Chances are, you grew up watching Persia White on TV. The Bahamian actress and artist was a teen star on Breaker High with Ryan Gosling, a manic pixie dream girl in Girlfriends with Tracee Ellis Ross, and a powerful witch on the Vampire Diaries.
Persia is also a force behind the camera, directing music videos and producing environmental documentaries like Earthlings and Whale Wars. (She also has mesmerizing, near-perfect hair in real life, which was a real distraction during our interview!)
Her next single, Vampire, drops on May 16th and she'll be appearing at the Vegan Women Summit in New York on May 19th. Until then, here’s what Persia wants you to know about being on the Girlfriends set, checking in with your body, and the best chocolate chip cookie she’s ever had.
When did you first start advocating for people and the planet?
I was called toward caring about the planet really early. 12 is when I became a vegetarian; I did nuclear bomb protests. I was very concerned about unhoused people, animal welfare, and I was just very shocked that the world wasn't as perfect as I thought when I was a little kid! As a teen I remember thinking, “Ok, I could be a politician, or I could be an entertainer.” But I knew I couldn’t keep my mouth shut enough to be a politician! [Laughing.] You know, I remember doing a poll in high school asking students, “Who’s the governor?” and “Who’s Madonna?” Well everyone knew who Madonna was but a huge percentage didn’t know who the governor was, or even the president. So I was like, “Well, I love the arts… so if everyone is paying attention to entertainers, I can become one, and use that to fuel my purpose.”
Has that sense of purpose helped or hurt your work in Hollywood?
Helped, 100%. People think it's fun to work in Hollywood, and of course, parts are amazing. But not having any anonymity and no privacy, that’s not pleasing at all. It's really stressful unless you have a purpose. So I find things like advocating for the planet can alleviate a lot of my frustration, because I know I’m working for the greater good.
What are some small steps that you recommend people take to connect with themselves and the planet?
I always tell people to start with yourself, and then you can expand out into the rest of the world. Especially women! Somewhere along the way, through childhood and sometimes then boyfriends and husbands and life, we lose track of caring for ourselves, and feeling good in our bodies. So I recommend starting right at the core, which is your body. I tell people to pick one toxic element to try and eliminate—just one!
Is that how you started?
I was like, “Huh, what if I give up dairy? Nothing else, just dairy.” I really recommend it, because your skin and your breathing changes, and then of course your environmental impact changes. But those bigger changes can’t happen until you take a small step towards them.
As a vegan, have you had any funny or hard moments where you’re meant to eat meat on camera? How do you handle it?
Oh, I got really lucky, because right at the beginning, I would suggest to the producers to make my character a vegan. On Girlfriends, I said, “Hey guys, wouldn’t it be fun if I’m vegan? Because you can make fun of my character every time she orders something. There’s always one friend at the restaurant in sitcoms who’s like, ‘I’m not eating leaves right now’ or something. So I said, “Just make it me!” I have had to explain to people that turkey and fish are meat, though. I was working in New Orleans, and the [caterers] were the sweetest people. But they thought since I was vegan, I could have a turkey burger instead of a beef burger.
You also direct and produce. How do you center wellness in your work?
I think visual storytelling with music is just so powerful! I think that's the most exciting thing ever, and when you work on something you love, that impacts your mental health in such a great way… But you have to be really intentional about what you're choosing to watch and what you're choosing to support.
On social media too, right?
Especially there! Social media can make you quite depressed, because you end up thinking, “Why isn’t my life better?” But I had this epiphany that if I followed nature accounts, and accounts where people were exploring nature, taking dives into the ocean, watching pandas roll around, that’s a beautiful thing and it makes me feel great!
Yeah! Studies show that looking at nature, even just on a screen, can boost your mood.
It’s so true. Interacting with nature, even in a small way, can be so positive. So if social media is robbing you of your time, or your confidence, I would encourage you to unfollow some accounts in your feed, and start finding windows into the natural world instead.
As a musician and music video director, do you have a favorite animal sound?
Some of the birds that are in Hawaii are unbelievable. My family and I moved there during the pandemic, and I started to think of the birds as instrumentalists of the environment. They're the ones that are making the soundtrack to the nature around you… Okay, also, I love dogs, so when they make those little sounds where it seems like they’re trying to talk to you? The snorts and the yips? I love them.
What’s your favorite way to avoid single-use plastic?
I have these really cute little bags that look like avocados and strawberries. They fold right up into my bigger bags, so when I go to any store, I can just pull them out. And because they’re so adorable, it feels like a little flair to say, “Voila!” and pull out this fabulous bag. It’s like an eco flair.
How do you navigate the fashion space?
I was really lucky because 11 or 12 years ago, I met a fashion designer named Linda Loudermilk. She taught me about fashion and how much organic fabric and secondhand fabric can do for the planet, and what happens when pesticides are used on cotton, things like that. Nowadays, there are so many more options and I’m so happy about that, but I feel like she’s one of the originals.
What’s your favorite vegan dessert?
The chocolate chip cookies from Sweets From the Earth are impossibly good. They taste like homemade chocolate chip cookies from when you were a kid, but they’re entirely vegan. I do not know how they do it. It’s magic.