If you are one of the WWE's tens of millions of religious fans, perhaps you did. For the remainder of us, those more likely to think 'The Rock' was actually cooked up in Hollywood, let me be clear, we have a lot of WWE catching up to do. Lucky for me, I share a place with a 9 and 7-year-old who study the WWE with the intensity of molecular biologists. They've dedicated their very existence to dissecting the comings and goings, winnings and losings, history and certain future of the remarkably profitable wrestling-as-soap-opera, 40+ year old entertainment franchise.
This is why when my very committed kids ask (plead) if they can watch the E! network's sleeper hit reality show Total Divas because THE FUNKADACTYL'S ARE IN IT, MOMMY!, I aaallllmost give in. How many times have I asked them if, say, there happen to be any Black WWE wrestlers they admire? What do you know? The Funkadactyls are African-American women.
Ultimately, Mean Mother doesn't agree to the kids watching (instead I get curiously sucked into a particularly good episode), but comes one better with the offer of us interviewing the Funkadactyls together. Yes!
The Funkadactyls, silly, are also known as the 2012 freshman class, dance-turned-tag team consisting of "Naomi" (Trinity McCray) and "Cameron" (Ariane Andrew) and you can mostly find them flanking their homeboys, superstar wrestlers Broadus Clay aka The Funkasaurus and Tensai aka Sweet T; together they all make up a fight crew called "Planet Funk." The WWE is full of over-the-top names and characters, no ridiculousness is spared, yet it's important to know that the brute force and athleticism on display is also choreographed improvisation, if you will, one that follows a very real story line. Die-hard WWE fans of all ages are deeply invested in the twists and turns their favorite characters take in the ring both physically—and though their dialogue. It's a world of bodily theatrics and emotional drama, one defined by ongoing, unresolvable—unless I crash you in the head with this chair—beef.
In real life, as seen in Total Divas, there is still requisite drama, but more revealing are some of the particular life struggles and behind the scenes realities for women of the WWE. On the show, Trinity and Ariane experience the challenges and personality clashes that any close friends and colleagues might, but here, in this chat with my sons and I, they are wildly united in their enthusiasm about the WWE as the opportunity of lifetime, and in their well-qualified assertion that, hi, they are your kids' role models.
EBONY.com: How exactly do two young Black women make their way to the WWE?
Trinity McCray: At the time I was dancing for the Orlando Magic, I had been there two years. I was just looking for the next step and a friend of me told me that WWE had Divas (women) that wrestled. So when they had a live show in Orlando, I went and I saw it and I fell in love. I just knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of. I saw all the girls' muscles and I was so excited watching that I just started picturing myself being in there. From there I got a tryout and I've been here ever since.
EBONY.com (kid 1): Wow, so the first time you saw wrestling it just excited you?
TM: Yes. I was blown away. I was in awe. In my head I was like, 'Man, these girls are so tough, these girls are beautiful they are strong. I want to be like that.'
EBONY.com: And what about you, Ariane? What was your start? How did you get introduced to WWE?
Ariane Andrew: Well I ran track and I always had an athletic part of me, and I just felt like there was something missing. There was a Diva search back in 2011 and I went to that, and from there I did Tough Enough. Tough Enough is a WWE reality show where you pretty much do all of these obstacles to get a contract. So I did that. Sadly I was the first eliminated but that just pushed me more. I knew it was something I really wanted to do.
EBONY.com: Growing up for me it was all about the WWF–and I don't recall popular Black wrestlers at all, let alone women. My impression of entertainment wrestling was that is was completely… insane. My boys have taught me a lot about today's WWE, but what would you say are some of the stereotypes that you would like a larger African-American audience to reconsider?
TM: I think that our fan base is very diverse as well as our roster of talent. We have people from 14 different countries and a whole bunch of ethnicities. There is something for everybody when you watch our shows. There is someone that everybody can relate to. If you saw us within the community giving back, it’s amazing what we do and how much we put out. WWE is global, it’s worldwide. We do three hundred shows a year.
AA: I would just like to add to the whole stereotype thing. I think a lot of it goes back to the attitude era, the time when everything wasn’t PG. Now we are a PG company and, you know, we really try to gear towards women which is why we have Total Divas. Of the percentage [of female fans] that we do have, eighty percent of them are mothers like yourself. I feel like a lot of [the negativity and lack of diversity] has changed and it’s great to have so many different people that come from so many different backgrounds. Out of all of the Divas we have, there is someone for any fan that is watching. I just think being an African American Diva, it’s nice to show little girls and boys that if you put in your mind and your heart and dedication towards something, you can make anything happen. Trinity and I are a perfect example of that. So I think that a lot of the stereotypes that have been in the past have totally been broken because everything about the WWE now is totally different now.
EBONY.com: You work and play together. How has your friendship evolved since you met?
TM: Cameron and I were very close since the day we met. We hit it off and have been good friends. I like to describe our relationship as sisters because we have disagreements, we have arguments, we are together all the time 24/7, and I think it’s natural that we get under each other’s skin. We love each other, we hate each other but at the end of the day we have each other’s back.
