Malaika Jackson can still see, in her mind’s eye, the scene in her high school cafeteria in Brampton, Ont., the day after she was crowned Miss Caribbean Canada at the age of 17.
She remembers glancing over at one table – the one where those girls sat; the ones that had made a daily point of ridiculing her and her dreams, that had told her she would never win, that she was stupid to have even entered the contest. The same girls were now subdued, conversing only in whispers. It was a classic movie moment – the nay-sayers and haters crushed, the once-bullied victim emerging into the light of triumph.
It could have been a one-time victory. In fact, those girls have been proven wrong about Jackson again and again over the years.
The Ontario born-and-raised White Rock actor and public speaker – who, as a teen, battled severe depression, low self-worth, and thoughts of suicide – has been seemingly in the right place at the right time ever since.
Aside from the usual ups and downs of life, she has been one of those people good things happen to – and a lot of it seems to be to do with a winning personality and an irrepressibly upbeat attitude she attributes to that life-changing success.
“My mom is convinced I have a guardian angel,” she laughed, during a recent phone interview with Peace Arch News.
Now busy with a burgeoning career in movies, television and commercials (even in an industry cautiously returning to production under COVID-19 restrictions) she can be seen currently in the Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club, alongside Alicia Silverstone, as one of the moms, Mrs. Papadakis.
“That was really fun,’ she said (the series was shot last year), adding that she enjoyed working and chatting with Silverstone, finding her very supportive to fellow actors.
“Having her sitting right beside me in a scene was a really big confidence-builder,” she said.
Jackson also has a role in the theatrical feature Little Fish – ironically about a rapidly spreading virus. Appearing with stars Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, she plays a clinician talking with potential candidates for a trial vaccine for the affliction, which causes memory loss and threatens to erase the history of the couple’s love and courtship.
“That was supposed to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and unfortunately that got cancelled,” she said. “But I’m sure there’s going to be a release date for it soon.”
And home viewers will also encounter her in the role of an animal control officer in the Disney movie Flora and Ulysses (about a 10-year-old girl who adopts a squirrel with superhero powers), due to air on Disney Plus later this year.
“Unfortunately, my character’s really not very nice to Flora, but I can’t say more without spoiling the plot,” she said.
Past roles have included a stint as Sandra Hawke, Michael Jai White’s stoic and fierce wife in the CW’s Arrow.
Jackson also had extensive experience as an on-air host and producer for MTV – before going to York University to get her communications degree.
That’s helped her latterly, she said, particularly when auditioning for commercials.
“I know what the message is – and what they need to get it across,” she said.
Always eager to give back for her good fortune, she has mentored participants in other pageants, including the winner of Vancouver Television’s 2014 Miss Vancouver Pageant, Sabrina Dhowre (now married to actor Idris Elba).
Jackson married Jamaica-born architect Sean Wright in 2016 (they had an extended long-distance courtship – “people he knew used to call me ‘the Skype girl’,” she laughed) and the couple now have two children – a daughter, Justice, 4, and a son, Cairo, one and a half.
Her bio hints at the gusto with which she meets all of life – including confessed expertise at pool, the courage to have gone bungee-jumping and an ongoing commitment to Taekwondo, kick-boxing and Jujitsu.
These days her mentoring extends to speaking engagements in which she uses her own experiences to help others find their own passions, an interest in helping that she traces back to her mother housing more than 100 foster children when she was young.
Jackson knows first-hand the importance of having mentors who believe in you.
“I was very depressed when I was in high school,” she recalled, adding that she first entered Miss Caribbean Canada at the urging of a woman talent scout who spotted her in a McDonald’s line-up.
“I’d been the tomboy. I had braces – I never got the guys,” she said. “My mom said, ‘You have to do this.’ I did it to make her happy.”
When she won, she acknowledged, it was a major turning point in her life – and she has seldom looked back since.
“It popped me out of having such low self-worth,” she said. “I saw my potential.”
When she first came to Vancouver, to see her sister, “it was for a few days visit – I had $70 in my pocket,” she recalled.
Encouraged to audition for MTV during the visit, she was stunned when she received a callback telling her “you’re shooting five episodes starting Monday,” she said – and that call led to a two-year gig.
And when she shot an emotionally-charged commercial, Love Over Bias, for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, she was surprised to find it received high praise from Ellen DeGeneres, in a segment on her show.
“People were calling me up saying ‘you’re on Ellen.’ For me it was like a sign from the universe – I was very grateful. I thought, ‘I’m really going to take this film and TV thing seriously.’”
Jackson’s most important advice for those struggling to overcome low self-worth?
“I would say to them – people’s opinion of you is none of your business. You put it on yourself, but their reality is not your reality. You have to choose not to accept that.
“I was released out of that burden,” she added. “You don’t have to let those opinions become your reality.”