BY SID MARCH
Maybe you recognize her from “Grey’s Anatomy” or “ER.” Maybe you were super into Cherry Bomb. Maybe you fell for her adorable It Gets Better video. As an actress, filmmaker, LGBTQ+ activist, and one hot mama, Dalila Ali Rajah is a sparkling renaissance woman, full of energy and amibition.
Dalila took time out from her busy schedule to talk with Lesbian.com about her spirituality, her current project “Secrets and Toys,” what’s going on with Cherry Bomb, and, most importantly, gluten-free bagels.
You are an actress, activist, life-coach, artist, dancer, and filmmaker. Quite a woman! Which of these gifts do you feel is your dominant talent — or are they too integral to each other to call one your “true” talent?
Thank you. I don’t know if I would say one is a dominant talent, but I’ve known I wanted to be an actress since I was 2, literally. It was one of my first full sentences: “I want to be an actress, singer, and a dancer” — although my family always added “doctor” to the end!
You’re very involved in working for LGBTQ+ rights which is super admirable. You’ve done the It Gets Better Project and the No H8 Campaign, among other things. Have you always been comfortable being outspoken or was there a turning point, something that triggered you to become publicly active?
I’ve always been a pretty outspoken person in general, but my getting involved in activism was definitely triggered by the crazy reactions that I saw during and after the Prop 8 vote. Not just here in California, but experiences I was hearing from friends all over the nation; in particular, the reaction and blame that was being tossed at the African-American community. I would attend the post-mortem discussions about what went wrong and the conversations were counter-productive. There wasn’t a reasonable outspoken voice that was in both the African-American and LGBT communities. There seemed to be a disconnect in each culture’s understanding of what was effective in communicating in the two communities. At the time I felt like there was an opportunity for someone who was willing to have uncomfortable conversations with diplomacy and kindness to perhaps bridge the gap, and so I took it on and got involved.
Is your daughter creative like you are? How has being a mother shaped your career or your current path?
Yes, my little one is super creative. She sings, acts, and writes. She’s just an amazing kid (says the absolutely biased mama).
I think the main way it’s shaped my career is by being my motivation to continue to stay determined, be myself, and go for what I want even in the face of my fears. After she was born I realized that if I didn’t demonstrate it, she probably wouldn’t either.
Let’s back track a little. Cherry Bomb was great. You touched upon a lot of the topics that queer, bisexual, and lesbian women are just aching to hear people other than their best friends discuss: the challenges of bisexuality in the lesbian community, gender roles in same-sex relationships, OUR sex lives, the list goes on! Is there any chance you’ll make more episodes in the future?
We have season 5 in the can, but due to a lot of varying factors haven’t released it yet. If you have followed our CB fan page, or if you’ve read SheWired, you probably know that one of our beloved cast members, Tatum De Roeck, was healing from breast cancer. That, and many other things had us take a very extended hiatus. We are still airing on OutTV in Canada, and will eventually release the Season 5 episodes, but unfortunately I don’t have a date yet.
In stalking your twitter, I found out you’re allergic to wheat. Living without bagels seems like it would be pretty rough. What’s your diet like, and what kind of heath choices do you make to feel your best?
LOL! I don’t completely live without bagels. I just get gluten free ones. When I first found out it was waaaay before they started making all the gluten free stuff they do now, so I cooked at home. A lot. Now there are a lot of choices and I usually find brands that are good replacements for most of the stuff I really really love. The only thing I haven’t quite been able to replicate is Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles #18. It’s a minor tragedy! I also tend to stay away from high fructose corn syrup and really processed food.
I nearly died laughing watching the Kung Fu Lesbian trailer and now I probably will need to read the book. Is there a bigger project or is the trailer all there is? You must have had a blast filming that.
OMG!! I had sooooo much fun working on that project and the book is really good. The plan is to do something more with it. The author, who also produced the trailer, is super talented and he’s working on furthering Holly X’s story in a way we can see on the big or small screen. I’m so excited about it. It’s such an irreverent homage to the 70s Blaxploitation films, and I get to make out with the very funny Jackie Monahan, and kick @$$. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Hopefully it will get green lit very soon.
You do faerie card readings and energy work. How did you discover you could read cards and energies and what got you into exploring your spiritual self?
