Anyone who has watched ABC's Black-ish knows that Marsai Martin is a breakout star in her priceless role as Diane Johnson. The talented actress is hilarious, and can deliver looks that trigger immediate laughter. At 16-years-old, the native of Plano, Texas, has won nine NAACP Image Awards, and two BET YoungStars Awards for her work on Black-ish. She has also broken a Guinness World Record as the youngest Hollywood executive producer to work on a major production on Universal Pictures’ Little.
Here are 10 times she represented an entire mood:
Marsai technically broke the Guinness World Record as the youngest Hollywood executive producer at the age of 14 to work on a major production in 2019 for her work on the film Little. But she wasn’t presented with the award––and officially declared a record-breaker by Guinness––until November, 2020. In Little, she played a lead role alongside Regina Hall and Issa Rae. In the film, a tech entrepreneur, played by Hall, wakes up in the body of her former 13-year-old self, played by Martin. “It feels crazy, honestly,” Martin said in a video of her World Record certificate presentation. “A world record? That's insane.”
The young star does not suffer fools. When she made a virtual presentation in June, 2020 to Megan Thee Stallion for best female hip-hop artist at the BET Awards, social media trolls attacked her appearance, including her hair and teeth. In a video on Instagram, she addressed the mean comments in a droll video response. “Y'all we’re in quarantine, and we’ve got more things to focus on than just my hair,” she said after pretending to cry and blow her nose on a $100 bill. “Justice for Breonna Taylor." Watch the video below.
Her priceless reaction to winning the Young Stars Award at the BET Awards in June, 2019 shook the internet because it was such a genuine reaction to winning. Her expression became the image for memes around the web. Marsai, who is homeschooled and lives in Los Angeles with her parents, Carol and Joshua, thanked her family and fans while accepting the award. Watch the moment below.
Marsai became the third youngest entertainer to accept the BET Young Stars Award in 2019. Siblings Jaden and Willow Smith each took home the honor in 2011, at ages 12 and 10, respectively. The Young Stars Award was created in 2010 to shine the spotlight on young entertainers in television, film, music, or sports who have an impact on their respective industries.
Noticing her affinity for acting at the age of 5, her parents took her to the Kim Dawson Agency in Dallas where she was immediately signed. Soon after, she won her first national commercial to appear in an ad for The Choice Hotel. Her family secured representation after attending a seminar that included several LA agents, and moved to Los Angeles in late-2013. In just under three months, the family achieved a struggling actors’ dream to secure a major national commercial campaign with Meineke. Watch an even younger version of Marsai in the video below:
Marsai entered into a first-look production agreement with Universal Pictures and her Genius Productions company. The first film being developed by the company is StepMonster, a comedy about a teenage girl (Marsai) who is adjusting to life with a new stepmother. “I am so excited for the magic I’ll be able to create and produce with Universal,” Martin said, according to Shadow And Act. “My goal is to show young women and girls that our voices and ideas matter and you are never too young to dream BIG!”
Marsai studied at Cathryn Sullivan’s Acting For Film. Her star began to rise in late-2013, shortly after landing the Meineke commercial. The whirlwind rise to fame included being cast in Black-ish as the feisty eldest twin, Diane. The down-to-earth character and her homegrown expressions have given rise to innumerable viral memes.
Marsai was in full effect as Diane in Season 2 when her parents, Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) took her sister Zoey (Yara Shahidi) to visit Brown University, her mom’s alma mater. Dre, who took anti-anxiety medication to overcome a fear of flying, accidentally called the wrong baby-sitter –– his co-worker, Charlie Telphy (Deon Cole)––for Andre Jr., (Marcus Scribner) and twins, Diane and Jack (Miles Brown). Diane happens to be Charlie’s nemesis, and hilarity ensues, highlighting Marsai’s gift of humor.
Marsai worked with vision company Essilor of America in 2019 to raise awareness for parents about the urgent need for children across the nation to receive total vision care. The campaign came amid growing concern about myopia and children's health. “I know what it’s like to sit in a classroom where everything looks blurry,” Martin said in a news release. “No child should have to go through that experience. Through this Pledge and partnership, I hope every child in America gets the opportunity to see the world clearly, and to be at their best in the classroom and in life.”
Marsai, who along with Ross and Shahidi, is driving a conversation about natural hair with their ever-changing styles they show off on their sitcom, is not shy about her success and accomplishments, and neither are her supporters like Kenya Barris, creator of Black-ish. “I do think that there is a person who's been here before that speaks through her," Barris told NPR. "And I think that comes out in how she channels Diane and how she channels these characters that she becomes." Check out a funny celebration of her accomplishment in this TikTok video below.
Watch the 52nd Annual NAACP awards on BET on Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8/7C
(Photo by Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for BET)