In the role of Tracy "Bird" Van Adams on the Showtime cable television program Soul Food from 2000 through 2004, actress Malinda Williams became famous as a cast member in the longest-running African-American television drama in history. The show marked a breakthrough for Williams, whose steadily rising career trajectory had impressed television executives who took note of her versatility. As Williams looked to new projects after the end of Soul Food's run, she seemed to have unlimited possibilities. "Malinda has a career as an actress ahead of her—not an African-American actress," executive Felicia Henderson told Denene Millner of Honey magazine. "She is one of the few actresses who can play [age] 15 to 30, can play dramatic as well as comedy. Every door should be open to her and I think that will happen."
Williams was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, outside of New York City, on December 3, 1975. Like her character in Soul Food, she was the youngest of three sisters. Williams broke into the entertainment industry as a child, making her television debut in a 1987 episode of The Cosby Show and appearing in 1990 in another Cosby episode and on Miami Vice. She took classes at New York's Actors Conservatory, and in 1993 she landed a major role in the HBO miniseries Laurel Avenue. An acting career didn't seem to be a promising prospect at the time, however, and Williams went to cosmetology school and got a job in a nail salon.
Benefited from Youthful Appearance
It was encouragement from Williams's Laurel Avenue costar Charles Dutton that changed her mind. Williams packed her bags and headed for Hollywood. Her acting career didn't exactly skyrocket, but she began to find small film and television roles almost immediately. Parts in the Martin Lawrence comedy A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1995) and in the television series Moesha in 1996 helped pay the bills. One thing Williams had going for her was a naturally youthful appearance that allowed her to keep playing teenagers even as she was well into her third decade. "Part of it is genes," she explained to Tonya Pendleton of Heart & Soul. "I got it from my mom and my dad. And spiritedness is the key. I don't worry about anything. Negativity will wear you down and make you sick and old."
Another key to Williams's positive attitude at the time was her growing romance with actor Mekhi Phifer, who had won the lead in Spike Lee's film Clockers without benefit of formal acting studies. The two were introduced by a friend, and love bloomed when both appeared in the 1996 comedy High School High. After they dated for several years, Phifer proposed to Williams on New Year's Eve of 1998. Williams soon learned that she was pregnant, and the two were married in a wedding chapel on Valentine's Day of 1999.
In the meantime, Williams was actively involved in searching for a role that would make her a familiar face. It was a slow process, and at one point she was told (according to Essence) that she couldn't act her way out of a shoebox. Persistence brought Williams a recurring role in the series Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher in 1997 and 1998, and two films with good-sized roles for Williams appeared in 1999: in The Wood she played opposite actor Omar Epps as the ex-girlfriend of his character, and art imitated life as she played Phifer's girlfriend in An Invited Guest. Williams was frustrated by the low visibility of African Americans in the entertainment industry. "There simply aren't enough roles for black actresses here," she told Essence. "Sisters need to write their own screenplays," she said—and she worked on two of them, one of which told the story of the post-Civil War Freedmen's Savings Bank.
Crossed Border Daily to See Son
The year 2000 was a hectic one for Williams, but it was also the year things came together as she was signed to play the role of Bird in Soul Food. She had given birth to Omikaye, her son by Phifer. Filming on Soul Food took place in Toronto, Canada, and Williams formed a strong bond with co-stars Nicole Ari Parker and Vanessa Williams as the three lived and worked together in Toronto. Malinda Williams's nanny was unable to obtain a permit to work in Canada, so Williams made daily trips to Niagara Falls, New York—the nearest American city—to be with her new baby after a full day of work. "She had to spend most of her time on the road, and then she had to act during a first season where everything—hair, makeup, scripts—was heavily scrutinized," Vanessa Williams recalled to Pendleton. "And she was processing a very public breakup."
For it was true—Williams's marriage to Phifer began to fall apart after she found a phone number in their car, dialed it, and heard a woman answer, "Hey, baby!" The couple went to counseling, but further strains sank the marriage after Phifer didn't show up to see the birth of their child. (Phifer for his part told Millner that Williams had been unsupportive of his career, and that "I got love for her; I respect her. But we just weren't made for each other.") They hung on several years but were divorced in 2003.
Things were much more positive for Williams on the career front as Soul Food became a hit. With its mix of family dramas, love stories, career-related storylines, and insight into the African-American experience, the show locked up a strong black weekly viewership and broke out to a wider audience. Williams's character Bird was a hair salon owner married to Lem, an ex-convict who found work managing a grocery store. Bird's experiences formed a contrast with those of her older sister Teri, a career-driven lawyer, and the role came naturally to Williams. "Every family has a baby," she pointed out to Jet. "She [Bird] is still finding her way. In the end of the [final] season, she really fights for her place as that person who thinks she's found her way and makes her own decisions and sticks with them…. It's a great transition."
Performed Own Stunts
At the beginning of Soul Food's run, Williams was resented by some fans of the film on which the series was based; some felt that she was unqualified to replace film star Nia Long in the role of Bird. By the time Soul Food wrapped up five successful years in 2004, she was a familiar face herself. She threw herself into the role of Bird, even once doing her own stunts during a volatile episode in which she was pursued by a stalker, a former high school teacher with whom she had an affair.
At a Glance …
Born December 3, 1975, in Elizabeth, NJ; married Mekhi Phifer, an actor, 1999 (divorced 2003); children: one son. Education: Studied at Actors Conservatory, New York.
Career: Actor, 1987–; Modern Goddess, lingerie line, 2006.
Awards: Two NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, 2003 and 2004 (for Soul Food); Black Reel Award nomination for Best Actress, 2000 (for The Wood).
