Rihanna Protégé Slick Woods on Leaving Modeling and Turning Her Life Into a Movie: ‘I Wanted to Show What Struggle Is’

By amy.zimmerman@thedailybeast.com (Amy Zimmerman)
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Getty

“Everything in the film was real,” Slick Woods says about her starring role in Goldie, the latest from writer and director Sam de Jong. That’s not, strictly speaking, true.

Woods’ Goldie does have a good deal in common with the model and actress. Both of their mothers were arrested, leaving them to fend for themselves at a young age. Both consistently struggled to make money and find somewhere to sleep. But Goldie is a scripted drama with its own flourishes and fiction; over a period of just a few days, 18-year-old Goldie watches as her mother is arrested in front of her and her two younger sisters. Determined to become a star and provide for her family before Child Protective Services separates them, Goldie goes on a mission to land a spot in a music video and buy a canary yellow fur coat to complete her video girl look. Street shots of Goldie racing through the Bronx—Woods herself largely grew up in L.A.—give way to fantastical visions of Goldie in her aspirational yellow ensemble, alone and out of time. Every so often, animated doodles squiggle across the screen.

Still, sitting across from Woods in a Tribeca hotel room as she leans close to me, tears streaming past her sunglasses, I know that she is telling the truth. Everything in the film was real for her, whether she was experiencing it for the first time or reliving her worst memories. “When you see me crying, I was crying because I have complex PTSD,” Woods explains. Her friend is sitting next to her with a clump of tissues—every so often he wipes the tears off of her face, or rubs her signature shaved head for comfort. “It was a trigger for me to be on the streets, ’cause I’ve been on the streets for 12 years. So that was a big dynamic in the film, because it was like I really lived most of the shit that happened in the film. I have seen my mother go to prison. So reliving those things was very hard for me. I was on the streets for 12 years—that is real. I had cabin fever. Those two things were really big for me, because no one talked to me at all when I was on the streets. No one talked to me at all.”

As the story goes, Woods was discovered at an L.A. bus stop when she was 19. The model Ash Stymest was struck by her look and made some introductions. Not long after, Kanye West cast her in his 2016 Yeezy show; Fendi, Calvin Klein, and Fenty quickly followed. Woods famously went into labor after walking in lingerie down Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty runway last year, eventually giving birth to her first child, Saphir. In a recent Mother’s Day essay for Vogue, Woods wrote, “My last memory before going into the hospital is of Rihanna spanking me with a whip. I was already 2cm dilated when I left the show, and I was in labor for another 18 hours. The delivery room was out of control. There was my agent and my baby’s daddy and Erykah Badu on FaceTime, acting as my doula. Then suddenly there he was: my miracle.”

<div class="inline-image__caption">Model Slick Woods walks the runway for the Savage X Fenty Fall/Winter 2018 fashion show during NYFW at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on September 12, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY.</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Brian Ach/Getty Images for Savage X Fent</div>
Model Slick Woods walks the runway for the Savage X Fenty Fall/Winter 2018 fashion show during NYFW at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on September 12, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY.
Brian Ach/Getty Images for Savage X Fent

It’s the morning after Goldie’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Woods is clearly exhausted. She just got back from L.A. (“I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t the best trip”) and is facing down a full day of press. Still, she’s easily moved to jags of laughter, and graciously willing to talk about one of the hardest, most rewarding things she’s ever done: acting out her still-fresh personal story for public consumption. “I wanted to show what struggle is,” Woods insists. “This movie did a lot for me, and I don’t mean like career-wise, it did a lot for me therapy-wise. Reliving every terrible moment I had and…” she takes a deep breath. “Just moving forward from everything I’ve been through. Just moving forward. It was the best thing ever.”

From the very beginning, Woods had her doubts. “Honestly I watched [director Sam de Jong’s first feature film] Prince, and I was like, this has nothing to do with me. And Prince was a dope film, but it had nothing to do with me. So watching him create black culture in the film was very hard for me, because we’d argue every day. I would just throw cigarettes at him, throw things at him, and be like you don't understand what the hood is. So it was like a lot of that dynamic, a lot of us arguing. I was like Sam, you don’t know! You’re from Amsterdam, you don’t understand what the hood is!”

