• Class of 2017: Hari Nef

    With eyes ahead to the new year, we brought together the fresh new faces that are challenging the status quo. Artists, activists, and musicians, our Class of 2017 is forging the path ahead with hope and optimism.

    After a stellar 2016, actress and model Hari Nef is ready to work on her own terms. We chatted with Hari about the importance of storytelling, why she’s leaving the “activist” qualifier behind, and how she’s staying balanced in the new year. 

    Age: 24
    Occupation: Actress, Model, Writer
    Sign: Libra
    Senior Superlative: Most. 

    Who is Hari Nef? 
    Hari Nef is a 24-year-old girl who lives in New York. She grew up in Boston. She was born in Philadelphia. She loves her family, and she loves her friends. She's an actor and a model. I love my mom. I don't know. I have ups. I have downs. I get through it. I figure it out. That's who she is.

    Did you always know you wanted to act? 
    Yeah, from a pretty young age. I did my first play when I was in kindergarten, pretty young. I was definitely acting things out before that. I like to play make believe, and now I do it as a job. That’s just how it happened. 

    What’s your favorite role you’ve played? 
    I haven’t written it yet. 

    What are you working on now? 
    I've been shooting a lot. I've got a big project coming up in February that I'm very excited about. Getting back into the acting side of things after modeling every year. I've got a big audition that I really want to nail, so I'm working on that right now. I’m trying to do some of my own writing again. I used to feel like creative writing, personal writing that was based on my own experience, felt too vulnerable. I think I’m ready to get back into it. I'm working on a bunch of stuff. Most of all, I'm working on myself. I'm working on dealing with what my life is now and dealing with life in general. I really want to have a good relationship with the people in my life. I want to have a good relationship with the world, and I want to have a good relationship with myself, and it takes a lot of work. 

    That sounds busy, but gratifying. 
    “Busy, but gratifying” is a good way to describe my life right now. 

    What big ideas have you been engaging with lately? Things have you’ve learned that have been fascinating you. 
    I think ever since the election, I've been thinking less about how to fight and more about how to listen and how to love. Thinking less about me, me, me, my needs, my community, my life, my oppression, and thinking more about everyone else, looking outside of that and trying to understand the people who are in my world and the country that I live in and trying not to live in pain and anger, try to live in something different that's going to allow me to move forward.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about de-politicizing.  I've been thinking about my politics and my beliefs but also thinking about my life outside of those politics and those beliefs. Especially coming out of college, I felt the need to make everything a political movement, a political statement, a political action, but it's not a very happy way to live. 

    You recently tweeted about no longer wanting to be labeled an “activist”. 
    I never wanted that, and I never called myself that until other people started calling me it. I thought that I had to go along with it, but I didn't realize that I can do very meaningful advocacy work in my day-to-day life with the folks and institutions that are around me and also the folks and institutions that reach out to me. I can do so much work. I don't have to tweet about it. I don't have to talk about it in an interview or in a magazine. I don't have to tell my publicist about it. In a way, drawing away from a political label has allowed me to do more politically significant work in my day to day life. It's not like a cause and effect. I think it's just a mental thing. I feel more comfortable this way.

    Do you think the label became attributed to you just because of who you are?
    Yeah. It was a qualifier. It was a reason. It was an excuse. 

    Photo by Logan Jackson

    What kinds of ideas do you think will bring everyone together? 
    I think people need to get out of the mindset that they're fighting against something and start thinking about fighting for something. I think that our country's sort of emotional heritage from the past 15 years or so has been so much about safety and like do I feel safe, department of homeland security. I think my generation, and I think a lot of people who aren't in my generation, it's become very difficult for people to see outside themselves because the world just got scarier and scarier, and you retreat. But I think that mindset has led to even more terrifying things. 

    This idea of that doesn't apply to me, so it's not a part of my belief system. I think there's just a dearth of empathy or even a dearth of sympathy. I'm really trying to build that in myself and fortify that in myself because I feel like that will carry me through.

