Going “Beyond The Surface” With Dorion Renaud And Natalie Manuel Lee 

By Jade Solomon

Dorion Renaud is an actor, recording artist, and entrepreneur who, in 2018, revolutionized skincare with the launch of his organic and cruelty-free brand, Buttah Skin. Today, Buttah has truly carved out its own space in the skincare industry by creating products that cater to the skincare needs of “melanin rich skin” – becoming so successful that the brand is now carried among huge retailers like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Ulta Beauty and more. With Buttah, Renaud encourages users to uncover their best skin – but with his latest initiative, Renaud is now encouraging viewers to go “Beyond The Surface.”

In honor of Black History Month, the entrepreneur has teamed up with “Now with Natalie” creator and host Natalie Manuel Lee, to host a digital series which highlights “Black creators and changemakers” from various industries and “examine how their stories have shaped their lives thus far.” The digital series features an incredible lineup of guests including Cari Champion, Lamorne Morris, Bresha Webb and Nina Parker; as well as new episodes which are released every Thursday, in the month of February.

How did you both connect and each decide that the other would be the perfect partner to bring this project to life?

Dorion Renaud: Natalie and I have been friends for over a decade and have always been supportive of each other’s careers and we reconnected at the end of last year – Natalie had started her journey of motherhood so she took some time off to nurture her daughter. We connected instantly; it was like no time had passed and the first thing I said to her was, ‘W

e have to do something.’ I didn’t know what it was or what our path together would be but I always knew that we would work together. So we sat down a week later and I said, ‘Look, what you do best is you communicate; you get people to really share their truth and you do it in such an authentic way.’ Then I said, ‘How can we do this with Buttah?’ We both collectively came up with “Beyond The Surface” and this idea to really share the stories of our peers and our Black creators and Black excellence in general. Natalie graciously agreed, so here we are with a series that I think is really inspiring and really natural for both of us to do.

Natalie Manuel Lee: I feel the exact same to be honest. We’ve known each other forever and like Dorion said, it’s as if we reunited when we saw each other. And he’s right. We’ve been saying, ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to do this?’ [And] we just knew that our paths would align and cross because we both have the same vision but we have two different platforms; so using those two entities and coming together for the greater good works for both.

Natalie, you really are one of those journalists  who are able to tell people’s stories, like Dorion said, very authentically and you do it by being very gentle and understanding – you can tell that you’re coming from a place of trying to shed light and you’re also coming from a very real place yourself.

Natalie Manuel Lee: I really appreciate those words. I think for me, I didn’t even know that I could do that until I started doing it, to be honest. But I think the why of the gentleness and the ease is because I understand the power of someone else’s truth. I understand the power of someone else’s authenticity and I think that if we understood that and knew that, more people would do it. So kudos to the guests, that they are willing and open and honest enough to share their stories because the greatest way to spare people is to tell your story. Because your roadmap could be someone else’s survival guide, and so that is always my intention when I’m sitting down with people.

“Beyond The Surface” really seems to be a series that aims at dismantling a behavior that we all do, which is taking someone for their first impression or what we see of them on a surface level to be all that there is. Was that notion something that played into the creation of Beyond The Surface?

DR: I think what inspired me to create it was, outside of the success of Buttah, I felt the need to tell the story of Buttah and eventually I told Natalie, ‘You’re like the only person I’ll trust to sit and really share some things before I share them with other people,’ and so I felt that if I trusted her this much with my narrative and my story then we can turn it into something larger. And I think outside of Buttah enriching people’s skin, I always say we like to enrich their souls.

There are two sides of this business for me. There’s the entrepreneurship, great products, and all the great campaigns, and then as we are becoming more known and more successful it’s important that we leave our stamp and tell the right stories so that Buttah lives far beyond me. I think the way we do that is by really bringing the community in.

I think that Natalie was able to really bridge that gap for me. I thought it was important to have a woman in charge of telling these stories, a Black woman in particular, and I let Natalie do her thing because she’s good at what she does. It has nothing to do with our friendship. I’m thankful to be able to tie in friendship and work in an organic way. I really want to set that example because so many people say, ‘How do you work with your friends?’ And I say, ‘Simple. I pick their best gifts and use them. And I allow their gifts to be shown.’

I know that with Buttah we have the platform to really shine a light not only on our community and talent, but on people like Natalie as well. And it was really important to me to give her a place to talk freely and ask the questions that need to be asked. “Beyond The Surface” means [to] look beyond the skin, beyond the appearance, let’s talk about what’s deep down inside. And I think in the past couple of years we’ve all had to really look at ourselves in the mirror, beyond our skin.

NML: I think it’s just important for people to know that Dorion is not doing this for himself. I believe that the reason why Buttah is so successful is because of the way that he has been stewarding it. He understands the goal, [and] he understands the purpose of it. I think even for me, this is something that I’m honored to do. I’m honored to partner with him; and because of the equity we’ve had over the years, there’s trust there. I trust him, he trusts me and I think more importantly, we support each other. And because he is so grace-filled, it’s very easy to work with someone who is highlighting us, highlighting the Black, and highlighting the women; and more importantly, now has the desire to highlight their stories. So kudos to him for allowing this space to have a home.

