Racial Equality in Film: Among Actors

29 Jun

Continuing our series on Racial Equality in Film

By Parisienne

There were no people of color nominated at this year’s 2011 Academy Awards. This absence left some people wondering? Where are the diverse faces both in front and behind the camera? What’s being done to improve diversity in Hollywood? So we decided to look at a few actors who have made quite a contribution to the film industry plus look into what’s being done to improve the diversity in Hollywood.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927 in Miami Florida but was raised in the Bahamas.  He served for a short time in the United States Army then moved to New York to pursue a career in acting.  He debuted in Hollywood in 1950 and received an Oscar for his role in Lillies of the Field (1963).  He became the first Black actor to receive an Oscar.  In the 1970’s he began to direct.  One of his most notable films that he directed was Stir Crazy (1980) with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.  In 1974, he was knighted and is able to use the term “Sir” although he chooses not to do so.  In 2002, he received an honorary Oscar.  He has served as an ambassador to Japan as a non-resident Bahamian and also to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.[1]

 Will Smith

Will Smith began his career rapping at the age of twelve and met Jeff Townes at the age of sixteen.  They formed DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.  When he made his first steps into acting he appeared in the T.V. show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  After his show, he had small appearances in films before his big break.  Since then Will Smith has cemented himself in Hollywood as one of summer biggest box office draws.[2]

 Alaina Reed Hall

Alaina Reed Hall, born, Bernice Ruth Reed, was an American Actress best known for her portrayal as Olivia on Sesame Street as well as appearing in 227.  She passed away in 2009 from breast cancer.[3]  Regina King wrote a blog for the Huffington Post discussing how race affects which actors are mentioned in the Oscar memoriam.[4]

 Although, minorities in film and television still have a long way to go. There has been great efforts to discover and develop culturally and ethnically diverse talent. Everywhere from ABC Diversity Showcase which is explained;[5]

 “ ABC’s Talent Showcase has established an industry standard in creating opportunities for talent, with the majority of participants being given the chance to audition for a variety of ABC (and other networks’) pilots and on-going programming.”

 Also, the Diversity acting workshop in Santa Fe is a joint effort between Robert Redford Enterprises and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) it’s goal which is explained by Rebecca Yee states,[6]  

 “The New Mexico Film Office and the state of New Mexico to provide new actors from underrepresented communities with the skills, tools and opportunities to be competitive and successful in the television and film industry,” said Rebecca Yee, national director of SAG Affirmative Action and Diversity. This program is an example of the benefits of affirmative action. No quotas or mandatory hiring— just doing what we can to level the playing field that is clearly still very unequal.”

 What do you think? Has diversity improved for actors in film and television? Do you think more should be done to improve the equality among actors in film and television?

Also check out:    Racial Equality in Film among  Directors and Racial Equality in Film among Screenwriters.

Please join us for a discussion Thursday: 6/30/2011 @7pE/12UTC

86 Responses to “Racial Equality in Film: Among Actors”

  1. Littlebells June 29, 2011 at 11:07 AM #

    THis is great, Paris!! I’m going to try and collect my questions and thought on this article today so I can write them tonight. Tomorrow is daughter’s b-day and it’s going to be an all-day event! Yowzers!!! 🙂

  2. Littlebells June 29, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

    I think Black actors and actresses have had more success than directors and screen writers. You’ve got the ones you mentioned in the article, not to mention Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jaime Foxx, Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, and Traji Penda Henson, just to name a few. Many have been nominated for awards and many have won awards.

    My only question at this time is why do we not have mainstream romantic movies with Black male and female leads? Yes, there are many Black romance movies, but do you think these movies would have been successful had it been a Black cast: Sleepless in Seattle? When Harry Met Sally? An Affair to Remember? The Graduate? An Officer and a Gentleman?

    Okay, I guess that’s two questions. 🙂

    • comic relief June 30, 2011 at 2:20 PM #


      The mention of Alaina Reed Hall so so so so SWEET!!!!!!!!!!! When considering “A” listers it’s so easy to forget the less visible work men and women who get the job done yet may not be in the most visible projects. Hall was an actress also and her LONG run on Sesame Street is an incredible achievement.

