For Vasthy Mompoint, the Black Lives Matter movement hit her heart the moment she walked onto the set of "The Prom” over the summer. She was the only person of color there, and for the first time in her life, she had authority. That simple realization raised her consciousness and her self-esteem.
"That is what this movement is all about," she said to herself.
Originally hired as a dancer in the movie musical on Netflix, the Haitan-American dancer was pulled from its chorus to lead choreography for several days during the height of racial justice protests. Production on the film had just picked up again in Los Angeles using strict COVID-19 safety protocols. The movie’s choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, and his associates could not be there. So he asked Mompoint to take over.
“I called her up. I said, ‘You know what? A lot of people are scared to travel. But you live here, and I would love it if you want to do that,” Nicholaw recalled to Inside Edition Digital.
It was just days earlier she was talking with Nicholaw about ways the entertainment industry could create more opportunities for people of color. The two have known each other for over a decade after working on the show “Robin and the Seven Hoods” in San Diego 11 years ago.
“It's not just putting them in the ensemble or just sprinkling them through. It's about creating positions of power or [giving them] creative [roles or making them] producers,” Mompoint advised him.
Mompoint knew this moment to lead alongside director Ryan Murphy meant a significant transformation was about to happen.
It also marked the third time she says “The Prom” changed her life over the last few years.
In January 2018, Mompoint was part of an early workshop of “The Prom.” This was before the musical went to Broadway and then ultimately turned into a film. Nicholaw was the musical’s director and choreographer. Towards the end of the month, Mompoint says she started not feeling well but she kept plugging along.
“The last few days were three of the hardest days ever,” she recalled to Inside Edition Digital. “But I got through it and I'm glad I did, because then I got to do the show [on Broadway].”
When rehearsal for Broadway began in September of 2018, Mompoint felt worse. Each day she got weaker. She lost 20 pounds after losing her appetite. At first, she believed it was the flu. By December, she told her husband she didn’t think she had enough energy to keep performing and needed to find out what was wrong.
Mompoint was diagnosed with a rare case of fibroid tumors, which are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus, according to Women’s Health, and it was shutting down her organs. Black women are disproportionately affected according to the USA Fibroid Centers. Mompoint says she became depressed, anemic, lost some hair and says her skin looked gray.
“Basically, I was dying,” she said.
Her biggest fear at the moment was telling the cast and crew of “The Prom” she was sick and being fired from the show. What happened was anything but that. "Theater is all about community," explained "Prom" executive producer, Dori Berinstein. "Vasthy is family. She needed our help and support. That was the only thing that mattered." Mompoint was given the time off she needed to get better and held her place for when she was able to return in May 2019.
“All of the support gave me a sense of self-worth that I didn't realize I had.” Friends even started a GoFundMe account for Mompoint that the show’s producers contributed towards. It helped Mompoint pay off medical bills and other essential expenses. “Having a support system like that is 90% of the medicine. There's nothing that really compares to that.”
During her time off to rest, Mompoint started writing. The work she completed is what helped her land a spot in CBS’ 2020 Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase Cast. For the past 14 years, the showcase has shone a spotlight on talent, highlighting live performances and writing.
The showcase brought her to Los Angeles for a few months towards the end of 2019. One day she called up Nicholaw to get coffee knowing he was busy working on the film. Instead, he offered her a role in “The Prom.”
“She was here, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you have to do this,’ And it just happened,” Nicholaw said.
Reprising her character in “The Prom” from Broadway to Netflix allowed Mompoint to stay in LA, get a car and lease an apartment with her new and unexpected income. It was a place Mompoint felt she could slow down and rest after being sick and running around New York City for so many years.
“We can do this,” Mompoint said to her husband when she was cast, noting the second time “The Prom” had changed her life.
“I would do anything for her,” Nicholaw said. “I really would. She's just a good-hearted person and a really great cast member. And also, she's a complete Broadway pro.”
At first, Mompoint felt guilty about stepping onto the set. She was the only cast member from the Broadway company in the film. “I felt so bad like, ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ Then I had to say [to myself]: ‘You have the chance to help the cast members in the film that don't know as much about the [show].’ So, she made a deal with herself to be proud of where she was as opposed to having “impostor syndrome.”
What came out of it was the chance to make a name for herself. At a time when most artists were home without work in the middle of the pandemic, Mompoint was afforded employment.
The dance scene she oversaw on set over the summer was a moment in the movie when Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) and Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) sing the ballad “I Just Want to Dance With You” under football stadium bleachers. The choreography included Mompoint asking Pellman and DeBose to hold hands and spin as they walked through a flower garden with rose petals falling.
“It’s not just posting a black square [on social media]. It’s about putting [Black Lives Matter] to action. I felt like a form of protest during the height of everything because here I am a woman, Black, Haitan and on this set. I'm all of these things that don't usually get power or creative input and I got to do that. It’s because of Casey, and it's because of ‘The Prom.’” She was compensated and credited for her associate choreographer contributions in the movie.
At the same time, she also launched her own children’s programming called “Vasthy’s Friends” after seeing a great need for joy and creativity for kids during the pandemic. All episodes are hosted by Mompoint and feature artists who have created their own original kids show episodes. “I believe the way to change the world is through our youth,” she said of the show’s mission. “It's easier to teach a kid to love than unteach an adult to hate.”
She’s also using her platforms and voice to raise awareness about women’s health after her scare with fibroid tumors.
“She has one of the best hearts in the history of the world and she's so supportive of other women” said her “The Prom” co-star Ariana DeBose. “She believes in women who empower women. She's so great. She's one of my role models.”
"Vasthy could not be more special," said Berinstein of working together on Broadway and on the film. "Aside from her extraordinary gifts as a performer -- no one is as kind, generous, or compassionate. Vasthy raises the bar in every way always."
Choreographing on a movie set has since led to more opportunities for her, Mompoint revealed, including initiative work, teaching in schools and an offer to be on an organization’s board. And that’s how Mompoint says the “The Prom” changed her life a third time.
Adding: “‘The Prom’ is my guardian angel.”