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Why Ilonka From The Midnight Club Looks So Familiar

October is the month of the year when television networks and movie theaters take pride in all things spooky. Netflix is one streamer that always features its very own Halloween section, and for the past several years, horror director Mike Flanagan has regularly appeared at the top of this category. Some of his best-known entries on the platform include the Stephen King adaptation "Gerald's Game," "The Haunting of Hill House," and "Midnight Mass." His 2022 offering is "The Midnight Club," a horror series adapted from the book by Christopher Pike. The show follows the odd occurrences at a hospice where seven young adults are being treated for terminal illnesses. The group of friends forms an agreement that whichever of them dies first has to communicate with the rest of the group from the dead.

The program has plenty of frightening moments, but its dramatic premise is also compelling, with Variety calling it "best of Flanagan's approach throughout his Netflix work." The strong critical praise is no doubt helped by the dynamic performances of its cast, including Igby Rigney as Kevin, Ruth Codd as Anya, and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" star Heather Langenkamp, as Dr. Georgina Stanton, who runs the hospice. The actress who plays the lead role of Ilonka may look familiar to you. Here is where you have likely seen her before.

She played Mike Epps' daughter in ABC's Uncle Buck

Ilonka is played by Iman Benson, an actress who has been appearing in television shows since 2016 (per IMDb). Benson won her very first acting role at the age of 15 by landing the part of Tia Russell, the eldest niece of the title character in ABC's short-lived 2016 sitcom "Uncle Buck." The show was based on the John Candy/John Hughes movie of the same name from 1989. The TV show cannot be more different from the 1989 movie in that Buck (Mike Epps) had a completely different set of life circumstances than Candy's version of the character. The laughs from the film carried over to its 21st-century small-screen adaptation, but the program was unfortunately canceled after one season.

At the 0:44 mark in a behind-the-scenes interview along with co-stars Aalyrah Caldwell (Maizy Russell) and Sayeed Shahidi (Miles Russell) (via Vimeo), the actress was asked about her prior acting experience. "This [Uncle Buck] is my first project, so I am so excited and so honored to be working with such people that have established their careers in Hollywood," Benson said. "So it's so cool to be able to learn from them and learn from them [Caldwell and Shahidi] too." Her career would take off soon after the series ended.

Iman Benson had a recurring role on Netflix's Alexa & Katie

Iman Benson's next major role was a recurring part on Netflix's high school sitcom "Alexa & Katie," where she played the role of Reagan, a friend of Alexa (Paris Berelc) and Katie (Isabel May). Reagan was a total departure from the witty and reserved Tia on "Uncle Buck." Her character was prone to selfish pursuits, but this was always at the expense of some acerbic comedy and one-liners on Benson's part. But most of all, Reagan is an empowered and headstrong young girl determined to meet the goals she has set for herself in life.

Her creation is very similar to the motivations Benson set for herself. In an interview with Entertainment on Tumblr, Benson offered some advice for young women of color wishing to become actresses. "If I would say one thing it would be, claim your power," she said. "It's so easy in this industry to get discouraged or to feel inadequate. There is nothing more riveting than a young Black woman who understands her strength and isn't afraid to embody it. It's important to remember that no one is you and that is your power. Own who you are and don't let anything dim your light."

Benson starred as Drea Barris on #blackAF

The most recent role for Iman Benson was as Drea Barris, the teenage daughter of Kenya Barris (playing a fictionalized version of himself) and Joya Barris (Rashida Jones) in Netflix's "#blackAF." The show explored the trials and tribulations of a Black family who has recently become wealthy. Humor and insight were frequent themes of the series in what Netflix described as "Barris' irreverent, highly flawed, unbelievably honest approach to parenting, relationships, race, and culture" (per IndieWire). Although the show mixed drama with humor, it also contained many reminders of Barris' penchant for laugh-out-loud comedy in his other sitcom "Black-ish," which he also based around his life experiences. 

When asked what her favorite scenes to film were by Harper's Bazaar in 2020, Benson responded, "I think for me, my favorite scenes to film were anything that were vulnerable experiences. Another thing would be interviews that I had specifically with Kenya. I felt like they were spaces that me and him were both vulnerable together. Whether that be because this was experiences that he was going through or just experiences that I had gone through in my life, but I was reflecting it through Drea's character." 

With that mind, it's probably not surprising that Benson went on to explore vulnerability and her own life reflections to great effect in "The Midnight Club."