Stars Of Sundance: Tessa Thompson

Stars Of Sundance: Tessa Thompson


Stars Of Sundance: Tessa Thompson

The actress enables her empowered voice to influence the characters she brings to life.

The actress enables her empowered voice to influence the characters she brings to life.

Photography: Sharif Hamza

Styling: Andrew Mukamal

Text: Paul Schrodt

A version of this spread appears in the pages of V113, The Music Issue, on newsstands now. Order your copy of the issue today at

Tessa Thompson wants a much better Hollywood. The 34-year-old actress has already endeared herself to basically every audience with her indie hit Dear White People and blockbusters like Selma, Creed, and Thor: Ragnarok. Despite that mainstream visibility, she's vocal about her politics: she led the women's march alongside Jane Fonda at this year's Sundance, and has pushed for changes to representation in her industry. "I've always been of the mind that it's really hard to separate the art from the time in which you make it and how you feel about what's going on," Thompson explains. "I don't think it's a mandate, but for me, it feels like something that's natural, and I feel really lucky to get to do work that has something to say."

Dear White People, the 2014 lacerating satire of race relations on a college campus, said a lot. Thompson, who had worked in TV, felt like the movie was "a real game-changer" for her. "I was sort of in a rut before getting it," she confides. The script gave her a calling.

Her latest Sundance sensation, Sorry to Bother You (out July 6), is at once similar to yet utterly unlike her breakout film. Directed by Oakland-based musician Boots Riley, it sends up racial divisions, but in a way that's out of this universe. Thompson is the activist girlfriend to Lakeith Stanfield's telemarketer, who gets ahead in his career by adopting a "white" voice. Along the way, he confronts a reality-shifting secret that sends the whole story (and viewers) into a spiral.

Thompson isn't worried about its reception, even with the more out-there elements. "I was so excited to work in the space of magical realism," she notes, citing Michel Gondry as an influence. "Particularly for folks of color, it just doesn't happen all that often."

Credits: Makeup Ciara O’Shea (LGA) Hair Rubi Jones (Julian Watson) Producer Ashley Herson Local producer Kate Holland Digital technician Casey Richardson Photo assistants Tim Hoffman, Shen Williams-Cohen Stylist assistant Jermaine Daley Hair assistant Megan Gorley Production Assistants Tom O’Meara, Rique Carroll Retouching Hempstead May Location Park City Peaks Hotel


Instagrams of the Week with Xtina, CupcakKe, and More
Welcome to the age of Instagram, where nothing's news if it's not filtered. Here's what you might have missed this week.