AA : From day one we kind of just clicked. Like Trinity said, no matter what, you are going to have your ups and downs, your disagreements especially when you travel—and we travel all the time together. I am so lucky to have her as my tag team partner because she helps me in so many ways. This girl is amazing. She has definitely made me want to push harder and train harder.
EBONY.com (kid 2): How did you guys get the name 'The Funkadactyls'?
TM: We brainstormed on a few different names. The Funkadelics was one.
AA: Was it Funktastical?
TM: We combined with Funkasaurus, which is who we valet and dance for. We wanted to have something related to him. We wanted a dinosaur name to match his name so we ended up with The Funkadactyls.
EBONY.com (kid 1): Yeah but did you guys choose Brotus Clay (The Funkasaurus) or were you forced to work with him?
TM: No we wanted to work with him, we’ve known each other for a while, and when the opportunity came we were very excited to dance with him and be able to work together.
EBONY.com (kid 1): Were you all ever bullied as kids?
AA: Yes. We were bullied as kids but you know what? It feels great because now Trinity and I can go around and talk about how to stop bullying and to prevent it from happening through the WWE Be a Star program. We can talk to children about how being a bully and how watching bullying happen is not okay. So have you ever been bullied before?
EBONY.com (kid 1 & 2): [long pause] Nope.
AA: That’s good.
EBONY.com (kid 1): Have you ever been bullied by the Bella Twins [the WWE "heels" who rival The Funckadactyls]?
TM: On TV as our characters, yes, but not in real life. In real life they are really nice girls. They are sweet, they are funny, but on TV we are acting; we are playing a role and pretending.
EBONY.com (kid 1): So Naomi, do you have a finishing move because I noticed you beat one of the twins with a crossbody.
TM: [laughs] Yes, right now I use the crossbody as a finish—but I haven’t come up with a good name for it yet.
EBONY.com: You've stepped out of wrestling into the world of reality TV, but there's a lot of criticism of Black women who are on reality shows because it's believed that many don’t put forth positive images. Pardon the pun, but are you wrestling with that issue yourselves? Do you feel the burden of being 'positive'?
TM: I see myself as a role model and I think that everything that I am putting out is positive. It feels good to me as a Diva to be successful in what traditionally has been a man’s world, not just as an African-American but as a woman, period. I feel like Cameron and I are doing a very good job with sending a message that we are positive, strong, and very talented women.
EBONY.com: So is Total Divas partially scripted? How does it work?
AA: What you see is kind of what you get. You get a group of seven talented, powerful girls that are on there, but in our daily lives we all have our ups and downs. You see the life, even the glitz and glam, but also the struggle. Being in a competitive environment and just seeing— no matter where you come from or what your race are— there are only a few spots. It’s just amazing that the fans finally get to see what we do in our lives and see us in the ring and outside the ring.
TM: It’s real. From the time we go to sleep to the time we go home you are seeing our real lives.
EBONY.com (kid 1): [whispers] In real life do you have any relationships with any of the superstars? Like like them? [If Mean Mother would let the kids watch Total Divas, they'd know this answer.]
TM: Yes, I am currently engaged to Jimmy Uso [a WWE star], he has a twin brother, they are a tag team. We’ve been together four years, we met when I first came in. We were in developmental together we were actually on the road together and started dating on TV. We have a great relationship and I love working with him and having him as a part of my life.
EBONY.com (kid 1): [Slowly takes in previous answer first.] Well, do either one of you think you will win the Diva’s Championship in your career?
AA: Hopefully one day, that is the goal.
EBONY.com (kid 1): Will you guys have action figures someday?
AA: We actually do have action figures that are supposed to come out in September. Yeah, we have little green outfits on and it has a disco ball and we will be a battle pack together.
EBONY.com: I'll be the heavy here. I have to ask, knowing there is no other Black female tag team in the WWE, do you ladies ever feel racial tension? Not in the ring per se, but amongst fans. Do you feel like audiences divide themselves and their allegiances along racial lines or do you really sense that the WWE is a truly uniting kind of force?
TM: Actually, I feel that in the WWE everyone is given the same opportunities to succeed based on merit, and I think the crowd likes who they like. There are people that like us and there are people that won’t like us.
AA: I feel like, you know, the Bella Twins [who are mixed Mexican/Italian] have been around for a very long time. I also think too, that Trinity and I are slowly getting more fans. Our die hard WWE wrestling fans want to see us in the ring in action—and we are slowly starting to get there. The fans will see how talented, how athletic we are and what a great tag team we are. They will see the full package that Trinity and I have. Having the Bella’s around is good because they play the bad guys. You have the fans that no matter what your character is, they will either like you or won’t, but having the Bella’s is amazing because you have to have a villain to make a hero.
Kierna Mayo is the Editorial Director of EBONY.com. She occasionally dons sequined bikinis herself. Follow her on Twitter @kiernamayo.