If there’s one thing that we learned about Yetide Badaki, who plays Bilquis on American Gods, is that she’s a goddess on screen and off. She is the kind of introspective, kind, and nuanced actor that sets the stage for change when it comes to Black stories being told. And in her time on American Gods she’s managed to shine bright and stand tall amongst a cast of strange, wonderful, and intriguing characters. See? Goddess.
We got a change to speak with Badaki about her time on American Gods, what she’s learned about herself, and what’s up next for her in the Starz series. Warning: If you weren’t in love with her before, you will be after this!
Fangirlish: What will your journey be like this season, considering what we saw of Bilquis in episode one?
Yetide Badaki: So you see at the beginning of this season that she’s in this place of all these walls coming in where certain individuals are coming to collect on what they feel are debts that are owed. We’re seeing the fact that many individuals want to…they want to define for her, what she should be and what she should be doing. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that this season, Bilquis really finds her drive. And there’s a definitive answer to this question of, “Which side will she join?” But it may be an answer that surprises many people.
Fangirlish: It’s really interesting to see her grow from season one to be in this position of power. Everybody wants Bilquis and she’s super powerful. How did you feel about that?
Yetide Badaki: She is often underestimated. And speaking of the journey, the first season we saw her just trying to survive, simply survive. Second season, she starts to thrive and find her space. And in this third season, we finally see her find her drive. It is a case of, “Two steps forward, one step back” because there’s so much of this self discovery journey that is so necessary for her to fully step into her power.
As far as underestimating, I think that’s something that happens to women across the board. I think that’s something that resonates with a lot of women. That there is this underestimation. And that, time and time again, we see it in so many areas where it is shown that not only we are part of this whole fabric but in many ways we are part of it pushing forward. So I’d like to see that reflected in Bilquis as well.
Fangirlish: How is Bilquis changing the narrative when it comes to Black women and their journeys on TV?
Yetide Badaki: That is an incredible question. I’m actually getting goosebumps right now. [laughter] I mean, we already touched on underestimation. How many times are Black women underestimated? How many times do we see Black women rise up, time and time again, even with all of the underestimation but also with other pressures put on them. But one thing this season, that I’m very excited about…and maybe I’m giving a little bit of a tease here….one of my favorite moments was when we see Bilquis have a moment to breathe. We see a Black woman in a state of ease. A moment that isn’t rooted in trauma. A moment where she gets to be soft and exist in joy. And I think that is so incredibly important.
It’s so important to see on the screen. And I refer back to Rachel Cargle, where I first heard this term from, where she said that to see a Black woman in a state of relaxation is revolutionary. And so, I’m very excited that we get to see that portrayed this season of American Gods with Bilquis.
Fangirlish: To often, in marginalized communities this this one of the Latinx community which I’m a part of, our stories are told through pain. To hear that about that change when it comes to Bilquis and her story is amazing.
Yetide Badaki: And that’s the thing, you understand the position of being othered. This is something a lot of people have experienced through the years. And it’s not to say that there isn’t pain. It exists and I think as long as you’re portraying…there needs to be a balance to show that this is not the only state, people that have traditionally been othered, have existed.
What I love about this journey is that you do see her in some deep valleys as she goes through this painful transformation. But we see on the other side of that. And we see the lightness and the joy there. And I think that’s really important.
Fangirlish: How will Bilquis and her story tie in with Shadow Moon?
Yetide Badaki: The wonderful thing about this season of American is that we see all of these characters that we’ve grown to love. We see all of them go on this journey, this self discovery journey; learning more about themselves and evolving themselves in order to evolve the whole. We see this, not only with Shadow Moon, we see this with Cordelia, played by the lovely Ashley Reyes. We see it with Technical Boy. We see it with Salim. We see it with Laura Moon. With Wednesday. We see all of these characters go on these self discovery journeys.
And we see our wonderful Shadow Moon, played by the incredible Ricky Whittle, also going through this journey. And as he’s learning more about himself, he’s learning more about his ancestry. In that, there is a tie with Bilquis because she’s going back into her past. She’s learning more about her ties to her family that exist here. And this is a very intimate connection between the two.
Fangirlish: As cheesy as this sounds, what parts of yourself do you see in Bilquis?
Yetide Badaki: I might turn that around a little bit in that Bilquis has taught me a lot. So, in whether or not she’s bringing out facets that already existed in me or that I’ve been absorbing from her…the idea that you don’t have to be drawn into other individuals expectations of you. You are not the labels that others choose for you. The idea that there are universes that exist within, we see literal representation of that with Bilquis. We’ve seen that in previous seasons.
It is deeply relevant and I see it happen a lot for people that have been othered, for women in general, where people want to choose one side of them and say this is who they are. And I’ve experienced that in a lot of ways too. Ok, you’re this thing. But there are universes. There are so many parts to me. And Bilquis, getting to play her, really brought that to the forefront.
I also joke that she has influenced the fact where their are now moments in my life where I say, “Ok, you know what? Now I gotta get my Queen of Sheba on. I’m going to lean into this.” I do feel like I need to step up. I do need to step against what may have been considered a status quo. So she’s really influenced my ideology in the way that I…for one…I forgo expectations. And I’m not afraid to go against the status quo.
I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind on these things when I say, “This is what’s really important.” Especially, in regards to connection, to empathy, and to things to me that really matter. She has influenced this whole sense of fully stepping into and standing up for what I believe.
American Gods airs Sundays on Starz.