak with Nicole Flenory towards the end of shooting the season, however, I still had some episodes left. It was incredibly informative and powerful to meet the person that I was playing, and the BMF family as a whole. We talked about who she was as a preteen, her relationship with her brothers and parents, and her perception of her family’s situation, growing up. She told me that she was an avid reader and that her brothers loved to buy her things and often watched out for her at school and around the city.
YVM: What steps did you take to prepare for this role?
Laila: I listened to a lot of 80s rap music, and sad songs for the sad scenes. That helped to create an atmosphere fit for what I was about to step into, in the scene. I also watched several scenes from movies and tv shows having to do with drug dealing, or growing up in the hood. I did this so I could learn the Detroit accent, and tap into some of the experiences and feelings that Nicole could have gone through growing up in those conditions. I also did research about Black Mafia Family, because I wanted to make sure I understood the reach and influence that Meech and Terry had and still have on Detroit, Atlanta, and Hip-Hop itself.
YVM: How helpful is it to play Nicole and act alongside Demetrius Flenory Jr., the son of Big Meech?
Laila: Playing alongside Meech was such a cool experience; it made the whole connection between us as actors and the BMF family much stronger. Working alongside Meech reminded me of the magnitude of this project, and encouraged me to work harder to represent these people well. He was always happy to be on set, and we practiced our scenes together a lot.
YVM: What kind of research did you do on 1980s era Detroit?
Laila: I wanted to understand Detroit as well as any person who lived there at the time did. My research included Boblo Boat, the 1980’s crack epidemic and the “Just Say No” initiative, and the harmful nature of the police and judicial system on black people and how it affected them during that time. After learning about all these aspects of the city, it was just about looking at all of the information from Nicole’s point of view. I asked questions like “how much of this would she know?”, and “does she worry about her brothers or does she disapprove of them?” It was really interesting to learn about a new place with so much history and impact.
YVM: Lucille Flenory, played by Michele Briana White, says to Terry, "poverty is not a scapegoat for immorality." The brothers work as drug dealers. Many times, on television and film, they do not explore the hard circumstances drug dealers contend with that leads them to make poor decisions. Why is it important to humanize Meech and Terry?
Laila: Most people, when asked about Meech or Terry, respond with their biased perceptions of them; either that they were criminals, geniuses, or family-oriented. It’s my belief, however, that no one is simply one thing; we’re all human beings layered with different traits which come from the actions we take. Meech and Terry were drug dealers, but the reason they got into drugs was that there was not any other sure way out of the life that they had been living. Of course, they took wrong actions, but what was the government or organizations or anyone doing to help give them other options? Life is not black and white, and I think that this series does an amazing job of showing all angles of their complex lives, and not just the decisions they made, but the reasons behind those decisions.
YVM: Did you understand the conditions the brothers were dealing with as they tried to pursue the American Dream? Did you empathize with them?
Laila: While I don’t have first-hand experience in the same conditions that the Flenory family grew up in, I have always made sure to stay informed about the hardships that people of color in this country have gone through because of lack of resources and equity. It is incredibly frustrating to grow up in a country that constantly tells you to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” while simultaneously denying you every possible helpful resource that other people have always had access to.
YVM: Describe your experience working with 50 Cent. What advice did 50 Cent give you about show business?
Laila: I’ve always admired 50’s hustler attitude. He makes being a producer of 31 tv shows look easy. I’ve lately been working on becoming more assertive about the things that I am working for, and 50 Cent has been an awesome role model for me in this way. I’ve watched him navigate and communicate with both on and off-screen professionals with ease. I haven’t stopped taking notes since I’ve met him.
YVM: Why should viewers withhold their judgment of the Flenory family while they watch the series?
Laila: This show does an amazing job of providing a view of the Flenory’s from all angles. It provides reasoning for Meech and Terry’s actions, the effects of those actions, and their family’s responses. People with biased viewpoints will get the answers to questions that they weren’t even asking, which effectively humanizes the humans behind the BMF name. Terry and Meech both love and protect Nicole. She is also loving and protective of her brothers as well. But she struggles between protecting her brothers and doing what is right.
YVM: What are your thoughts on the struggle she faces between being loyal versus being moral?
Laila: Because Nicole is the youngest, she looks up to everyone in her family. While she loves her brothers and understands why they deal drugs, she also knows that it’s wrong because of her parents. This often puts her between a rock and a hard place of whether to choose morality or loyalty. Just like every child, she wants to make her family proud, but she’s split on how to do that. In the show, Nicole is presented with several decisions like this, where she has the choice to either back her brothers or her parents. In order to play Nicole, I knew that there was no way she could have made a concrete choice; she would have had to decide to switch back and forth based on the situation that presented itself. Sometimes she kept their secrets, and other times, she spilled them, but she always did what she believed she had to in order to keep the peace.