Addresses: Agent—West Entertainment, 6255 West Sunset Blvd., Suite 923, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
Williams's prospects looked strong as she looked to new opportunities after Soul Food ended. On the personal front, she began dating again and took up snowboarding. "If I'm having a funky day, I'm like, 'oooh, I need to go ride,'" she told Pendleton. It's sort of a metaphor for life." New acting projects for Will-iams included the film Idlewild, an ambitious Prohibition-era musical that was finished and ready for release in 2006. That year Williams branched out beyond acting to launch a line of lingerie and intimate accessories called Modern Goddess. With a solid footing in Hollywood and her new venture, Williams would likely continue to prosper.
A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, 1996.
High School High, 1996.
An Invited Guest, 1999.
The Wood, 1999.
Dancing in September, 2000.
Laurel Avenue (miniseries), 1993.
Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, 1997–98.
Soul Food, 2000–04.
Boston Herald, February 24, 2004, p. 37.
Essence, June 1999.
Heart & Soul, February/March 2006.
Honey, June/July 2003.
Jet, February 16, 2004, p. 54.
New York Times, June 24, 2001, p. AR25.
Variety, August 16, 2004, p. 6.
Vibe, February 2006.
"Malinda Williams," Internet Movie Database, www.imbd.com (April 5, 2006).
"Williams, Malinda." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-malinda
"Williams, Malinda." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-malinda
Williams, Malinda 1975–
WILLIAMS, Malinda 1975–
(Malinda C. Williams)
Born December 3, 1975, in Elizabeth, NJ; married Mekhi Phifer (an actor; divorced, September 2002); children: Omi. Education: Studied at The Actor's Conservatory, New York City.
Agent—Agency West Entertainment, 6255 West Sunset Blvd., Suite 923, Los Angeles, CA 90028; A.P.A., 9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90069; Paradigm, 360 N. Crescent Dr., North Bldg., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Manager—Washington Square Arts, 1041 North Formosa Ave., Writers Bldg., Suite 305, West Hollywood, CA 90046; Leverage Management, 1610 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90404.
Black Reel Award nomination, theatrical—best actress, 2000, for The Wood; Image Award nominations, outstanding actress in a drama series, 2003, 2004, both for Soul Food.
Erica, A Thin Line between Love and Hate (also known as A Thin Line between Love & Hate), New Line Cinema, 1996.
Cheryl, Sunset Park, TriStar, 1996.
Natalie Thompson, High School High, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 1996.
Malinda, Damn Whitey (short film), HBO Films, 1997.
Tammy, An Invited Guest (also known as An Uninvited Guest), Trimark Pictures, 1999.
Rhonda, The Girls' Room, 1999 Alicia, The Wood, Paramount, 1999.
Rhonda, Dancing in September, 2000.
Zora, Speakerboxxx, HBO Films, 2005.
Television Appearances; Series:
Voice of Michelle, Captain Planet and the Planeteers (animated; also known as The New Adventures of Captain Planet), TBS, 1990.
Tasha Morrison, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, 1997–98.
Tracy "Bird" Van Adams, Soul Food, 2000–2004.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Sheila Arnett, Laurel Avenue, HBO, 1993.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Alex Bing, What about Your Friends?, CBS, 1995.
The 13th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, syndicated, 1998.
Soul Train Christmas Starfest, syndicated, 2000.
The 32nd NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2001.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
(As Malinda C. Williams) Taylor, Moesha, UPN, 1996.
Aziza, Momz' Home, UPN, 1996.
Adrea Young, Outreach, The WB, 1999.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Althea Logan, "Calling Doctor Huxtable," The Cosby Show, NBC, 1987.
Shayna, "Denise Kendall, Singles Counselor," The Cosby Show, NBC, 1990.
Lynette, "Too Much, Too Late," Miami Vice, NBC, 1990.
Celina, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father," Roc, Fox, 1993.
(As Malinda C. Williams) Candi, "Dad," South Central, Fox, 1994.
Candi, "Gun: Part 1," South Central, Fox, 1994.
Yvette, "The Substitute," My So–Called Life, ABC, 1994.
(As Malinda C. Williams) Tyra, "Get a Job," Sister, Sister, ABC, 1994.
Tyra, "Field Trip," Sister, Sister, ABC, 1995.
Zora Ward, "Them That Has …," The Client (also known as John Grisham's The Client), CBS, 1995.
(As Malinda C. Williams) Taylor, "Sixteen," Moesha, UPN, 1996.
Taylor, "Basket Case," Moesha, UPN, 1996.
Annette Morris, "Ted and Carey's Bogus Adventure," NYPD Blue, ABC, 1996.
Lashawn, "The Feminine Mystique," Dangerous Minds, ABC, 1997.
Bianca, "La Vida Loca," Movie Stars, The WB, 2000.
Myra, "The Big Much 'I Do' about Nothing Episode," Half & Half, UPN, 2003.
Herself, Mad TV, Fox, 2003.
Rennee, "A.K.A.," The District, CBS, 2004.
"Play Ball," The Division, Lifetime, 2004.
Lori–Ann Dufoy, "Careless," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (also known as Law & Order: SVU), NBC, 2004.
Rennee, "The Black Widow Maker," The District, CBS, 2004.
Also appeared as Shanelle, "When Yussel Learned to Yodel," The John Larroquette Show, NBC.
Herself and production assistant, Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair, 1996.
G Unit's Young Buck, "Shorty Wanna Ride," 2004.
Essence, June, 1999.
Variety, August 16, 2004.
"Williams, Malinda 1975–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-malinda-1975
"Williams, Malinda 1975–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-malinda-1975