    It's not about fighting against Donald Trump. It's about fighting for civil liberties, fighting for human rights, fighting for women, fighting for people of color, fighting for immigrants, fighting for LGBT folks. Pelting people who don't understand you or who don’t agree with you with facts is not going to change their mind. Yelling at them, refusing to talk to them, making classist jokes about certain parts of the country, sneering from a place of enlightenment and entitlement, that is not going to solve political problems. I think we all thought at one point that maybe it would. 

    I certainly thought that my words and my anger and my outspokenness and my ability to pinpoint injustices and call it out, I thought that could make a difference. It just widens the divide. There needs to be a new tactic. There needs to be love. You can't appeal to people's minds anymore. You have to appeal to their hearts or their bank accounts, as the case may be. Now, fear is threatening to override that. So much fear. Fear I think is the source of all injustice in the world. Almost all of it, probably.

    Photos by Logan Jackson

    You seem like a deeply empathetic person. 
    I’m super sensitive. I notice everything. 

    Is that what makes you good at acting? 
    Yeah. I love stories. I love the stories people tell to other people. I love the stories people tell to themselves. I think storytelling can bring abstract ideas or abstract feelings into sharp focus. I think storytelling is, for me, the ultimate communication. You don't have anything without a story. I think that's where it came from. I think I also gravitated toward acting because reality as I encountered it wasn't really cutting the mustard for me. I knew that from a very young age, so I would escape into alternative worlds or alternative personalities or alternative stories. 

    The fact that I was really into acting but also was really into video games but was also really into fashion, these are all immersive galaxies of stories and small worlds. I think that's what attracts me to all of those things. It's about storytelling and identities in a lot of ways. That always drew me to it.

    What do you hope for yourself in 2017? 
    In 2017, I want to keep it together. I'm in a very exciting time in my life right now. Things are up. Things are down. Something great happens. Something awful happens. I achieve something. I fail at something, or I discover a new, even higher goal to pursue. I have this amazing high stakes, high risk, high reward life. It's been difficult for me to balance the emotional side of it and keep it an even keel and being able to draw a boundary between professional stuff and personal stuff and embracing rejection, embracing failure, embracing the journey. 

    I would really like to get to a place where I don't feel these things so deeply where I'm not so overjoyed when something amazing happens and I'm not so devastated when something bad happens. I think staying in the middle is what allows me to stay consistent and to do the work that I want to do this year, which is personal, is professional, is in some ways political. There's a lot to do. I think I want to tie up all the loose ends in my life so I can save all my energy for the work. 

    Photo by Logan Jackson

    What do you hope for the world in 2017? 
    I'm trying to figure out what the opposite of fear is. I think the world needs a confidence boost. I think that the entire world, every single person on this planet in some way, lives in constant fear of so many things that don't actually exist, or that aren't actually that bad or actually aren't dangerous at all. The world needs a confidence boost. The world needs to feel confident enough to experience change and be like okay I'm here and experiencing this. I'm not fighting it. I'm checking it out and seeing how it makes me feel, and I'm looking at it objectively. The world needs to not let its fears construct its reality about the enemy, the other, the oppressor, the tyrant, the sexual deviant, the person from somewhere else. 
    I keep thinking about fear and how it's a sickness, and how it's the root of every problem I have. I think it's the root of every problem the world has right now. Not that I know every problem the world has, but the ones that I see, I'm just like it's action with no thought. It's emotion without experimentation. 

    It’s been said that love and hate aren’t opposites, they’re closely related. And the opposite of both is indifference. What about fear? 
    Love and hate are passions. I think indifference is a bigger problem for the world than hate, but I think fear breeds indifference. I think fear gives someone the momentary permission to leave something alone or to disengage. Like maybe not. I don't know. It can manifest itself in the most casual ways. I think if people felt more empowered and safe getting out of their comfort zone and trying new things and meeting new people, then there would probably be a lot more togetherness and a lot more unity.

    Say something to your generation. 
    Chill out. Everything’s going to be ok.