It didn’t take long for Tahmel Morton’s mom to realize she needed to direct her daughter’s unbound energy into something productive. “We tried sports, but I was too girly for that and didn’t like getting my hair messed up,” Morton tells me. “We tried dancing like ballet, but I wasn’t focused enough.”
In fact, it wasn’t until Morton was seven that her mom finally found the perfect outlet for her daughter’s precociousness: trolling finance bros.
‘Justify capitalism in three words or less’
Just like ballet and sports, Morton’s acting career started with classes on Fridays. But she proved such a natural that she immediately drew the attention of an agency that started sending her out on auditions. In early 2005, one of them was for Wonder Showzen, a new sketch comedy show on Comedy Central in which a regularly occurring sketch, “Beat Kids,” featured elementary-school students such as Morton grilling unsuspecting adults.
She aced the audition and scored her biggest role yet. “Me and a whole bunch of kids got to do different skits based on our audition,” she says. “The producers loved my personality, so they let me roam free and make up whatever I felt went with the scene.”
Morton ultimately filmed a few sketches for Wonder Showzen, but only one made it to air before the show was canceled: a two-minute clip of Morton chasing down Wall Street dudes, shouting “Rise up! Fight the power!” into a megaphone and demanding anyone in a suit “justify capitalism in three words or less.”
‘When the revolution comes, where will you hide?’
“My mom came with me to every booking I ever did,” Morton says, “so she was with me the whole time, even in the midst of me running around the Financial District.” Her mom also did her best to explain Wall Street and capitalism in terms that a first grader could understand.
Not that it was necessary. “I was a little fireball and always very outspoken,” Morton explains. “I thought it was funny to make adults feel uncomfortable asking these real-life questions.” Case in point: When a grown man would rather run away from Morton than answer the question, “When did you sell your conscience?” she follows after him, screaming, “Your money doesn’t make you better than me!”
“That wasn’t scripted,” Morton tells me. “But it was a perfect example of me being a rambunctious child who had so much personality and was allowed to express it.”
‘I’ve fallen in love with helping people’
Fifteen years later, Morton can’t recall many details from the shoot — after all, a wolf doesn’t concern herself with the matters of sheep. “None of the [Wall Street guys] really stuck out specifically,” she says. And though the final cut eventually boiled down to just over 120 seconds, Morton’s victims that day were plenty. “I interviewed so many people, and they were all real people and their reactions were genuine. So every encounter was different,” she continues. “Some thought it was funny and played along, some were noticeably uncomfortable and some wouldn’t even talk to me or be filmed.”
After Wonder Showzen ended, Morton appeared in music videos, an American Express commercial and even earned the role as the sister in Everybody Hates Chris. But she ended up turning it down because her mom didn’t want to move to California. Also, she adds, “With my mom’s support, I stopped acting because I wanted to be a kid,” as opposed to missing friends’ birthday parties because of another audition or shoot. “After that, I experienced the loss of a family member due to an unjust legal system,” she says. “My mom said I could be angry or educate myself, that I could be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.”
She chose the latter. And so, Morton is now in her second year at Rutgers Law School, after which she hopes to use her voice to lift up those who might not be heard — just as she did as a 7-year-old, forcing Wall Street to answer the questions financial regulators should have been asking. “Everyone should have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” she says. “I’ve fallen in love with helping people, and I know that’s what I’m meant to do in life.”