Marsai Martin on Serving as Mentor for Disney Dreamers Academy, Advice to Young Dreamers, and Representation on Television

Marsai Martin is one of the dozens of celebrities participating as a mentor at Walt Disney World Resort's Disney Dreamer's Academy (DDA) 2023. The annual event brings 100 students from around the country for an immersive career-inspiring weekend designed to broaden career awareness and create exclusive enrichment opportunities for high school students from diverse communities nationwide.

Disney Dreamers are introduced to new opportunities, including career sessions that teach valuable life tools, leadership skills, effective communication techniques, and networking strategies. Students also partake in in-depth workshops that align with their specific disciplines in dreams throughout the fields of business, entertainment, and sciences, and even career opportunities within The Walt Disney Company.

Martin is best known for her role as Diane Johnson on the ABC sitcom black-ish. She's also the youngest person in Hollywood to ever produce a film, Little, via her own production company. As one of Time Magazine's "Time 100 Next," and as someone who has been in the industry well before her tween years, Martin knows all about pursuing dreams at a young age. was among a handful of media invitees to this year's DDA event. We chatted with Martin about her involvement in the program, Disney's diversity and inclusion efforts, and much more. 

PC: Your black-ish co-star Yara Shahidi was just announced as the new Tinkerbell, and there's all this Black girl magic going on with Disney right now with Halle Bailey as Ariel and H.E.R. as Belle. But there's also a lot of backlash regarding how Black women are being included with becoming a part of the iconic Disney brand. As a younger person in this industry who faces so much criticism, how do you guys lean on one another amid controversy and remain a part of one another's village?

MM: Well, we mind our business. That's usually what we've learned to do. It's mainly just social media that is an open door for everybody to feel like they have an opinion on something and to tell their emotions, so hopefully, somebody backs them up. It just creates one big negative space.

So we've learned to, well, I know I have, but I really learned to just ignore it and keep it pushing. And also doing what you love, those are the voices that you hear. And I think it's amazing. I feel like people just have to be quiet and let it be. And Disney isn't going to mess up anything, it's their brand. So I think it's amazing. 

Halle being able to be The Little Mermaid, it's honestly the perfect fit. And I cannot wait for people to see her shine in this because she's truly a genuine, sweet, kind person at heart. And it was only right. And the same thing with Yara. I mean, it was only right, everything happens for a reason, and I feel like a lot of people got to know that.

Media question: As someone who has been in the industry since they were a child, can you give us the advice that you want the Dreamers to take away? What one thing do you want them to know from you?

MM: I would say it's OK to be scared. It's OK to feel all these emotions that you feel. I mean, that's what social media does, it's always followers thinking that everybody is hype all the time, and they just constantly win and stuff. But that's really not real life. So it's OK to feel nervous or overwhelmed by a certain thing that you really want to happen. And it's OK to also feel like you don't want to do it because of how overwhelming it can be.

But the beauty in it is just going for it. The beauty in it is really just finding what you love. It doesn't matter what you feel, that's your passion. And it'll be beautiful and so incredibly worth it in the end. I know a lot of people sa, "It's worth it in the end."

But you'll also see that the climb is something that's only your story, and a story that only you can tell. And that will be the beauty in it, looking back at just what you created and what you grew up to be. And yeah, it's OK to feel all the emotions, and that's normal.

Don't let that stop you from doing what you love and finding your passion. Even voices that you hear, don't let that stop you. If it's something that you genuinely think could happen for yourself and dreams that you have, and when you wake up, it's something different. Make that a reality, and you can make that a reality. It's 2023. The possibilities are endless. I'm here talking to you guys today, and I grew up the same way every other dreamer out there grew up. So that's what I'm saying.

Media question: What's one thing you were told that you couldn't do that you wanted to do when you were younger?

MM: Wear heels. Wear heels, red lipstick, black nails (laughs). That was what I was told. Listen, my parents are very – they're very real, but they're also very protective, and they're always around. I'm 18, they're still around. They always keep me safe and protected.

But they also know that when I really want to do something, I'll go for it, and they'll be like, "All right, go ahead. We here right beside you if anything happens or anything falls." And that's how I know I'll be OK in any space that I am in, and hearing from them, it's built something in me to also help myself up when I go back down.

So there's not really anything in particular that my parents were like, "No, don't do it." Or my family was like, no – well, probably some aunties that were like, "Nah, she can't do that." But probably now that I'm here, they're like, "Girl, I knew you can do it. Remember I told you you can do it." No, you didn't. It's OK. It's OK, though. But it happens. But keeping that immediate tight support system around me has always helped me in the end.

Media question: If you were not doing what you're doing now, what is it that you would be doing?

MM: Realistically, I'd probably go to college and find my path like every other person. I'd still probably go to college, but I'm not sure. I really don't know. Because right now, I'm doing all the things that I probably would've done if I didn't take this path. Like real estate, or I love real estate right now. Homes are my jam. I love building and real estate

PC: Obsessed with HGTV?

MM: Yeah, literally, I've been everywhere recently, and that's been my main focus right now while I've been down.

Media question: You are constantly making history in what you're doing in Hollywood. What is one piece of advice that you want to give a young person who finds themselves being the youngest in a lot of their adult-led spaces?

MM: Oh, I would say it's always great to be the first. It's always great to be seen in that way. Listen, as long as you are seen, and you feel good, and you feel happy, and that's your passion, people are always going to look at you because you're doing what you love, and it may look a little different, but you're still doing what you love. And I think that is something that is amazing. And don't let that intimidate you. I would just say keep going, keep pushing, and in the end, it's going to be history.