Customers always ask what the story is behind the Soap Box Presents. And you've probably already seen the woman who started it - Marija, she’s been the MC on the Soapbox hyping the crowd, spitting the spoken word and ensuring all the creatives got their shine. And the nights she wasn't MCing she’s been on the set of Black Panther movies. She’s definitely a force and the events have been a huge blessing for the community.
Tell us about you and your profession.
I'm from a small town in South Carolina. The thought of being on Broadway never crossed my mind as a child. (I've done 3 Broadway shows: The Lion King, After Midnight, and The Cher Show.) I surely never dreamt of being a Marvel superhero. (I was a Dora Milaje in the first Black Panther, in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and I just wrapped filming Black Panther 2 just over a month ago.) I've been dancing since I was 3 years old. I have a BFA from The Ailey School/Fordham University, an MA from NYU in performance studies, and I graduated from The William Esper Studios two year Meisner acting training program. My career continues to take me to places I'd never imagined but I'd unknowingly prepared for.
Why did you start The Soapbox Presents?
…I wanted to create a space to remind us that in spite of everything that is put upon the Black community, WE ARE A BRILLIANT PEOPLE. I wanted to amplify BLACK JOY as a form of protest and revolution and to help heal the pain by building community.
Where were you born and raised?
Southern Belle (baldhead and all). Columbia, South Carolina
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A Dancer...lucky me 😉
What was your first dope accomplishment before becoming an adult?
At 16, I moved to NYC to start college and pursue my dreams. (Sounds like a Lifetime movie, but that's what actually happened.)
Why did you move to Harlem?
To be around US. There is something so beautiful about living in a neighborhood that IS BLACK HISTORY.
What have you discovered about yourself during the pandemic?
When I'm stressed I cook A LOT of cornbread and smother everything in gravy. It was the comfort of home for me.
Can you share the consistent acknowledgment Soapbox has received?
We've gotten recognized by the United Nations for our work, received grants from the Mellon Foundation and NYFA, and gotten coverage from PIX 11 and News 12 as well. But seeing the neighborhood grandmas set out their chairs an hour before we start, seeing the artists engage with the kids (letting them play their instruments), building community...that's the most significant acknowledgment.
Your biggest moment working on the first Black Panther film?
Seeing how BP1 encouraged little Black girls. Seeing them sport their bantu knots and Afro's with such pride in Dora Milaje costumes. Feeling the impact of that was amazing!
What is your most treasured possession?
My name, Marija Juliette Abney.
How have you developed as an actor working in the Marvel series?
Chadwick was an incredible person. He was a leader and retrospectively it seems like he knew, better than anyone, the potential impact of Black Panther. He advocated for Black Panther to have an African accent, he led us in chants during scenes in Avengers making sure our culture was always heard. He fearlessly took up space and led our cast to do the same. He was for his people. He was not a god or an actual hero. He was a man. I say that to say, shouldn't we all, as men and women aspire to change the world as he did?
What series are you watching on Netflix or Prime?
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Apple TV. Guilty Pleasure: Love is Blind, Netflix (ssshhhhh...don't tell anyone).
Your superpower is?
Being a Black Woman and finding laughter, love, and success.
The best advice was ever given to you.
Ice Cream Cone or Cup?
Waffle Cone every time.
How do you self-care?
I like to gym (yep it's verb for me). Starting the day working out gives me clarity.
Who are you fangirling over these days?
Like crushing on?!? Ummm...no one really.
Prince or Michael Jackson?
Oooooo, tough one. Judging on art alone Prince as an artist, MJ as an entertainer.
Is Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) coming back in the new Black Panther 2 film?
What happens in Wakanda stays in Wakanda.
In one word…..Harlem is…?
BRILLIANT. BEAUTIFUL. BLACK.