Reel Women: Actor, comic, influencer, disrupter, Mariann Aalda

Mariann Aalda
Mariann Aalda

Editor’s Note: Five years ago we had an idea. Being a woman-owned publication, it made sense to celebrate women who were making a difference in the industries we cover. So, we started a feature for Women’s History Month called “Reel Women.” Over the last four years, we have gotten to know leaders, mentors and visionaries from a variety of creative industries. This is our 5th Annual REEL WOMEN. For the month of March, let us introduce you to some very special women like Actor, Comic, Influencer, Speaker, and Disrupter, Mariann Aalda.

Mariann Aalda was one of the first African-American daytime soap opera heroines, starring as criminal attorney DiDi Bannister on ABC’s Edge of Night. Today, she’s “prosecuting ageism” with her TEDx Talk, solo show, and as a standup comic, AARP Age Disruptor and resident Age Anarchist for Women of Color Unite (, a 5,000+ member entertainment industry advocacy group. Additional TV career highlights include starring opposite Redd Foxx and Della Reese as their daughter, Elizabeth, on the CBS sitcom The Royal Family and opposite O.J. Simpson as his wife for three seasons on HBO’s First & 10. She is also known for her co-starring role in the urban cult film Class Act as rapper Kid’s clueless mom, Julie Pinderhughes. Most recently, she starred in the indie sitcom pilot, Ben & Tony and the short film, Gumbo now on ALLBLK-TV; she also recurs as the inscrutable Violet Givens in the upcoming season eight of The Bay on Peacock. In April, she begins shooting in LA on an indie film that has her co-starring opposite the Oscar-nominated Eric Roberts as his business rival.

Let’s meet Mariann.

What’s your origin story? 

I was born May 7, 1948, in Provident Hospital on the South Side of Chicago to Joseph Dewey Berry, a Pullman Porter from Humboldt, TN, and Mentha Onita Adams Berry, a seamstress and homemaker from Greenville, MS. Raised in Phoenix, IL. I attended Ascension Grammar School  and Thornton Township High School in Harvey, IL.

How did you get into acting? 

I graduated from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, with concentrations in both theater and journalism and toured with the SIU Theatre Company as well as interning at Monsanto in St. Louis in their public relations department. After college, I worked in PR,  eventually landing as a unit publicist for ABC-TV in New York. While on maternity leave, I auditioned for a summer parks tour with Off-Centre Theatre. The pay was $75/week and all you could beg in the street. I got hired for the gig and never looked back. It was the 1970’s and the height of the feminist movement, so, while my husband, a hospital administrator, could easily have supported us on his salary, alone, I wouldn’t have it! I started doing TV commercials to make money so I could afford to do no- or low-paying theater at night.   

Who were your mentors?  

I trained in New York with the famed Negro Ensemble Company where Robert Townsend and Laurence Fishburne were my classmates. My first Equity contract was in a Woody King, New Federal Theatre production of Take It from the Top, starring the legendary Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Ruby wrote it and Ossie directed. They were both as gracious and kind as they were talented and disciplined about the work. They set the standard for how I always want to show up as an actor.      

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date? 

Far and away, my role on Edge of Night. It was the early 1980’s and there were not many Black folks in lead roles on TV.  Because I was fortunate to get that opportunity, I also took on the responsibility to pave the way for others to follow, I’m humbled to say that to this day, there are people who come up to me after my live shows or connect with me on social media to tell me how much seeing a smart, complicated, and sometimes distraught and “messy” Black character on TV meant to them. 

What drives you to create?  

“Talent is what God gives to you, what you do with it is your gift to God,” and I want God to get a big smile out of my gift! Now, if you want to leave God out of it and look at it scientifically, my talents and abilities reside in my DNA. I’m genetically predisposed to be an actor and storyteller. In accordance with Jeungian psychology, that’s where the desire comes from, and it’s been visiting me in my dreams ever since I was a little girl. The drive comes from my dad who had great expectations for me to succeed at whatever I chose to do.  

Award you crave, but haven’t won?  

LOL, I think every actor has imagined giving their Oscar speech! But I truly don’t crave awards…what I really crave is more opportunities to work.  

What shows/movies/songs are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV? 

TV is doing a pretty good job in its portrayal of women, right now, so happily, there are too many to mention. But it does suck in its portrayal of older women. The roles are too few and the stereotypes are limiting and outdated. My all-time favorite strong female-driven show is Designing Women. I recurred on it as Anthony’s yuppie-from-hell girlfriend, Lita “I’ll be waiting in the Beamer” Ford and had a blast. I’d love to play her now as an older woman.  Believe me, she’d still be kicking ass and taking names. And how do I know? Because Lita and I are exactly the same age and I’m still kickin’ it!  

Is there still a boy’s club in the entertainment industry?

Of course. Isn’t there one in every industry?  But access to the club isn’t just about gender, it’s also about money, power and relationships. Where did you go to school? Do you have the kind of money you can throw at it and buy your way in? Who’s your daddy? Who are you sleeping with? And there’s no judgement in that last one. When I think of the couple of failed relationships I had with men who wanted to use me to get ahead, I wish I had f**ked smarter, believe me.   

Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman (living or dead) you would like to attend each function with

Coffee with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. She’s a working mom, so I’d keep it short. I just want to get her side of the story, first-hand, and give her an “I got you, girl” hug. 

Lunch with Kris Jenner. Her business acumen has led to her daughters becoming millionaires and billionaires. I want to convince her to do the same for me.

Dinner with Michelle Obama. I have this fantasy that my soap opera character, attorney DiDi Bannister, is what prompted her to become a lawyer. I want to find out if it’s true…and if Barack sings love songs to her in bed.

NIightcap with Diana Sands. Watching her play Beneatha in the movie, A Raisin in the Sun, clinched it for me: “THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up!” Tragically, she was only 39 when she died and I always felt some sort of legacy of hers that I wanted to live up to… to make her proud. Over a shot of Jack Daniels, I’d like to ask her how I’m doing so far and what I can do better. 

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled against Roe v Wade. If you oppose the decision, what can women in your industry do to defend a woman’s rights?  

We’ve gotta work hard to get the laws changed. We’ve gotta get out the vote!

What keeps you up at night? 


What’s up with Beyonce being nominated for 4 Best Album of the Year Awards but never winning?  

Yeah, what IS up with that?!!!



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