Wonderland.

ZOLEE G

Bringing Wu-Tang’s formative years to life on screen, Zolee Griggs shows us the power of the women behind the group, as well as finding some of her own.

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue reflection

Dress SHAHAR AVNET, jacket (around waist) SHAHAR AVNET, earrings LADY GREY.

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue reflection
Dress SHAHAR AVNET, jacket (around waist) SHAHAR AVNET, earrings LADY GREY.

Taken from the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

The unbridled anticipation is palpable in Zolee Griggs’ voice. “This show is going to be historic because it’s bridging the gap between the older and the younger generation.” Set to star in Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga alongside Ashton Sanders and Shameik Moore, the Ladera-born actor’s excitement is vibrating. “People my age weren’t even born yet, or we were really young when Wu-Tang was taking off and being super impactful. Their story coming out now is a beautiful thing, because it lets those older generations re-live what they’ve already lived through, and my generation gets to see it ourselves for the first time.” The added fact that her character, Shurrie, is “an overall badass” is also clearly a constituent factor in her buzz.

The Shurrie in question is Shurrie Diggs, the fictional sister of RZA (née Bobby Diggs) and anamalgamation of some of real-life RZA’s 11 siblings. “She is the second matriarchal figure in the house, besides their mother,” Griggs explains. “Shurrie takes care of her brothers, her mom, herself […] She’s a badass because she balances everything, but nobody really knows that – everybody kind of overlooks her. So she’s a really cool sister because, whether people appreciate her or not, she keeps the family balanced and in-check.”

RZA not only started one of the most iconic rap groups in history, but is also a producer on the show, and constantly present in its production and on set, but Griggs assures me it was his sisters she was trepidatious to meet. “Like, I’m honouring these people, these actual family members,” she laughs, still sounding amazed. “I was nervous because I wanted to do right by them and tell their story properly.” After a short pause, however, she does concede to there being some pressure, “knowing that the man behind the madness was watching me!”

The show’s essence is an exploration of some alternate paths afforded to young black men from New York at the time: fame and musical success on one side, and crime on the other, as well as examining where the female figures fit into the picture. “We respect the men for doing what they have to do to make ends meet,” Griggs explains matter-of-factly now speaking as Shurrie. “But, there’s also a side of us that […] wants them to do better, something that’s lucrative and safe. Knowing what they have to do, we already know the outcome: somebody could end up in jail, somebody could end up dead. So we have to remind them that they can do better, they can strive for better.”

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue blue dress
Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue pink dress

(LEFT) Dress SHAHAR AVNET, earrings ELIZABETH BERDANN
(RIGHT) Full look BCALLA, sunglasses LULA PACE

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue blue dress
Dress SHAHAR AVNET, earrings ELIZABETH BERDANN
Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue pink dress
Full look BCALLA, sunglasses LULA PACE

Considering the hyper-masculinity that pervaded hip-hop at the time, it’s a poignant sentiment, and Griggs speaks to Shurrie’s crucial role in finding the sensitivity within these boys. “Sometimes men need that,” she stresses. “If you’re constantly in a setting that’s hostile and angry, and you feel like there’s only one outlet, it’s good to have that reminder, that light that says: ‘This isn’t the only way out.’”

The group’s success is testament to Shurrie’s influence, though this by no means suggests that the women surrounding Wu-Tang were merely emotional foils to their anger and violence; on the contrary, the toughness and machismo exhibited all too ostensibly by the group’s male members was imbued in the women too, who “knew how to handle themselves”, as Griggs puts it. “The women are badass […] not only are they New York women, but they’re New York black women, and they have to be that way,” she continues. “You adapt to it rather than letting it overpower you.” By the end of the conversation, it’s clear that Griggs has learned almost as much from Shurrie as she has about her. “I love her through-arc. I don’t want to say too much, but to see her grow and mature as a young woman was beautiful.”

This project positions Zolee Griggs on the brink of greatness, and she does admit that “winning an award for acting [would be] an insane accomplishment.” But Griggs is motivated by more than material prizes, namely her own personal ambition. “For me it’s just putting in the work so I can be better than myself, better than the last project I did, better than who I was last year,” she explains. “Because I’m not in competition with anybody beside myself, and who I was vs. who I want to be. So, despite the accolades and anything else, I just want to be the best Zolee, and the best actress Zolee can be.”

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue green
Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue hair

(LEFT) Full look MAISIE WILEN, shoes HARDEMAN
(RIGHT) Dress SHAHAR AVNET

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue green
Full look MAISIE WILEN, shoes HARDEMAN
Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue hair
Dress SHAHAR AVNET
Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue screen

Dress HAKAN AKKAYA, sunglasses ANNAKIKI

Zolee Griggs in Wonderland autumn 2019 issue screen
Dress HAKAN AKKAYA, sunglasses ANNAKIKI
Photography
Benjamin Askinas
Fashion
Chloe and Chenelle Delgadillo
Words
Francesco Loy Bell
Hair
Jojo Torres
Makeup
Tami Shirey
Art direction
Brittney Garcia
Special thanks
Edge Studios Los Angeles
Special thanks
Grip Los Angeles
ZOLEE G