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Dom Chanel makes film debut in ‘Starkeisha’

The lead actress in the short film directed by Mo McRae, is a trained dancer from Los Angeles


There was something about Mary — literally — for actress Domonique Young.

Young was inexplicably drawn to the main character in Starkeisha, a short film centered on what happens when a career-driven woman is thrust into an alternate reality. The film debuts on Hulu on March 7.

“What drew me to it was familiarity with her character, actually both characters,” said Young, who goes by the stage name Dom Chanel. In the film, she plays both Mary and her alter ego, Reflection Mary.

“I tend to live in my imagination a lot in the real world, and in the story, Mary slips and falls and is transported to another space and time where she is able to find and connect with herself,” Chanel said. “It just turns into a deep sense of gratitude, self-love and appreciation for who she is and not who she is trying to be for others in the real world, and I have definitely experienced that a lot in my life.”

Starkeisha, which was inspired by Andscape and Disney Music Group’s Music For the Movement EPs, is directed by Los Angeles actor and director Mo McRae, whose movie credits include Den of Thieves, The Butler and The Purge. He recently made his episodic directorial debut on the CBS show All Rise. It’s the first film for Andscape.

In Starkeisha, Mary Jenkins is young, Black and climbing the corporate ladder. Her life appears to be headed for an exciting future after landing an interview for her dream job at a top asset management firm. While preparing her résumé at home, Mary slips on some spilled water and is thrust into a fantastical world of Black beauty and wonder. To get back to her life, Mary must embark on a precarious journey through the dreamy landscape while being challenged about her sense of self and her values.

“It’s a beautiful story, told by a true artist. He is the next big director coming out and I feel like he is my Steven Spielberg and I got him early,” Chanel said. “I’m speechless. I have so much gratitude in my heart for him for giving me this opportunity, because he could have gone with a bigger name or someone well known. He really trusted me with his vision.”

It’s a role that Chanel, who grew up in the Valley in Los Angeles and graduated from California State University, Long Beach, believes was written just for her.

“It was really a divine experience as far as the project itself, the depth of the project, and all the people that were a part of it,” she recalled. “It literally came out of nowhere.”

A trained dancer who always wanted to pursue acting, she toured for years as one of R&B singer Ne-Yo’s dancers. Chanel was “literally on set” doing a music video for another major artist in early fall 2021 when she received a FaceTime call from McRae, who told her about the film and asked her to send in samples of her work.

“I chose Dom specifically for this role because I have always known her to be an artist that it comfortable with investigating the deepest parts of herself in search of truth,” McRae said. “Dom also has a fluidity to her movement from time as a professional dancer that I thought could help the nonverbal communication required in certain sections of the film. Her commitment and embodying of Starkeisha exceed any and all expectations for everyone. Feels like we are getting to see the caterpillar become a butterfly in front of our eyes.”

After the initial contact, things took off quickly. “It happened in the blink of an eye. He asked what character could I see myself playing. I said the lead. I feel like it’s me from her personality to living in her imagination to being in a fantastical world and discovering who she is,” said the 33-year-old Chanel. “I feel like this is kind of the journey I am on in my life now and it just connects.

“To me it was just a beautiful story of discovery, reconnecting with myself and finding the beautiful aspects about me, the things I already know are beautiful but really just truly appreciating it,” said Chanel, who grew emotional while talking about the parallels between the film, the character Mary and her life.

“Honestly, that connected to me. It was very raw, imaginative, creative. It was otherworldly. I consider myself a unicorn, so for me, it had so much magic surrounded by the story and with everyone involved.”

Chanel said after watching the film she hopes viewers understand that “everything they are searching for is already within them. To me, that is the overlying message of the film. Especially for Black girls, specifically dark-skinned Black girls; we feel like we have to fit into this Eurocentric standard of beauty and sometimes you are told you are not good enough, not pretty enough, just not good enough in general.”

“What this story shows you is that you’re enough,” Chanel said. “You’re more than enough. God made you in his image. He’s always going to be with you wherever you go. That sense of doubt, those things in your mind that tell you that you can’t do something, that’s not God. Anything that tells you you can’t do something, that’s not God.

“Follow your heart, follow your spirit. Stay true to who you are and everything will manifest exactly how it’s supposed to be,” she said. “Don’t try to be anybody else but yourself, and I think that is what I took from it the most. I just want younger girls to really look at this and see themselves.”

While she eagerly anticipates the film’s premiere on Monday, she does have one wish that her father could be here to see his daughter in her first big role. “I truly wish my dad was here to see it. He passed away in 2020, right before COVID [non-COVID-19-related] on Feb. 13,” Chanel said through tears. “It was rather sudden, and I dedicate this film to him and everything I do in life to my father.”

Chanel believes that Starkeisha will open up more career opportunities, and she’s ready for the overflow.

“God knows what’s next. I have no idea. The way my life is set up, I feel like I kind of just stumble into things.

“I don’t know what the next gig will be, but I have so much faith that it will be something amazing.”

Dorothy J. Gentry is a freelance writer and educator based in Dallas. She’s covered the WNBA, NBA, G League and other professional sports leagues for several years. Her work has appeared in The Athletic, Slam and The New York Times among others.