Woods estimates that she quit Goldie around “48 times” during filming, practically every day. “I was like fuck this, fuck you, just going through everything that I’ve been through and over and over again.” She credits executive producer Rosie Perez as “the person that came to the movie every day and was like yo, you can’t quit. She came through every time.”

<div class="inline-image__caption">Rihanna and Slick Woods pose during the launch of Rihanna's global lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty at Villain on May 10, 2018 in New York City.</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty</div>
Rihanna and Slick Woods pose during the launch of Rihanna's global lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty at Villain on May 10, 2018 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty

In Goldie, the protagonist’s mother’s arrest quickly triggers catastrophe. It upends Goldie’s life, leads her to selling drugs and sleeping on the street, and ultimately separates her from her sisters. The stories of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people are central to the film, speaking to a mass incarceration epidemic that has disproportionately afflicted communities of color. Additionally, one of her co-stars, José Fernandez, “had been in prison for 12 years,” Woods explains. “José was a dope dynamic to our whole family because he’s never been an actor. Like he was in prison for 12 years and then after that he was in the movie with us.”

“This is an epidemic in my community,” Woods emphasizes. “My mother [was] in prison for 17 years, and everyone I know in my life has been incarcerated. I’m a felon.” Woods’ mom was released from prison just a few months ago; as we speak, she’s watching Saphir so Woods can work.

“I’m a model, and I don’t need to put anyone down, but you got these models saying like, oh, I was in the Women’s March and I got arrested,” she scoffs. “It’s not funny. It’s not something you put on Instagram. Like, it’s something we have to live through. Incarceration is terrible. I’ve been in prison longer than I’ve been in high school, so it’s very important to me to project, like, incarceration is not a cool thing. It’s not a leather jacket, you know what I’m saying? It’s not a dope thing you wear on your body.”

“I’ve been incarcerated in different countries and it’s awful. You don’t have water, you don’t have food. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be incarcerated in Paris? Like you literally have to piss in a fucking porcelain hole in the ground.” In addition to the injustice of being “banned” from other countries, Woods faces discrimination and disenfranchisement at home. “I can’t vote because I’m a felon. As a black woman, I can’t vote. I can’t say, yo, this is the president I want to have. Yet I’m living someone else’s dream. I’m a supermodel. Yeah. Cool. But I can’t vote.”

Continuing to cry, she adds, “I sit here and I make a lot of money, and I sit here and I do everything you guys want me to do and I can’t vote. I can’t even fucking say who I want to be the president, who I want to be the senator. It’s crazy. I mean, having a platform is cool, but I can’t be a regular person…If I lost everything right now, if I applied to McDonald’s I would not get the job because I never graduated high school. I don’t even have my GDE, I don’t have my diploma. If I lost everything right now, I wouldn’t even be able to work at Walmart.”

When I ask if losing everything is something she thinks about a lot, Woods laughs, “I don’t think about shit a lot.” After a beat, she clarifies, “I only think about my son.” She says that becoming a mother has “changed everything,” describing her son as a “fucking dope individual.”

“My son means the world. My son pushes me through all the struggle I’ve been through. He’s a dope fucking individual and he has his own personality.” She insists, “He’s only 7 months old and he knows everything about himself—my son is funny, like he would make you laugh.”

Moving forward, Woods is primarily focused on acting. She’s working on a new film “about a model-turned-porn star” alongside Nicolas Cage (“I’m like, Ghost Rider!!”). She also says that she’s retired from modeling, announcing, “last month was my last month, I finished with my agency.”

At the end of our interview, we talk about the closing minutes of the film, when Goldie agrees to let Child Protective Services take her sisters away. “That’s the reason why everybody’s like, oh I want to see the second part. Because you guys really want to see me getting my sisters back—so I’ll talk to Sam. Maybe we’ll do another one.” Leaning forward again, glassy-eyed, Woods insists, “I’ve never had sisters in my real life, so in my mind, those were my sisters.”

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