      Let’s not forget Morgan Freeman is a Sesame Street alum also. Laurence Fishburn did Pee Wee’s play house as Cowboy Curtis. And wearing a strange outfit, Christoph Waltz did a 1970’s Austrian Children’s Show. See for yourself below….


      • comic relief June 30, 2011 at 2:31 PM #

        Speaking of other stars who did children’s shows:

        Selena Gomez- “Barney”
        Fergie- “Kids Incorporate
        Alanis Morissette- “You Can’t Do That on Television.”
        Jan Michael Vincent- “The Banana Splits.”
        Leonardo DiCaprio- “Romper Room

        Here’s the article and see for yourselves….


        • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM #

          Great article CR!

        • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:46 PM #

          You’re the bomb! Although Morgan Freeman did Electric Company! Close enough. 🙂

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:15 PM #

        Hello All!

        My pc is very slow so please bear with me. CR, I did not know Morgan was on Sesame Street. That’s cool to know.

        • comic relief July 2, 2011 at 12:17 PM #


          Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: as I believe Littlebells corrects me later; Morgan Freeman was actually on the “Electric Company”. Got the address wrong yet I knew I remembered him from somewhere within my juvenile mind. I loved him then too. Check out the groovy threads:


          If you look at the show opening you can see well known Latina actress Rita Moreno from (West Side Story), also.

          I believe Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,& Blazing Saddles) and Mel Brooks (High Anxiety, Spaceballs, The New Steve Allen Show) also appeared on the show.

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:20 PM #


        That’s a cool video of CW. Actors have to start somewhere.

      • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:23 PM #

        I think Whoopi was on Sesame Street also? Yes! But I did not know that about Morgan. Great info CR!

        • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

          She was but she played herself.

    • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:06 PM #

      Excellent post LB!

    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM #


      I think those movies would have still turned out just as beautifully with a “minority” actor in the lead. One’s ability to act is not based on their skin color, IMO.

      • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:14 PM #

        I agree. That’s why I posed the question. Unless directors and producers start making the effort to hire Black actors/actresses for these roles, the public won’t be able to get used to the idea.

  3. Open Book June 30, 2011 at 3:02 PM #


    I agree with LB! Minority actors and actresses have been more successful than people behind the scenes. We have had this conversation many times before about the small number of diverse roles minority actors have to choose from. Do u think directors can do anything to change this like Kenneth Branagh who selected Idris Elba for Thor? or Do actors need to demand it?

    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:17 PM #

      IMO, actors need to ask for it. Its honestly a shame though that Alaina was cut out of the Oscar tribute.

      • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:20 PM #

        Hi Paris!

        How are u?

        I really like the fact Regina King stood up and said something about it. So often people just look the other way hoping things will change.

        • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:23 PM #

          Hi Open Book,

          I’m good. how are you feeling? I hope you are better. I’m glad she did too and brought light to the situation.

          • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM #

            I’m good much better.

            So what did u learn the most in researching this topic? Why did u select these three actors to focus on?

            • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

              I selected Alaina because I had previously read what Regina had posted. Will Smith because I like him as an actor and he is very versatile and funny, IMO. Sidney Poitier because I think he blazed the trail for actors from “minorities”

              • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

                Of Sidney and Will Smith what films of theirs do u like the most and why?

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:30 PM #

                  Sydney I love To Sir With Love and Will just about everything he does. how about you?

              • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:17 PM #

                Thank you for that link to Regina’s article. Alaina is beloved by many generations.

            • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

              The one thing I learned the most especially with Sidney is he was offered alot of supporting roles but he was able to still win an Oscar. Which just goes to show it does not matter who is in the lead. Its the ability of the person to be able to maintain believability in a role not their skin color.

              • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

                U make an excellent point. I often find supporting actors just as compelling as the lead in a film. The supporting role can add a lot of dimension to a story. IMO!

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:43 PM #


                  • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

                    Sometimes I prefer the supporting actors better than the stars. They can make a bad film bearable! That’s why I will never think any lesser of the supporting stars than the leads. Some of them can act rings around the main actor!

