The historical relationship between the United States of America and Haiti is one of support, occupation and large waves of immigration. While Haiti was the birthplace of the one of the most successful slave revolutions following the colonisation of the New World, a historical trend of poverty, occupation and aid has left many Haitians with no other option than to emigrate to distant shores.
Such is the story of Haitian-American actress Garcelle Beauvais. Though few people in the US are familiar with her name, many have seen her face on television and the big screen over the course of the past two decades. Even fewer people are aware of Beauvais’ early life and just how she became a successful actress, entrepreneur and author.
Haitian Creole Heritage
Garcelle Beauvais may be considered a Haitian-American these days, but she is a Haitian Creole woman by birth. Beauvais was born in St Marc, Haiti on 26 November 1966. She was the seventh and final child born to Axel Jean Pierre (lawyer) and Marie-Claire Beauvais (nurse). As a young child, Beauvais’ parents divorced and she moved with her siblings and mother to the United States.
Beauvais’ family initially settled in Massachusetts, but would later move more permanently to Miami. Her family was just one of the thousands of Haitian families that are considered a part of the massive Haitian Diaspora that has been emigrating in waves since the slave revolt in 1804.
In the 2010 US Census there were an estimated 975,000 Haitians living legally within the country, making this particular population the largest segment of Haitians living outside of Haiti. The city of Miami, where Beauvais’ family settled, has one of the largest Haitian expatriate communities in the US with an estimated 100,000 residents of Haitian and Haitian Creole heritage calling the city home.
Modelling as a Career Launch Pad
At the age of 17, Beauvais believed enough in her natural beauty to move to New York City to pursue a career as a model. She eventually signed modelling contracts with both Ford Models and Irene Marie Models (of Miami). Her early modelling career would gain her a foothold in the business as she appeared in print ads for major brands such as Avon, Mary Kay and Clairol.
Her star would continue to rise as a model. In the years that followed those initial print ads, she would model in the catalogues of Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, walk the catwalk for Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi, and eventually appear on the cover of magazines such as Essence and Ebony.
A Star on Television and the Big Screen
Beauvais’ film and television career started slowly with single episode appearances on some of the biggest TV shows and films of the 1980s and 1990s. Her first television appearance came in an episode of Miami Vice in 1985, and was followed by her film debut as one of the vivacious rose bearers in the 1988 comedy Coming to America.
After appearing in major TV series such as Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, her big break finally came with the main role of Francesca ‘Fancy’ Monroe on The Jamie Foxx Show. Appearing as the love interest of Jamie Foxx’s character, Beauvais appeared in 100 episodes between 1996 and 2001.
Her acting credits also include a variety of major films over the past two decades, most notably Bad Company (2002), I Know Who Killed Me (2007), Flight (2012) and White House Down (2013).
Beauvais has twice been married and divorced. Her first marriage to producer Daniel Saunders resulted in the birth of a son, Oliver Saunders, in 1991. Her second marriage was to Mike Nilon, an agent employed with Creative Artists Agency. The couple were married for 10 years and had twin sons, Jax Joseph and Jaid Thomas Nilon, who were born on 18 October 2007.
In 2008, Beauvais launched a young children’s jewellery line called Petit Bijou. The line is specifically for children between the ages of 4 and 16, and was designed by Beauvais and jewellery designer Mallory Eisenstein. While her jewellery line was successful, it was not nearly as personal a matter as her next endeavour.
I am Mixed
In the summer of 2013 Beauvais released the first in a series of children’s books entitled I Am Mixed. As a young child in Massachusetts, Beauvais learned first-hand what it was like to be different from others in terms of appearance. As a young child in Haiti she never felt different, but as the only black child in her Massachusetts school she began to feel different.
Raising two bi-racial sons, her young twin boys, gave Beauvais the motivation to explore the topic in a manner that children could understand. The book is designed to help children explore the thoughts and emotions they have as individuals with mixed ethnicities. As she said during an interview that summer,
“I didn’t want them to be asked why is your mommy brown and daddy white and not have them understand it themselves.”
Beauvais remains as beautiful as ever and is still highly regarded as a model and actress. She completed filming “And Then There Was You” in 2013 and has just recently finished shooting her role in the upcoming film “Small Time”.