How did you both initially choose and finalize the list of guests that you wanted to interview for the show?

DR: It was important to interview people that we both knew. We could’ve went all over the place with it but I said, ‘You know what, let’s interview people whose stories we really want to know more about.’ What was interesting is that even though we had known everybody that we interviewed for quite some time, we found out something new about them and were able to really hear the stories behind all the years of work. Oftentimes we’ll catch up with people or see them and ask how they are doing but you don’t really get to hear how they’ve been. So I wanted it to be personal, and with [Natalie and I] having similar circles it was really easy to come up with a guest list of people. It was really about the ones who were ready to talk and ready to share their stories.

NML: We knew that we wanted to tap into our communities and give them the opportunity to share what they wanted to share. And I think for me, the way that I prep, that I pre-prep, and I think about the guests, I definitely meditate on it and say ‘God, what’s the plan here? What is the theme?’ So I think for me as an executive producer and talent, I look at our communities and then I also look at the stories that I know the guests can tell and what they can help people with.

Sometimes when we’re on the outside looking in, we have a tendency to build people up in our heads – we tend to view others as if they’re more invincible, more spectacular or more talented than we are. Because you both were able to hear the guests speak about career transitions, navigating their industry spaces, life changes like becoming a parent, and even navigating through the pandemic; were there any stories or struggles that actually surprised you?

DR: Oh, absolutely. I was surprised at the vulnerability of everybody. Each one of them said something in their interview where I was like, ‘Wow!’ Cari Champion’s was really powerful. Lamorne’s was really powerful. They all were. You know, we have so many surface conversations in Hollywood because everybody is on the go, so it was really insightful to hear how they all got here. I can remember when every last one of the guests, myself and Natalie included, were not in a career space where it was thriving as much as it might be right now and I think it was really interesting to hear their journeys, that in between time. To really see my friends, and I consider everybody on this project a friend of mine, to see each of them doing well but also being honest about how success feels whether it be good or bad, and their personal feelings on how life is for them even though they have success, was really surprising and really interesting. And I could relate a lot.

NML: I could identify with a lot of what they were saying. And I think that is the goal – for us to see ourselves through other people’s stories. There was stuff that Nina was saying where I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I actually just did that.’ There was a moment in the interview where she said that there was a time where she had to really look at herself; she was looking at other people and feeling a type of way about other people but not realizing that the stuff she didn’t like about them was actually about her. I think that was so powerful because her vulnerability gives you space to accept the same thing that she’s talking about, about yourself. And I think that was comforting. Even for me, as I’m driving the conversation, they don’t realize that they are the ones who are actually driving the conversation. So it felt good, and it felt like a community. Yes, we have a camera and we have lights and we have a set but it also just felt like ‘Wow, they’re really making me feel not alone.’

So we know Buttah focuses on self care, and we’ve definitely been able to get familiar with the self care practices of your guests but what are some self care practices that live in your daily routines?

DR: Praying, meditating, taking some time to myself. Honestly, I’m trying my best to learn more self care practices because as a man who is working really hard right now, I haven’t learned to take time for myself. So I listen. I listen to other people’s stories. I call my friends. I think, honestly, my self care practices outside of taking care of myself is calling my friends, talking to them. Natalie can attest to that. It really does help, having your friends there to understand, and to push you through. So my self care is relying on the ones that I love and really allowing them to lift me up.

NML: For me, boundaries are probably my biggest that I’m learning. Boundaries help me a lot with my self care, and as I’m in a new season of finding my new flow as a mom, a wife, a working wife and a working mom, I think what also helps with that is literally the self care of boundaries, and a prayer for sure. I worship a lot.

Who is Dorion Renaud beyond the surface?

DR: I am a friend first, I would say. I am compassionate. I’m honest, as hell. And I like to think that I’m pretty funny and hilarious. I’m a hard worker and I care. I’m a country boy from Texas with a lot of heart beyond the surface.

Who is Natalie Manuel Lee beyond the surface?

NML: Really a jokester. I talk a lot of mess. But also just a girl that loves to be with her family and a girl that loves to be home. A girl that loves to also be with my people when I want to be with my people.

We know that the entire month of February will feature a new Beyond The Surface episode every Thursday, and we know that we’ll even get to hear from you Dorion as well. What else can we expect from Beyond The Surface? Will there be a season two?

DR: Well, we’re not really even in seasons. I remember sitting with Natalie and saying, ‘I like this. I think this works.’ So, we don’t have to greenlight anything around here. We’re not relying on networks and things of that nature. So yes, you will see more of it because of how it felt, not because of what it did. It will continue to resonate and if one person watched it every day and it changed their perspective in their life then that’s what the goal was. We will continue to grow it because we now know that it is a responsibility of ours and we take that responsibility very seriously. We have already started planning more exciting episodes and I think that it will go as long as we are in tune with life, in tune with each other, and in tune with this purpose. We’re not going to look at it like seasons or episodes, we’re going to look at it as something that’s necessary and it’s going to be around as long as it’s necessary.

To tune into “Beyond The Surface” visit or search “Beyond The Surface” on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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