For Part 2 of our post on the soon-to-be-released web series 3L, Global Voices speaks to Melanie Charles, a Haitian-American jazz vocalist who plays the lead role of Gaelle. We asked her how she felt about the main character and what the series has to say about women, found out more about her Haitian heritage and discussed her love of jazz…
Global Voices (GV): What is the 3L story essentially about and why did the idea of playing Gaelle appeal to you?
Melanie Charles (MC): The 3L web series is the story of an Ivy League, well put-together woman of color who seems to have it all together on the surface, but is struggling with love, career and spiritual choices. It also shows a different take on different types of strong women. It's a story that celebrates how diverse we are, not only in race or culture, but also in career and life choices.
Gaelle really spoke to me for a number reasons. I have a cousin named Gaelle and when I received the script, I was actually in haiti with Gaelle's parents (my aunts and uncles). Gaelle is just getting out of a 5-year relationship. I had a 5-year relationship [that ended in a similar way]…just that alone really drew me in. But the story is so relatable. Gaelle is struggling to actually pursue her passion and not just do what is expected of her and I think many of us are or have experienced that struggle.
GV: Does your Haitian heritage come into play at all in the series? If so, how? If not, how are you drawing on that experience to give life to Gaelle's character?
MC: Gaelle is an Brooklyn-born American girl of Haitian decent, which I just so happen to be! There are a lot of stereotypes about Haitian people, some negative and some positive. What I love about Gaelle is how she embodies the truth about what it really means to be Haitian-American. The truth is Haitian women are so diverse – from their sense of style to their career choices, to their diet choices. Speaking of food, in the Haitian culture, cooking is a labor of love and a celebration of spices. There is a scene where Gaelle cooks ‘friends-giving’ dinner and for me, being Haitian, that scene in particular felt like second nature. Being familiar with the importance and names of all of the special Haitian dishes really made that scene special.
It is a known fact in the Haitian community that Haitian parents are very strict and want their children to become successful doctors, lawyers, and teachers. It's rare for Haitian parents to encourage their children to be musicians, or artists, or chefs for that matter. Personally, I lucked out. My mom really supports my choice to be a musician and actress. But even with that, there is still a high standard of excellence my mother expects from me, so I really understand how serious it is when Gaelle expresses her concern about her parents ‘flipping out’ if they knew that instead of working in the field of her Ivy league degree, she wanted to cook. What makes this even more of a speciality is that Gaelle is in her late twenties and is considered a ‘grown woman’. But that's the thing about Haitian culture, you are never too old to feel the need to please your parents and to be humbled by them. It is a beautiful, bittersweet dynamic.
GV: How has your experience as a jazz vocalist helped you in the role? Is there any inclusion of/reference to Haitian music in the series?
MC: Yes I am actually a full-time, professional musician. I studied vocal Jazz performance at The New School. I must say I do not just sing jazz, though. I sing soul, rhythm and blues, and I also write and perform my own music, which can be described as soul/electronica. But I love singing jazz and it has become a launching pad to other genres and styles of music. While studying at The New School, I met some Haitian musicians who opened up my ears to traditional Haitian music. From folk songs to love songs; from celebratory songs to lamentations to Mother Earth, the stories told are really colorful and rich. The melodies and the way the lyrics flow make it so that even if you don't understand the words, you still feel what the song is about. I don't really think about it, but people always tell me that when I sing, I really bring the songs to life, dramatically. Truth is though, singing is acting – especially when singing in another language.
So there is a moment were Gaelle sings a traditional Haitian song called ‘Choucoune’, accompanied by two very important Haitian drummers whom I actually perform with in real life. It was really cool to be allowed to make music in such an authentic way on screen. It was fun shooting that song with fellow musician Okai.
GV: Why do you think this series is could be important to women – of any background? What does it offer them?
MC: This series really celebrates women of all walks of life and all races! It represents the lawyer, single mom, the lesbian, the hustler! The show also celebrates different modes of beauty, from the curvy woman to the petite lady. Sometimes, we women can get hard on ourselves for making poor choices or not accomplishing things in the way we would like, but in this show, we see that [all those experiences] breed strength, courage and grace.
GV: What are your hopes for the series and its message?
MC: My hope is for 3L to expand to [traditional] television. I definitely see that happening. I would love for it to become that ‘go to’ show [that people use] to unwind. Growing up, ‘Living Single’ was a show that I always watched. It was a great [series] that celebrated four single women living in Brooklyn. No matter what I was going through, whenever I watched an episode, there was a poignant message for me. I see 3L having the same impact [and] being a trusted show where people know that they will, laugh, cry, reflect and walk away inspired and encouraged.