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Lela Rochon Fuqua (1964–)

Lela Rochon Fuqua, whose professional name is Lela Rochon, has appeared in nearly fifty movies and television shows, starring alongside some of Hollywood’s elite actors, including Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Gene Hackman, Whitney Houston, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Murphy, and Tupac Shakur. She is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

She was born Lela Rochon Staples in Torrance, California, on April 17, 1964, to Samuel Staples and Zelma Staples of Camden (Ouachita County). Her parents, both alumni of Lincoln High School, attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). Her father graduated from Arkansas AM&N and went on to own and operate Aladdin Enterprises, a graphic-arts business in California, from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. Her mother became a nurse practitioner at the University of Southern California Medical Center and retired in 2000. She has an older half-brother named Kenneth, but she grew up living in an only-child household. Her parents are of Haitian descent, and she was named for her paternal grandmother.

During her formative years, she spent time in Arkansas with her parents’ families in Camden and at Arkansas AM&N for various alumni functions. She once stated, “Had I not had the upbringing, the morals, and the values that my parents placed within me, I would be lost in Hollywood.” Rochon attended Cerritos High School in California, graduating in 1982. She excelled at competitive sports, particularly track and basketball. She also performed in school productions.

Rochon attended California State University, Dominguez Hills from 1982 to 1986 and majored in broadcast journalism with minors in sociology and theater. She modeled as a way to help pay for tuition and books, and she landed steady work appearing as a “Spudette” in Budweiser/Bud Light Spuds MacKenzie television commercials. After graduation, Rochon contemplated law school but pursued acting instead.

Rochon appeared in several sitcoms, including The Cosby Show, 21 Jump Street, 227, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as dancing in music videos for Lionel Richie and Luther Vandross. Her major film debut was in the small role of “Sunshine” in 1989’s Harlem Nights with Eddie Murphy. She had a steady role during the first season of The Wayans Bros. cable show. Rochon’s breakthrough came when she played the role of Robin Stokes in the 1995 box office hit Waiting to Exhale alongside Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston. In seeking the part, Rochon had wrangled a meeting with director Forest Whitaker, who had already cast another actress. The movie made her a household name. People magazine named her one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world in 1996. She went on to star as Mildred Loving in Mr. and Mrs. Loving, as attorney Nora Stark in John Grisham’s The Chamber, and in Brooklyn’s Finest and Let the Church Say Amen.

Rochon was married to dancer Adolfo Quinines from 1982 to 1987. She married Antoine Fuqua in 1999 and became stepmother to Fuqua’s son, Zachary. Their daughter, Asia, was born in 2002, and their son, Brando, in 2004.

She has received numerous accolades throughout her career, including a Cable/ACE award nomination, an Image nomination, and an MTC Movie nomination. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2000. Rochon returns to Camden often for special events. In June 2015, she served as the keynote speaker for the Dream Girls conference at Connection International Camden Church, where her aunt and uncle are co-pastors.

For additional information:
Bennett, Dionne. Sepia Dreams: A Celebration of Black Achievement through Words and Images. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

“Lela Rochon.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005375/ (accessed October 11, 2016).

Phelps, Shirelle. Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1997.

Robbie K. Gill
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Last Updated 11/7/2016

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