I (Sujata Day) am from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I did plays and musicals starting in elementary school and throughout college. I got my engineering degree and moved to Los Angeles to work for a consulting firm. I took acting classes, got headshots, and found an agent. I booked three national commercials in a row after getting laid off from my consulting gig. I met Issa Rae on Twitter ten years ago and played her best friend on Awkward Black Girl. I continued to work with Issa on HBO’s Insecure. And I’ve been creating my own content, both in film and television.
Your debut feature film, Definition Please, is currently touring the film festival circuit. What is Definition Please about and how did this movie come to be?
Definition Please follows a former spelling bee champ still struggling to make good on her childhood promise while contending with a complex family life. I won my fourth grade spelling bee, and went on to regionals to lose in the first round by misspelling radish. I spelled it with two d’s instead of one. The loss haunts me to this day, so I made a movie based on that premise.
Definition Please centers on an Indian-American family, and speaks a lot to their cultural identity. How did your own cultural identity and experiences influence this story?
I grew up around many South Asian-American families and was very in touch with my Indian heritage growing up. I went to Hindu summer camp, took Bharatnatyam classes, and had close Indian friends. I think it took me about a month to write the first draft and then, of course, many months of getting notes from trusted friends and family and rewriting. The film is not autobiographical but still deeply personal to me. I wanted to convey a very American story with a family who just happens to be South Asian-American.
You are a multi-talented artist (performer/creator/writer/director)—how do you balance these different hats? Are there more similarities or differences in how you approach projects when taking on these different roles?
I’m really good at time management. I have a planner that I write in where I make my list of things to do and cross them off as I complete them. I feel very accomplished when I cross things off, no matter how small. The key is to have a great team around you for support. My amazing cast and crew really made all the difference in allowing me to focus on whatever particular hat I had to wear at the time. I approach everything similarly, methodically, and with 100 percent focus.
What inspires you? Do you have any role models?
I’m inspired by Black women in entertainment who have paved the way for all women of color like Issa Rae, Tracy Oliver, Ava DuVernay, and more. Some I’ve worked with, some I haven’t. I’m inspired by their tenacity to stay in this business even after so much rejection. It inspires me to keep going and tell the stories I want to tell.
Is there anything you wish you knew when you were beginning to perform and create? Is there any piece of advice you’d want to share with other aspiring young Asian artists just starting out?
Don’t worry about perfection. Just make the thing and get your work out there.
This time of COVID-19 and the rise of anti-Asian hate has been difficult for the whole Overachiever community. How have you been coping with this time?
I give myself a break, especially from social media. I’m on text chats with different groups of friends and we support each other.
In a similar vein, what does self-care mean to you? How do you take care of yourself?
I sleep a lot. I get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
What item(s) can you not leave your house without?
Any good films/TV shows you’re watching right now?
The Larry Sanders Show
Ultimate comfort food?
What has been the highlight of your day today?
My homemade chai
What is upcoming for you in your life and your work?
I have a TV series in development, and I’m pitching my second feature.
With her infectious personality and unique sense of humor, Pittsburgh native Sujata Day has established herself in Hollywood as a multi-hyphenate performer, creator, writer, and director. She honed her improv comedy and sketch-writing skills at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and regularly performs in UCB’s hit Asian AF show. Sujata is known for her starring role as CeCe in Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. She has recurred for three seasons on HBO’s Insecure. Sujata is a Sundance Lab screenwriting fellow, Sundance Film Festival influencer, and HBO Visionaries Ambassador. Her narrative short film, Cowboy and Indian, sold to a major studio for series development with Sujata writing, executive producing and starring.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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