                    • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:32 PM #

                      I agree with all of you on this point! Some of my favorite supporting actors have been:
                      Jack Nicholson for A Few Good Men
                      Leo DiCaprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
                      Michael Clark Duncan for The Green Mile
                      and Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds (Duh!)

                      Sorry I got stuck on actors. I’ll have to think about actresses! 🙂

  4. Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM #

    Welcome Everyone-

    New and returning visitors please feel free to comment or ask questions. We would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

    • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 7:30 PM #

      Hi all! Hope you’re all well.

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:36 PM #

        Hi Ozzie!

        Glad you could make it.

      • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

        Hi Ozzie!

        What are your thoughts?

        • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 7:46 PM #

          I agree with you all on it seems that minority people have better success in front of the camera rather than behind. I think that because as our society has become more accepting we are demanding to see a more realistic protrayal of the world. Unfortunately we don’t see those behind the scenes so if the script and filming are ok the demand isn’t there. I hope you can understand that! I’m a bit lost for words at the moment from shouting at my router to work, lol!

          • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

            LOL I understood you. 🙂

          • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

            What is screaming like Ozzie? Can your neighbors hear you down the street? LOL!!

            But yes! I understand what u are saying…..

            • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:04 PM #

              Oh yeah, nearly! The air was blue! If it hadn’t of started when it did, I was going to go caveman angry and bang it on the floor! 🙂

              • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

                LOL! Love it Oz!!

              • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:16 PM #


          • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:34 PM #

            Yes Ozzie! Look at the people in your banks, grocery stores, car dealerships, malls, parks…it’s a mish mosh of color. That’s real life and it needs to be seen on the screen. In that aspect HW really has made an effort.

            Sorry i missed your shouting. I had about 7 little people shouting in my ear all day! haha!

  5. Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

    My favorite films of Sidney’s are: “To Sir, with Love” and “In the Heat of the Night”

    Will Smith: Hancock, Enemy of the State, Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness

  6. Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

    Sightly OT but what did you think of Sesame Street snubbing Katy Perry because her outfit was deemed to sexual by parents?

    • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:44 PM #

      Hmm! Well it is a show for kids. I think her image is about putting her girls on display. So SS should have known this when asking her to be on the show she might wear a outfit not appropriate. Anyway, why go through all this drama and snub her etc.., Just don’t ask her IMO!

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:46 PM #

        That’s exactly my thought too! Why snub it when its already said and done? I have a question though don’t the costumes people wear have to be approved on shows like SS or no?

        • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

          Yes/No sometimes special guest are given some ability to choose what they want. They do have to inform stage management so they know how to prepare. But yes! They would have known in enough time to make changes if they wanted too.

          • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

            That must have been some uproar then. IMO, I saw nothing wrong with her outfit.

            • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

              Yeah! I think it sounds like a ploy to jack up ratings for the show.

              • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

                Yeah, I saw nothing wrong with it. I think the most kids it’s aimed at, would of thought at the most “food”! That’s if they noticed. They are probably watching the bright funny puppet! Any sexual thoughts would be done by the parent not the child.

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:10 PM #


                  • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:36 PM #

                    Trust me, most of these kids have seen worse. :(D *that’s a tongue of disgust by the way)

  7. Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:42 PM #

    katy’s video:

  8. Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

    So what do u think happened at the Oscar’s that no minority actors were nominated this year? Do u think it could happen again next year given how few roles there’s been so far?

    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:52 PM #

      I have no idea what happened there. Its a shame really but if there are very few roles then its a possibility. What do you think?

      • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

        So far there has not been any real impressive films put out except documentaries. I mean the Adjustment Bureau was good but that’s not Oscar potential.

        I think it’s still too soon to tell. Oscar worthy stuff usually roles out in the Fall.

        • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 7:59 PM #

          Do you think WFE will get any Oscar noms?

          • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:02 PM #

            I would imagine for cinematography and production design is very probable. Yes!

            • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:04 PM #

              I thought the cinematography was brilliant.

              • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:10 PM #

                I thought Jacqueline West did an excellent job on WFE as well. But I think the Costume Designer Ambrosino for THOR will be very hard to beat so far.

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

                  Thor was great costume/cinematography wise. I loved WFE though just because I like that time period. I loved all the costumes for WFE tbh except for Reese’s grey one.

