Demi Singleton Says Her 'Bass Reeves' Character Changed How She Saw Her Life

Singleton shares her journey, challenges, and the empowering impact of bringing to light the untold stories of Black heroes in American history.

Demi Singleton made her mark playing young Serena Williams in King Richard, the 2021 biopic about Serena and her sister Venus’ dad, Richard. Singleton, 14 years old when the film debuted, won raves for her portrayal, earning accolades, including a BET Young Stars nomination at the 2022 awards. Her latest high-profile role has Singleton again playing a real-life heroine: Sally Reeves, daughter of the legendary deputy Bass Reeves, immortalized in the Paramount+ series bearing his name. 

Reeves, a fascinating figure who escaped slavery to become one of the first Black law enforcement officials in the early 1860s, had 11 children; Sally, born around 1864, was Reeves’ first. Of course, playing her meant some challenges for Singleton above the ordinary ones; Singleton couldn’t exactly study a trove of videos and interviews as she did preparing to play Serena. She had to use her imagination and her smarts. Fortunately, the NYC-bred actor and singer, who previously starred in Godfather of Harlem and The Lion King on Broadway, knew exactly what to do. “One of the biggest things that helped me become Sally was thinking how I’d act in her shoes,” she tells “I am also an oldest sibling, and I know that comes with a certain level of responsibility.”

A fiercely principled and headstrong young woman who loved books and had a penchant for playing piano, Sally felt familiar to her, and Singleton leaned into how she might’ve moved through the world had she lived hundreds of years ago as Sally did. “I don’t think of Sally and I as so different,” she says. “We're both dreamers and creators.” 

Jaz Karis Is a Force To Be Reckoned With In Soul Music

Lawmen: Bass Reeves chronicles the gunslinger’s extraordinary story through critical, jaw-dropping junctures in his life: his escape from bondage after beating the man who owned him; his settlement into Indian Territory and learning Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole languages; his transformation from farmer to lawman, chosen to arrest criminals in the unruly West because a white judge thought Reeves’ black skin would make Indians more receptive to him. Bass Reeves also depicts an essential facet of Reeves’ story––his family. Though he’s mythologized as an expert marksman and detective who went toe-to-toe with some of the most ruthless bandits of the day, Reeves was also fiercely devoted to his clan, returning hundreds of miles on foot to Arkansas, where he fled, to be with his wife Nellie (Lauren E. Banks). Singleton says she was blown away by Reeves’ story when she first learned of it -- Reeves is believed to be the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character -- but, like many, was dismayed she didn’t know of him sooner. “I was surprised how little I knew of the story,” she says of what influenced her decision to take the part on. “I always look for an important story, he was such a prominent figure of his time. Stories like this one need to be shared.” 

One of Sally’s most exemplary, character-defining moments comes in Episode 5, when a young white girl cuts in front of Sally in line at a carnival. Whether because of her youthful naivete, her natural spunk, the fierceness she inherited from her father or some combination of all three, Sally admonishes the girl––even cautioning her to show some respect. This is, of course, an extremely dangerous move on Sally’s part, given that, at the time, Black people could be killed or their entire families terrorized for speaking to a white person in such a way, even a child committing a wrong.  

Though Sally does face consequences, the moment not only illustrated her character but the important truth that, contrary to many depictions set in post-Civil War America, Black people were not always afraid, they did not always bow down. They had agency, they had power, and they fought back. “The biggest impact playing Sally had on me is how much of a dreamer and a fighter she was,” Singleton says. (The series naturally focuses mostly on Reeves and does not follow the children into adulthood, but it’s believed she died in 1933.) “It was bittersweet because she didn’t always want to be a fighter but she had to survive; she was targeted. I can go out and feel safe and enjoy time with my friends in a way she wasn’t able to, and knowing that stuck with me.” 

Her portrayal also stuck with viewers; Bass Reeves was one of the most-streamed shows on Paramount+ in 2023. And since its Old West setting makes it inherently of interest to fans of other hit Paramount+ cowboy series, including Yellowstone, Bass Reeves offers millions (7.5 million watched it in its first week) an opportunity to discover the hero -- and more about the fullness of American history. For Singleton, who’ll be seen next in the Lee Daniels’ horror flick Deliverance (previously titled Demon House) knowing others will be as inspired and awed by Reeves as she was makes her proud. “One thing I want people to take away is just how able Black people are,” she says. “There’s this misconception Black people can't be cowboys and heroes --  that we are always the ones that need saving. This is showing that it’s possible for us to be heroes.” 

Lawmen: Bass Reeves is now streaming on Paramount+. 

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.