Time for another #TBT! On the second Thursday of each month, we’ll release a past celeb cover story from our print-only archives. For this round, we’re throwin’ it back to spring 2017 with Chandler Kinney.
By Andréa Butler| Photographed by Benjo Arwas | Hair by Tiffany Daughtery | Makeup by Kristina Brown | Styled by Dion Bleu Drake
She may not hold court, but Chandler Kinney represents with the skills of the most talented lawyer — using her platform to empower, inspire, and give voice to Black girls everywhere. Read on as the Lethal Weapon star chops it up about her burgeoning career, activism, and desire to help girls like her find and embrace their magic.
Chandler Kinney is clear — she does what she does for the culture. “There’s not a ton of representation in the media and on TV for girls like me,” she says. “I love acting ‘cause I get to be that for someone.”
Someone like she used to be (and still is), sitting on the other side of the screen, searching for a face similar to her own, for a character she can really identify with. “It’s important to me because I wanted that when I was younger,” Chandler says. “I want to be relatable and be that someone that a young, African-American girl can look at her TV and say, ‘Hey! She looks like me, and she probably understands how I feel.’”
That’s why the 16-year-old* California native is selective when it comes to accepting roles, opting for ones that lean more toward inspiring and less toward prejudicial typecasting — from guest spots on the reboot of 90210, American Horror Story, and Girl Meets World to a series regular role on Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. None of which have reduced her #BlackGirlMagic to a tired cliché, even though that’s what some reps in the industry would have had her believe impossible to avoid.
“When I was still kind of entering the business, I was told that I would eventually, inevitably have to play that stereotypical Black girl. You know, like head-rolling, smack-talking Black girl,” Chandler shares. “That was really eye-opening for me, and just the thought that they thought that I would 100 percent have to play a stereotypical Black girl in my career, I was shocked!”
A few short years later, Chandler continues to prove them wrong, booking her current gig on FOX’s Lethal Weapon as Riana Murtaugh, a regular teen girl going through regular teen girl things like school, dating, sibling rivalry, and even sexting. “With the growth of social media and peer pressure in general, especially for teenagers, it’s so relevant right now,” she says. “Things like that happen every day.”
ICYMI, in that particular episode, as the Murtaughs were having a new Smart TV installed, Riana’s dad decided to test out the network connectivity feature, pulling up several family photos. An unexpected one of Riana flexin’ more than just her complexion popped up revealing a lot, including the fact that she’d texted the pic to her bf.
To prep for that scene, Chandler had to legit snap the shot on her cell. “It was actually really hard for me to do,” she giggles. “I’m a little bit more reserved than my character. She’s a little bit more rebellious, edgy, kinda walking the line.” Fortunately, she rolls with the coolest crew, who gave her plenty of time to get her mind right for the pic, explaining to her and her mom exactly how filming was going to go. “When I took the picture, it was literally just in a bathroom with me, my mom, one woman to hold the light, and one woman photographer,” Chandler says. “But I knew that later, it would go on to millions of people around the world, so it was still nerve-wracking.”
In the end, though, being able to relay an important message about respecting yourself, your body, and being safe in general was well worth it to Chandler. “Hopefully, to all the teenagers that watched, they were able to at least relate to my character, and identify with her and learn something.”
Off-screen, Chandler stays collecting #receipts on her activist endeavors. For one, she founded Chandler’s Friends, an organization that seeks to help disadvantaged kids in any way. An example of how they give back is by creating handmade fleece blankets for foster children, gifts Chandler finds akin to “a warm hug”. “A lot of times when [foster children] are taken from their homes, they don’t get to take anything,” she says. “They’re just brought in the middle of the night to a home [where] they don’t know anybody there, and they don’t have their own stuff, and it’s a really scary process.” Her org also collabed with toy brand Hasbro during the holidays to wrap gifts for 300 homeless kids, a number she’s sure to try and one-up next season. She’s kind of competitive that way.
In fact, the whole reason she got into tae kwon do was because her two older brothers were in it, and she was not about to let them show her up. “I was like, if you’re gonna do it, I’m gonna do it, too. And then, it became something I really love to do.” Chandler says. “It’s a great way to learn self-defense, and I think that’s so important, especially for young, teenage girls … It also teaches the importance of responsibility and humility.”
Four years and a first-degree black belt later, Chandler also participates in tae kwon do competitions — not the sparring style, though, because, you know, her job. “My mom was like, ‘If you get a black eye, I’m gonna be so mad,’” she laughs. Instead, Chandler competes in Poomsae mode, in which she’s judged on performance, technique, and precision during 30- to 60-second routines. Her competitive dance background (experience she’s been racking up since the age of 3), definitely helps her win that slay.
Her penchant for performing isn’t relegated to TV and martial arts. Recently, while on that #CarefreeBlackGirl tip, Chandler let her talents loose in, well, a different type of venue. “I was in a restaurant, and I was having a good day,” she begins. “I was belting out the chorus to a song, and I was surprised — someone else was in the bathroom, and I was like, what the heck?!” The title of said song has since escaped her (“I don’t even remember it! It was a good song, though!”), but that hilarious moment will forever be emblazoned in her memory. “They laughed, and I turned my head and I was like, ‘Where’d that come from,’ and that’s when I realized someone else was in the stall,” she explains. “So, then I went into a stall, and I had to awkwardly wait until they left the bathroom, and then I left. I gave them a couple seconds to walk away, so they wouldn’t see who came out.” Still, she wouldn’t hesitate to throw down another track in the same situation. “I mean, if you have the bathroom to yourself, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna belt it out. You’re gonna sing it,” Chandler says, adding that she was not ashamed to also be moving with the beat. “But they didn’t see that part. I was legit dancing.”
And while she has no plans to go pro on the music front, she does intend to get that degree on lock. Her dream school? Yale. “The college experience is something I definitely want to have,” Chandler says. She admits, though, that she may have to take at least one gap year. Right now, she’s finishing up her junior year of high school, and season two of her show will be kicking off in the fall. “If we’re really lucky and Lethal Weapon gets to go on for five seasons, I’d have to postpone [college] a little bit, but I still really want to go.”
Until then, she’ll stay on that acting grind, working to break down barriers that still exist for Black girls in the biz, as many have done before her. “I’m in [this business] for myself, and I’m also in it for other people,” she says. “I want to break through those walls, so they don’t have to break through that wall; they can just walk through. That’s my one thing I would say that fueled my passion for wanting to be there for other girls and be that role model.”
*Chandler was 16 years old when her cover interview was first published in our spring 2017 issue.