Entertainment Movies Simply Jessica

SIMPLY JESSICA: Saniyya Sidney talks about films released on Christmas Day

Saniyya Sidney sat on an airplane looking out the window. She wasn’t nervous. She wasn’t scared. She was simply excited.

As she watched the clouds in the air, her mind kept thinking about what she was about to do when she landed in Pittsburgh.

The 10-year-old girl was about to meet actor Denzel Washington.

Shannon and Maliak Sidney were told to bring Saniyya to Pittsburgh so she could meet Washington, who was looking for a child actress to play Raynell Maxson in his film “Fences.” Saniyya was being offered the role.

“Fences” is about Troy (played by Washington) who has an illegitimate child whose constant need for care and support convinces Rose (played by Viola Davis) to take Troy back into the house.

Raynell is the only Maxson child that will live with few scars from Troy. It takes place in the 1950s. Washington directs the film that is adapted from an August Wilson play.

Washington and Davis reprise their Tony Award-winning roles.

“It was a dream come true,” Sidney said. “Denzel told me that when he saw my audition tape that he knew that I was the one. He just wanted me to fly to Pittsburgh to meet him.”

Saniyya Sidney first big role was playing Young Kizzy in the new adaptation of Alex Haley's 'Roots.' (Photo courtesy of Mayhem Entertainment PR)
Saniyya Sidney first big role was playing Young Kizzy in the new adaptation of Alex Haley’s ‘Roots.’ (Photo courtesy of Mayhem Entertainment PR)

Sidney’s favorite food is cheese. She loves science and history.

It was her love of science that made her jump at the chance to play Taraiji P. Henson’s daughter in the upcoming film “Hidden Figures,” which also stars Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.

That film is set in the 1960s and tells the true story of three African-American mathematicians who computed the trajectory for the first Apollo missions into space and moon landing.

“I play a character named Constance,” Sidney said. “Constance is also the name of my manager.  I’m the middle daughter of three girls. We support our mom and we are there for her. We are proud of her success but we are sad that she can barely spend time with us.”

The Santa Monica native was familiar with Henson’s work.

She knew her from the TV show “Empire” but the 10-year-old Sidney is not allowed to watch the show.

Sidney may not have seen Henson perform in Empire, but she has seen her in “The Karate Kid.”

She plays Jaden Smith’s mother in the movie.

“I love ‘The Karate Kid’ movie,” Sidney said. “I watch it all the time.”

The fifth grader’s favorite Denzel Washington movie is “Malcolm X.”

Saniyya Sidney also will appear in 'Hidden Figures' with Taraii P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner. (Photo courtesy of Mayhem Entertainment PR)
Saniyya Sidney also will appear in ‘Hidden Figures’ with Taraii P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner. (Photo courtesy of Mayhem Entertainment PR)

Saniyya means radiant and brilliant. Sidney’s first role was playing Young Kizzy in the new adaptation of Alex Haley’s “Roots.”

How does a 10-year-old girl prepare for such historical roles?

“I study the script,” Sidney said. ”I put myself in the character. You have to feel that you’re really there and you are the person.”

Shannon and Maliak are impressed with Saniyya’s work ethic.

“Her mother and I feel very fortunate and grateful for all the hard work that she has put in to be the actress that she has become,” Shannon said. “She and her team have worked tirelessly. We are appreciative of the opportunities that she has been given this year. Saniyya has handled it with grace and style.”

Saniyya describes herself as joyful, giving, lovable, sweet, honest, kind, smart and full of energy.

As the interview comes to a close, I ask this future star, what does she want her legacy to be in the entertainment field. She is quick to answer me once her father (Shannon) explains the question to her.

“I want to be remembered as someone who actually cares,” she said. 

Be yourself! I’m Simply Jessica JcAden. You can reach me at jess.gosnell@gmail.com.