                  • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:26 PM #

                    Oh! U mean the Harem inspired costume?

                    Yeah, I think the style was good the color I did not like.

                    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:28 PM #

                      yeah that’s the one. I didn’t like the color either.

            • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:07 PM #

              I was at a reunion the other day and someone was mentioning Rob jumping on the train and that it reminded her of one of our relatives. He was stepping off/was pused off a train into the path of an oncoming train and was killed instantly. I was like “Please don’t say bad things toward Rob” LOL

              • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

                That’s sad Paris.

                I always thought R jumping on the train looked dangerous? Have u ever tried to do it? It’s not easy and it’s quite dangerous IMO!

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:15 PM #

                  no i’ve never tried it I always wait for the train to stop. 🙂 Although I almost did last week but I don’t want to die.

                  • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:20 PM #

                    Well I’m short 5’2 so I have to really run fast to even have a chance. Anyway I tried it once with my brothers and it was scary.

                    • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

                      I’ve always wanted to do that but the tracks near to me are fenced off. Plus the only type of cargo trains that go by are like big skips so there’s no way I’d be able to climb into them. I’ll have to find somewhere in America to do it!

                    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:26 PM #


                      I don’t think you want to do that in the States. They might arrest you.

                    • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:29 PM #

                      Well I had a lot of help by my brothers. I would not try it today. I was really crazy back then and wanted to do everything my brothers did. LOL!

                    • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:36 PM #

                      Well I hate running so I wouldn’t last long enough to catch up with it anyway, rotf! So it will have to stay a fantasy!

                • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 11:50 PM #

                  I know its sad. It happened in the 1800’s. Also found out i’m descendant of Henry II and Catherine of Aragon.

    • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:37 PM #

      Please forgive my ignorance on the topic, but what minority actors could have been nominated? Seriously, I can’t remember 99% of the films that came out this last year.

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 11:51 PM #

        Honestly, LB I don’t remember the films either.

  9. Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:05 PM #

    O.k. Idris Elba has really been fighting in HW for substantial leading roles that are more diverse. He recently got the part of Prometheus with Ridley Scott. LOVE Ridley. Anyway, do u think more actors in HW need to hold out for better instead of taking crap?

    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

      yes/no. no because that crap role might be the one that gets you noticed and yes because you want to have something more subsatantial in your career.

      • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:17 PM #

        True u do have a point. Sometimes u got to take the good with the bad. Do u think once u do get noticed u need to be aggressive about taking better roles to establish yourself?

        • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:18 PM #

          yes other wise the actor.actress won’t be taken seriously. He/She has to show that they will work hard and be professional, IMO

          • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:32 PM #


            • Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:38 PM #


  10. Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 8:22 PM #

    *runs into empty bedroom and slams door-panting*

    ok I got a quick break and got caught up. Excellent comments! Will respond tonight! 🙂

    *deep breaths-heads back out to birthday chaos*

    • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:26 PM #

      Good luck, lol! 🙂

    • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:27 PM #


    • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:30 PM #

      HI LB!

      U are ALIVE!!!! Hang in there we miss u!!

  11. Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:29 PM #


    I have to go but have time for one more question if you have any.

    • Open Book June 30, 2011 at 8:31 PM #

      No I have no more Q.

      It was a great article. Take Care!

      • Parisienne June 30, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

        you too!

        • ozzie20 June 30, 2011 at 8:38 PM #

          I have no more questions either. Have a good night Paris!

  12. Littlebells June 30, 2011 at 11:54 PM #

    Great discussion ladies! I was reading the comments on Regina’s article and it was mentioned that they should have their own Emmy’s. I’ve thought about this before, so please do not be offended by what I’m about to say. I appreciate that Latinos and AFrican Americans have their own award shows, but I think if HW and the “good ole boys” (Thanks Francesa for that great phrase!) got their heads out of their bums, we wouldn’t HAVE to have these different award shows. I understand why we have them, but it wouldn’t be necessary if HW incorporated more minority directors, producers, screenwriters, composers, etc.

    I had another thought but the brain just jumped on a charted jet to the Bahamas. 🙂

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