TIME 100 Talks
July 16, 2020 8:48 PM EDT

Twenty years ago this month, Jill Scott debuted as a singular artist with her platinum-selling R&B album Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1. Since then, she has become a cultural icon of healing power and serenity, pursuing a career as an actress in projects like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, First Wives Club and Black-ish, winning a Grammy for her second album and publishing a poetry collection. In the last few months, she’s made waves on social media during her appearance on an Instagram Live Verzuz music battle opposite Erykah Badu and for shutting down a football player’s criticism, instead redirecting the conversation towards the fight for justice for Black women in the U.S.

“We can’t ignore what is happening in this country. It’s impossible. And to see people motivated to speak up, speak out, rise up, fight back and not sit down is motivational. And I enjoy being a part of it,” she said during a TIME100 Talks discussion. For Scott, art is an outlet. “I think it’s important that actors create plays and movies and films. And dancers dance out frustration. And writers write. And singers sing. And for people who’ve always been aware of what’s happening in society to continue to speak out, and continue to move forward. There’s a real possibility for this country to actually be great,” she said.

Scott also discussed the limitations that Black women in particular face in the entertainment industry. “Turn the channel and see how many characters Caucasian women can be,” she said. For Black women, that’s often not the case. “I would love, love to see more variety. It seems like the entertainment industry finds a thing, and they pick up on that thing, and they make six or seven other of that thing. That’s not fair.” Scott says these characters can be “shallow,” and it’s time to add “dimensions and dynamics” to Black female characters.

“I burn incense, but I also am proficient with my weapons,” she said. “You can be crazy and sane at the same damn time. You can be wealthy and loved but poor in character. You can be incredibly intelligent and lost in every step you take… It drives me crazy searching and trying to find roles. I’d like to play villains more. I’ve been a villain.”

Scott got her start as a spoken-word poet; her interest in exploring multiple different aspects of her creativity has never been in question. But fame, she said, is also not something she chased. “I didn’t do this, this art, for fame. It’s never been an interest of mine. I’ve done this because it felt right to my soul,” she said. “My second album was called Beautifully Human, which is the goal, isn’t it?”

That embrace of humanity is something that also seems to be missing in our justice system, however, which she alluded to, mentioning racist policing in the U.S. “Missing a stop sign is human,” she said. “It’s not a major infraction, and it’s not something that should cause your death.”

But despite the current upheaval in the country, Scott said she still has hope. “As long as the sun comes up, as long as the moon comes out, as long there’s stars in the sky, as long as I have oxygen in my lungs. Yeah, I got hope,” she said. Scott also shared a personal story and song performance for TIME100 Talks, and recited an original poem, titled “Reality.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

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