The Hollywood Portfolio Film

Can You Succeed in Hollywood While Resisting Capitalism? Celeste O'Connor Is Giving It the College Try

All clothing and accessories by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

Celeste O’Connor attributes many of their best qualities—determination, curiosity, minimal patience for bullshit—to a single source: “I’m African,” the actor says with a laugh. This year, the 25-year-old will appear alongside famous names in two blockbuster films.

First, they’ll carry the torch of the iconic Ghostbusters franchise in its latest iteration, Frozen Empire, alongside Bill Murray. Next, they’ll enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Madame Web, opposite Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney.

O’Connor was born in Kenya to a Burundian mother and an American father. “Burundians have such a culture of community, and they’re straight-up fighters,” the actor says from the patio of their Los Angeles home. “Coming from that lineage of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, it’s in me to go after what I want.” When their family moved to Maryland, an adolescent O’Connor petitioned their parents to let them audition for talent representation, even shaking down family members to cover a showcase admission fee. They were hellbent on becoming a singer, but fate had other plans: “I ended up getting all of these callbacks from casting directors, but none from the music people,” O’Connor recalls. They took the hint, and signed with an acting agent.

Before long, this burgeoning career threatened to distract from the education they had always envisioned for themselves. During their senior year of high school, O’Connor was forced to choose between a major audition and starting their freshman year at Johns Hopkins University on time. Looking back, they consider the decision to stay in school one of the most impactful of their career: “It forced me to define what my values were from a pretty young age.” (The following year, they landed their breakout role in Tayarisha Poe’s lauded Black-girl bildungsroman Selah and the Spades—and still managed to graduate in 2021.) Chief among those values? Navigating the industry with an anti-capitalist ethic. “I wish more artists would talk about how it feels to commodify their creativity, because it doesn’t always feel good,” they say.

Though their career has not been without challenges, the actor sees their craft as a powerful medium for imagining new realities—both personal and collective. “I would love to make a film that can show an alternative system for Black people: alternatives to capitalism, alternatives to imperialism,” O’Connor asserts. “Film is an amazing tool not just for replicating the systems we see in day-to-day life, but also for expanding people’s ideas of what is possible.”

Jazmine Hughes is a National Magazine Award-winning writer based in Brooklyn, New York, and Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. 

MAKEUP BY Vittorio Masecchia
HAIR BY Hikaru
NAILS BY Tracy Clemens
CASTING BY Tom Macklin
STYLING ASSISTANCE BY Andrew McFarland, Laura Cheron Haquette, and Arianna Thode
PRODUCTION BY Giulia di Stravola
DIGITECH BY Victor Prieto
SET DESIGN BY Romain Goudinoux

Want more of young Hollywood? Check out CULTURED's profiles of Charles Melton and Yara Shahidi. Pre-order the Art+ Film print issue here.