I’ve always been drawn to magick and mysticism even as a child — which was not at all how my family rolled! My grandfather was a Baptist minister, albeit a kind of progressive one from what I hear, especially for that time. As I got older, I got into more books and things that talked about crystals, energy, psychic gifts, etcetera. I started reading a little tarot in high school for myself, but didn’t get really into it until a year or so before my daughter was born. I discovered the Faerie Oracle card deck I still use now at a full moon party at a friend’s home. I just loved the deck and it really resonated with me. I started reading and doing clearings for myself and then friends, and for years I kept hearing them say how on point I was. They all encouraged me to go more public with my services, and I finally did.
Does your spirituality play a major role in your art?
Yes. It seems like when I’m brought to project there is always something in them that broadens, expands, and/or heals something in me. My poetry is also healing and cathartic in a more inside than getting-it-out sort of way. With my visual art, I use crystals and energy work to create the paintings as energetic tools for the household they are in.
In trying to learn more about your short film Secrets and Toys, I happened upon your YouTube video about why the film would be so important. You and your co-star Darryl Stephens discuss how critical it is not only for LGBTQ+ people to be visible but specifically for queer people of color to be visible. Do you feel that you, as a public figure, have an obligation to give a face to a community that is so under-represented in the media?
I don’t know if I would say it’s an “obligation” as much as, for me, it’s a statement of who I choose to be when I’m at my highest. It’s a part of the way I feel like I can be a part of transforming not only the dialog but maybe give some strength to those without a voice — or in circumstances that for reasons of their safety don’t allow them to do the same.
I feel like many contribute in varying ways. I actually recently got into a debate with a friend about certain very visible people of color who have chosen not to publicly announce their sexuality. Many contend that because it’s so obvious to many (in their opinion) that certain people are queer, they feel like they need to come out to help the community. I feel like some that do the whole “glass closet” thing actually may be helping those that feel like they can’t leap flags flying out of the closet; that they give some a gray area where they can feel okay to live their lives and not have to make a big announcement. To me, that’s better than feeling they can’t live their lives at all or have relationships at all. It’s not how I would chose to live mine but there is some value in it for some.
You’re still working on getting funding for “Secrets and Toys.” Where has the majority of your support come from so far?
Most of my support so far has come from friends and family in the community and some Cherry Bomb fans in Canada. I’ve also gotten some great support from some of the ladies in the Sweet travel family (love my Sweeties!), and from a sponsorship from the amazing Spareparts Hardware. Seriously, the best harness on the market — I’m not saying that because they’re a sponsor. It really, really is!
Tell me a little bit about the story line and what has gone into the creation and development of the film.
“Secrets & Toys” is a funny, sexy, delightful short film about a mother and daughter who discover through a comedy of errors the secrets they have been keeping from each other. It’s fun, touching, and shows some lovely diverse images of queer people of color.
I wrote the script a very long time ago and spent ages on and off refining it with the help of some great feedback from friends and colleagues. After it was in really good shape, I sat on it for a while because I was very focused on Cherry Bomb. When we went into our extended hiatus, I needed something else to focus my creative energy on so I dusted it off and started reaching out to friends who might be able to add something artistically to get it made. Darryl Stephens got on board first. He is such a talented actor. Then Cheryl Dunye came on. The project deals with some similar themes around mother daughter relationships that her most recent feature film, “Mommy is Coming” explores.
Aside from “Secrets and Toys,” do you have any other projects you’re currently working on or brainstorming?
A great series called “Pretty/Tough” is releasing in the US on HULU in October. I wasn’t behind the scenes in this one, but I play an awesome soccer coach, and it has a storyline where one of the young women is being bullied because she’s perceived to be gay because she’s sporty. It’s a great project with a wonderful cast: Australian former Power Ranger Adelaide Kane, Beth Behrs of 2 Broke Girls, Jess Adams from Nine Lives of Chloe King, several other awesome actors, and a cameo from Brandi Chastain.
Behind the scenes, I have several writing projects coming down the pipe, but none that are set for production at the moment. A couple of web series, a TV Pilot, and a screenplay.
Read more about how to support Dalila’s project “Secrets and Toys.“