Black History Month Spotlight: Marsai Martin

This year for Black History Month, we will be focusing on highlighting the amazing talent both on and off of the big screen. To kick this off, we will be focusing this article on the incredibly talented 17-year-old Marsai Martin.

Marsai Martin was born in small-town Plano, Texas, where she first launched her acting career. At only 5 years old, Martin was met with her first opportunity when shopping with her parents at a local mall. According to her father, Joshua Martin, they were on a family outing when a woman gave them a coupon for headshots. They signed Marsai up, and after the photos were taken, the photographer offered her parents a larger discount if her parents showed them around to talent agencies. Her parents agreed and submitted the photos to 4.

“3 of the 4 agencies said: ‘We already have a girl who looks like that,” said Carol Martin – Marsai’s mother. “Basically, ‘We already have our little Black girl. We don’t need 2 little Black girls – we have our 1.” However, number 4 seemed to do the trick.” From here, Martin landed her first national commercial, appearing in The Choice Hotel ad “Voice of the People.”


It wasn’t until 2013 that Martin relocated to Los Angeles with her family on the advice of her manager, and in less than a year, managed to secure a major national commercial with Meineke. It was that same year that Martin caught her big break, being cast as Diane Johnson on ABC’s hit comedy series Black-ish, along with a star-studded cast.

Figure 3 – Black-ish Cast

The show premiered in September 2014 and quickly became a fan favourite, along with the character of Diane Johnson – a feisty little girl with a big attitude and interesting outlook on life. According to the show’s creator, Kenya Barris, Marsai managed to make the character her own by the second episode; with limited formal training, she was a natural from the start. Now, with the show on its 8th season, Marsai Martin has some great experience for her resume, along with almost a dozen NAACP Image Awards, and a number of outside opportunities that have since come her way.

Figures 4 & 5 – Marsai Martin at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards


In 2019, Martin starred in her first studio feature film, the comedy Little, for Universal Pictures. At only 13 years old, she was the executive producer of the film, becoming the youngest person to ever produce a movie.

The movie focuses on tech mogul and professional mean girl, Jordan Sanders, who is magically transformed back into a nerdy 13-year-old version of herself. Martin plays the main character, but also came up with the idea. The film was inspired by the 1988 classic Big, starring Tom Hanks as a teenage boy who is magically transformed into an adult. According to Marsai, it was her favourite movie growing up.

“That [movie] was kind of when it started to get into my head, and just saying to myself: ‘What if we do this in a modern perspective?’” Marsai says. “And, ‘Maybe what if we do a female-empowerment, all-black-women cast?’ So, I started talking about that with my parents, and then that’s kind of how it got started.”

Figure 8 – Little Cast

At only 10 years old, Marsai ran the idea by her boss on Black-ish. According to Barris, she said, “‘Well, remember that movie Big? I want to do a movie called Little.’ And I was like, “I’m going to stop you right there.’ Nothing more needed to be said.”

What Comes Next?

In February 2019, Universal Pictures signed a first-look production deal with Genius Productions – the company Marsai and her parents run. Essentially, all the ideas they come up with, or anything they have in mind for TV or film must be pitched to Universal before they can pitch it elsewhere.

Martin currently has a number of projects in the works, including turning the book ‘Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston into a film. Marsai and her father will be producing the adaptation via Genuis Productions alongside Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman from Mandeville Films (‘Beauty and the Beast, ‘Wonder’). Marsai will be starring in the film as well.

In addition to her plans for the screen, Marsai Martin has officially established her own luxurious, high-quality, cruelty-free press-on nails and nail care line called MARI by Marsai. The business launched on February 2nd, boasting beautiful designs at an attainable price.

At only 17 years old, Marsai Martin has lots of time for exciting opportunities. However, don’t underestimate her. When Kenya Barris was asked where he sees her in 10 years, he laughed and replied “as my boss.” We can expect great things from this young star in the years to come!

Learn more about Black talent on-screen and behind-the-scenes with our other Black History Month spotlights:

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