She was just a teenage actress when Morgan Freeman was wielding his bat in “Lean On Me” in the late 80’s. Today as a 40-something mother of two who runs her own production company, Johanna Tolentino has had to be the shoulder her career leans on while inspiring a new generation to believe that a helping hand can take you far.
Johanna enjoys the precious moments which collectively defined her years as a parent and actress. It wasn’t always so in the beginning. She is Afro-Puerto Rican and in the entertainment industry that means you get the junk roles. You either have to accept what comes or walk away as many do.
“I feel the challenges that I had to endure as a woman of color have impacted my life more so in strength and motivation to continue to go after my dreams.”
Impact. That’s what one wants to leave when taking on a role. Johanna took every role like it was her last. No role was too small or insignificant. They meant something to the woman who never took a forward step for granted. Every part she won was worthy of celebration.
“As an artist if all we do is sit and wait for the next gig/audition to come by, I feel you are wasting the gifts that were bestowed upon you,” Tolentino vehemently stated.
But the part that defined her career and announced in her soul that yes, this was the path she as meant to travel took place at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelpha. It was there was that she played Ginny in the play “Eliot a Soldier’s Fugue” by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
The pressure was increased as she realized she would play a character that was real and in addition would be viewed by the best friend and a family member of the real-life Ginny.
“I wanted to stay as genuine and truthful to Ginny,” Johanna recalled, “They both said my performance was spot on and they were very proud of the show.”
It was a personal moment that sustained her throughout the years in the entertainment desert. Fast forward to the present day and suddenly there is an appearance in the movie “Creed” and a credit as “Arlenis” in a show she was rejected for twice. As a follower of “Orange is the New Black” since its inception, Johanna could not help but be amused by the irony.
“When I got that call that I got the part, I felt like I had won a million dollars,” Johanna admitted, “It inspired me that no matter how many doors slammed in my face that I had to continue to pursue what I truly love to do and that is to be an actress.”
It is that relentlessness and refusal to be patient that led Tolentino to craft her own key to the doors that remained closed. “Whatever It Takes” was born. This web series was Johanna’s triple effort as writer, producer and director that gave other actors unique opportunities to showoff their wares.
“Our chances are very slim of getting an opportunity especially for Latino or people of color in general in this industry,” Johanna explained.
To get an insight into Johanna one can get a glimpse through the eyes of the main character, Rosaly Rojo and her family. A semi-biography of sorts. “The difficult decisions we all have to make when we are caught between our family and career. It is loosely based on my life and my family.” These decisions reflect the long-term planning that went into the creation of the production company Joyas Media LLC. that exposed this show to the light of day.
Johanna sees this company as a chance to open doors for herself as creator and other talents to do what she has, build a body of work that gets you noticed in more than one field if one so desires. It doesn’t stop there as her current projects are in progress. “I am in a feature film called Patty Cakes directed by Geremy Jasper. A webseries titled “At Risk” on You Tube, written and directed by Courtney Allen.”
Playing a nurse in a single episode of the TV series “The Blacklist” rounded out a two-year run of mainstream success but still in the shadows of the stars. But Johanna is ok with this. She has her own standards she measures herself by.
The struggle is real and every defeat is a learning process. Such was the case for women in the United States with the recent presidential loss of Hilary Clinton. It was a setback that went deep into the psyche of many female citizens who believed that things could be different. But if this election proved anything, it was the need to push back when the status quo threatens to box you in.
“I gave up being a well behaved woman a long time ago. My voice will be heard in English and Spanish. I will demand to get what I need and deserve.”
But does this extend to Hollywood, where change is slow and rare. As long as actresses like Johanna continue to feel the passion or the churning butterflies, they will continue to pitch and repitch ideas until they are accepted. They will not be overlooked for a cheaper option because they have a family to feed.
Tolentino is a woman, Latina, a woman of color, and a damn good actress and even better producer. What does the future hold for her and those who follow? What needs to be done? “I see and appreciate more television shows targeted for Latinos,” Johanna shared, “The representation of Latinos on film and television still needs improvement.”
To ensure that Latinos on screen evolve from hard labor workers to doctors, engineers, teachers and business owners it will take Latinos to write those stories. Johanna intends to use her mighty pen to cit through the swords of censorship.
“I will continue to work diligently as a content creator and writer to bring more of our stories to fruition. I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES!”