Paula Jai Parker is an American comedian, actress, director, singer and composer, whose ticket to fame was her roles in “Friday,” “Hustle & Flow” and Disney Channel’s “The Proud Family.”
Early Life and Family
Paula Jai Parker was born on 19 August 1969, in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Her father died when she was three years old – his last words to her as she was sitting on his lap before he went into a coma were to take care of her mother, which she is tried to do. Her mother remarried a rich real estate broker and they lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which was where Paula’s life became more interesting. Her stepfather was arrested for double selling properties, and she was almost kidnapped by those that her stepdad scammed, but fortunately her school foiled the plot, and called her parents.
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The would-be kidnappers lost interest in her, and turned their attention to the couple; they pistol whipped them and took valuables from their house.
From age five onwards, Paula was molested by her junkie stepbrother, and when she told her mother about it, they decided to leave. They had to sneak out from the house because apparently, her mother was also being abused by his stepfather. Instead of reporting it to the authorities, her mother went to big gang players for help, who were friends of Paula’s father, and settled it their way.
Later on, her stepfather was indicted due to double selling, and was sentenced to federal prison. Instead of being defeated, her mother bought another business selling plastic covers, and was successful, making them wealthy in Cleveland.
Paula first attended an all-white local high school, but in 12th grade she transferred to a more diverse public school and matriculated from there. Paula subsequently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington D.C.
After college, she moved to New York to pursue an acting career, but ended up performing comedy in various night clubs. She was given the chance to perform live in “The Apollo Comedy Hour” at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York for a year.
In 1994, her first dramatic role in an HBO anthology series, “Cosmic Slop,” earned her an acting award from Cable ACE Award for the episode “Tang.”
A year after that, she was offered the iconic minor role of Joi, the prank-calling girlfriend in the hit comedy movie “Friday,” with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. A series of minor roles followed in several movies, including “Tales from the Hood” produced by Spike Lee in 1995, “Get on the Bus” in 1996 directed by Spike Lee, and “Why Do Fools in Love” in 1998, with Halle Berry and Vivica A. Fox.
On television, she appeared as a guest in several TV shows, before she was included in the regular cast of “The Wayans Bros”, taking the role of Monique which she played for 13 episodes from 1995 to 1996. Paula also became a series regular in the comedy show produced by Dirk Clark, “The Weird Al Show,” as Val Brentwood with popular comedian Weird Al Yankovic for 13 episodes in 1997, and in 1999 she was in the comedy series “Snoops” as Roberta Young for one season.
Paula proved to be exemplary in her craft, and became a quintessential supporting actress performing in support roles on both television and n movies. However, she landed a major part in Disney Channel’s animated series “The Proud Family,” in which she voiced the role of Trudy Parker Proud – Mama Bear of the Proud Family. She was part of the show from 2001 to 2005.
On some television shows she had recurring roles, and the most notable were in “Side Order of Life,” a drama series aired on the Lifetime Channel in which she played Stargell Grant for seven episodes in 2007; “True Blood,” a horror-fantasy series aired on HBO as Karen in five episodes in 2013; and “Ray Donovan,” a crime drama series aired on Showtime in which she was Sylvia Starr for five episodes in 2016.
Paula appeared in several movies too, and some of her noteworthy were “Phone Booth” with Colin Farell in 2003 which had gross earnings of almost $100 million worldwide, “Ray” with Jamie Foxx in 2004 with global earnings of $125 million, and “Hustle & Flow” with Terence Howard in 2005, in which she played the role of Lexus which earned her a nomination from Women Film Critics Circles Award for Best Comedic Performance and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
From 2015 to 2016, she took part in the reality television series, “Hollywood Divas,” which followed the lives of five African-American celebrities, and her life was chronicled for three seasons.
It was aired on the cable channel TV One, also included in the reality show were Golden Brooks, Countess Vaughn, Elise Neal, and Lisa Wu.
Paula was last seen in two ongoing web series which started in 2019: “Crown Lake” in which she plays a recurring character, and “A House Divided” as a series regular.
She married Forrest Martin, an actor-writer, in December 2004, just months into filming the movie, “Hustle & Flow” on which her husband was working as an intern after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. The couple have a son to whom they gave the very long name of Onederful Vanglorious Jaxon N’Krumah Martin.
- It was revealed in one of the episodes of “Hollywood Divas” that Paula and her family were homeless during the entire filming of the reality TV show; she was living in an extended stay hotel with her son and husband. She sold her house back in 2007 intending to buy another, but the writers’ strike halted most of the filming in Tinseltown.
- She relied on food stamps given by the state when she was broke. Paula said it was a humbling experience, and some people were shocked when they recognized her.
- Paula had a rift with Golden Brooks, one of the other actresses in the show, “Hollywood Divas,” accusing Golden of flirting with her husband. When they had a fight, Golden laughed at Paula’s accusation and told her that she wanted a man who works. Apparently, Paula is the breadwinner of the family and her husband constantly relies on her financially.
- In 2008, she launched an after school acting class boot camp and workshop for kids in California. She scheduled it when she wasn’t busy filming.
She is 5ft 2ins (1.59m) tall and weighs 129lbs (58kgs). She is of African-American descent, and has black hair and black eyes.
Authoritative sources have estimated Paula’s net worth at around $150,000, as of June of 2020.