Gabourey Sidibe was 8 years old when she discovered her father had a second family. Her mother, a New York City subway performer and singer, had no idea, either.
Sidibe addresses the relationship with her parents, and how their influence shaped her, in her new autobiography “This Is Just My Face.” The Academy Award-nominated actress best known for her roles as Precious in the movie “Precious” and Becky on the FOX show “Empire,” discussed her book and personal relationships while visiting SJC Brooklyn as part of the Brooklyn Voices series.
“My father is a Senegalese man. In Senegal, men tend to have more than one wife at a time. They don’t do that as much in America,” she said, generating an uproar of laughter from the audience.
“And so my father’s first wife is my mom, who’s American, and his second wife is Senegalese, like him. He married her when I was 5. But my family didn’t know until I was 8. So there was some overlap. I wrote about this because it was the dissolving of my parents marriage.”
The act of writing started out small. Sidibe was working on an essay about confidence, when she discovered the exercise was serving a more therapeutic purpose than she had realized. For Sidibe, who struggled with depression for most of her adult life, putting her fingers to the keyboard was welcomed medicine.
“I wrote an essay about how upset I am when I’m asked about my confidence,” said Sidibe, who recently lost a significant amount of weight and was undiagnosed with diabetes. “People think they’re saying ‘How are you so confident?’ What they’re really saying is ‘How are YOU so confident?’ as if I’m not supposed to be.
I wrote things that bothered me, so that by the last sentence of the chapter I would feel better. And absolved from whatever hurt or emotions are going on with me.”
“I started to write about my frustration with this and I realized that I felt so alleviated while writing the last sentence than I did writing the first. My psyche was at work, and it was getting better. And that’s what I did with this book. I wrote things that bothered me so that by the last sentence of the chapter I would feel better. And absolved from whatever hurt or emotions are going on with me.”
From her early career as a phone sex operator to her breakthrough role 10 years ago as Precious, Sidibe relayed her life experience to the Tuohy Auditorium as a Brooklyn-born success story. Now, transitioning to film making as well, Sidibe began the evening by debuting a trailer for her directorial debut, “The Tale of Four” a multi-layered story inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women.”
“The most important thing to me is to know that I’m seen. And not in the famous way. I want to know that you understand who I am. I want to know that you can see me. And writing the book has given me the gift of seeing my father.”