Hollywood’s Color Line: Amongst Black Actresses

11 Feb

In recognition of Black History month in America, LIH wanted to focus on black actresses in Hollywood. After watching a documentary called America Beyond the Color Line by Henry Louis Gates Jr. we thought we explore how well black actresses are doing in Hollywood today? Does Hollywood still favor light over darker skinned toned actresses today? Can talent eradicate the color line? 

Ten years ago Henry Louis Gates Jr. a Harvard professor interviewed actress Nia Long for the documentary America Beyond the Color Line.  She stated Hollywood believes the lighter you are the less threatening you are to white audiences.  Click here to see an interview with Gates about the documentary.

The above interview with Nia Long was a decade ago. Has Hollywood discrimination against dark actresses changed with the success of actress Viola Davis? Is talent more important than color? According to actor Denzel Washington he believes if black actresses want longevity in Hollywood then they need to have “acting chops” meaning they need to sing, dance and act. Please watch interview below.

Are there too many black actresses going after sex starlet roles or is that the only thing available to young actresses today?  Do you think audiences have gotten over their aversion toward seeing dark actresses on screen today? What are your thoughts?

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77 Responses to “Hollywood’s Color Line: Amongst Black Actresses”

  1. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 4:10 PM #

    OB,

    Developed long before President Obama’s first term in or even Twilight in 2002, I agree that documentary is an unusual time capsule.

    I noticed in the “America Beyond the Color Line” documentary that there were a few people who claimed the only color that mattered in Hollywood was green (i.e; money; for the children in the audience).

    Another major producer (I will supply the name later) who was thought to be really cutting edge at the time thought many in Hollywood were too egotistical to be racists.

    I take it you thought neither of these opinions were remotely true?

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:04 PM #

      The producer u are referring to is Arnon Milchan. Correct?
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnon_Milchan

      Well to answer your question. Yes!

      • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:13 PM #

        OB,

        Thanks for the assist. It’s hard to remember these “here today gone today” producers.

  2. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 4:11 PM #

    OB,

    I can’t help but notice that Kerry Washington of Quentin Tarrantino’s recent film, “DJango unchained” seemed to fit the ideal in the trend you are describing. If anyone was the lead actress in the movie she was it.

    Are you and the potential critics you have referred to denying her talent was useful to the overall project?

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:09 PM #

      CR- What interested me in writing this article was to find out what matters more to the consumer talent or looks? Would u prefer to have a bad actress that looks pleasing or a great actress who don’t fit the Hollywood stereotype?

      • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:12 PM #

        Also, I thought Kerry Washington was good in Django.

        • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:14 PM #

          I kind of thought you would.

      • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:23 PM #

        I will go with talent. That’s what make up artists are for: to dress us up and down. You can’t dress up talent. If it’s crap it’s crap.

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:33 PM #

          Hahahaha! So true. There is no amount of make up or CGI to cover up bad acting. Hahaha!

          • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:37 PM #

            As the Twilight SAga has proved…

            • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:47 PM #

              Hahaha! I wasn’t going to go there.

              • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:51 PM #

                Well it had to be done. 🙂

        • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 7:59 PM #

          I agree with you. Talent is so much better. I think capturing the spirit of the character is more important than looks.

          • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:15 PM #

            Ozzie!

            One of the major things Hollywood constantly tells AA actors, producers etc.. AA in leading roles or all AA cast don’t appeal or sell to International audiences. Would u agree?

            • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 9:34 PM #

              Not really. As long as the story are good and people can connect to it, it doesn’t matter! I know it’s not a movie but it proves a point. The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air is so popular here (and as Will said worldwide in the video below). I still remember the days, time and channel it was on (weekdays, channel 2, 6pm)! Everyone I knew loved it too. It was a great show with great actors, it didn’t matter that the cast was all black. The repeats are still going strong too!

              From 23:30 to 28:00 roughly (yes, I still know the words to the song 🙂 )

  3. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 4:14 PM #

    O.B.,

    Is this really a white problem? Of directors who produce a lot of films, Spike Lee doesn’t appear to cast a lot of dark skinned African American actresses. Why is this a hang up of white directors if the African American community helps perpetuate the same problem?

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:14 PM #

      CR- I don’t know if Spike Lee does it because he has to get funding? However, he may not be able to get funding with a darker leading lady.

      • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:24 PM #

        I was thinking the same thing OB. We don’t know what binds a director.

  4. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 4:25 PM #

    OB,

    This is my last question for now. Do you perceive that African American male actors are less challenged by this trend?

  5. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM #

    OB,

    What would you say to critics of this article, (or Gates’ documentary) who might say Hattie McDaniel, Whoppi Goldberg, and Gabourey Sidibe’ seemed to overcome this obstacle?

  6. Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    Welcome to our discussion tonight.

    • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM #

      Hi OB!

      You having a nice week so far?

      • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:06 PM #

        Hi LB!

        Nice to see u. Yes, I’m having a great week. How about u?

        • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:08 PM #

          So far so good! 🙂

          Great article and I really enjoyed that video clip.

          • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:10 PM #

            What did u enjoy about it?

            • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:16 PM #

              haha! posted in a separate comment below. 🙂

              • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:27 PM #

                Since you posted below.
                Excuse me, if I haven’t already been talking WAAAAAAYYYYYY TTTTTTOOOOO MUCH. And OB I know you did not ask me…. but here goes.

                I think the interview is funny because these were expected to talk about leading male topical interest stuff or themselves and instead they are talking about female peers.

                All of these men seem so much more generous in my book.

                • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:34 PM #

                  I thought they were very generous too. I like that interview a lot.

                  • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:37 PM #

                    Classy men being interviewed so maybe that is why. 🙂

                    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:41 PM #

                      Yes! U may be on to something?

                    • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:01 PM #

                      Agreed too! 🙂

        • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:10 PM #

          Hi LB and OB.

  7. littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:16 PM #

    OB,

    We have said multiple times on this site that an actor needs to have talent. If they want a career that spans decades, you have to have the ability to transform into your character and deliver! It was great to see that video clip where highly respected actors said the same thing.

    I think AA women need to not worry about being the next and up and coming sexy starlet. Take those supporting roles. Supporting roles are underestimated in my opinion. I think it is important to remember that you can still have a successful, happy, long career not always being the lead. I love Kevin Bacon. He has and will always have a career.

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:21 PM #

      U Said:” I think AA women need to not worry about being the next and up and coming sexy starlet. Take those supporting roles. Supporting roles are underestimated in my opinion.”

      Me: Bravo! ITA. IMO u have to have talent and vision to have longevity. Far to often people want to do whats popular rather than what appeals and speaks to them. Does that make sense?

      • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:26 PM #

        Absolutely! I like quality and things that will last. That goes for my actors too.

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:46 PM #

          One of the things I admire about Don Cheadle and Denzel Washington career when they began acting? They took roles that were of interest to them. Roles that weren’t degrading but empowering. They made a way for themselves that did not exist for black actors before.

  8. littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:22 PM #

    You said: Do you think audiences have gotten over their aversion toward seeing dark actresses on screen today?

    Me: I’m going to say yes because I am an optimist. I honestly don’t know anyone in my circle or outer circle that has a problem with AA actors or actresses. I do know they get sick of the stereotypical films, just like I imagine AA folks do. If Quentin Tarantino did a film just based on Django and his wife, I would love to see it. I wouldn’t have a problem with two AA romantic/dramatic leads. (just using them as a reference since it’s currently in theaters)

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:30 PM #

      IMO it doesn’t matter if u have a great actress or not. U need to have a good story first. I don’t think most black actresses are getting access to good scripts. I mean they may have the talent etc.. but not the opportunities.

      However, ITA its nice to see blacks in a variety of roles. Also in romantic roles with each other. Not just the stereotypical maid, angry black women or sexy starlet Hollywood serves up.

    • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:31 PM #

      I agree with you two and I believe many think supporting actor roles are really where it’s at.

      Many of the movies I have seen in the last two years were completely delivered by the supporting actor and sometimes not decisively by the lead.

      • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

        Yes, yes, yes, CR.

        Also, I agree with you OB about giving AA actresses great scripts and stories.

        I was thinking about books to film adaptations and most books are white characters. It would be difficult to change ethnicity and stay true to the story without people thinking, “Why did they cast a black person in a white role?”

        I think Studios need to take more risks and quit being greedy buggers. I also cannot tell you how many website comments I have read where people complain about unoriginal HOllywood movies.

      • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:13 PM #

        I completely agree, CR! Some of my favourite movies are favourites because of the supporting actor and not the lead. I think many actors rush to get leads. In my opinion, taking many different roles in both lead and supporting leads to a longer and successful career!

  9. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:32 PM #

    OB,

    I’m sorry I neglected to say I appreciate this article. Thanks for this sensitive response to a problem that African American actresses must endure regardless of their training, talent or ambition.

    I wish I had included the actress featured below in the last group of names I posted.

  10. Open Book February 12, 2013 at 7:39 PM #

    I have a Q:

    Recently, there was some controversy over Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone. What do u think about the fact they selected a light skinned actress to play a dark skinned women?

    Do u think they could not find a dark actress in Hollywood that could play Nina Simone?

    • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:49 PM #

      I think they need to chill the eff out. IMO that’s like complaining about hiring a tan white actress instead of a fair skinned actress. maybe they couldn’t find a dark skinned actress who had the talent? maybe Zoe had more talent. Chill out folks.

      • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:53 PM #

        OB, is this who you’re are talking about?

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Zoe_Saldana_%28Headshot%29.jp

        Seems like this discussion has been almost constant on sites like “Shadow and Act.com” for months.

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:01 PM #

          Yes! Both CR and LB ITA. I think not only talent has something to do with it but marketing. Who are they going to market this too? What age demographic etc..I mean before u even get into the color of her skin. Age and then box office draw etc..

          I can go on!

        • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM #

          OB,

          How do you feel? Seems a great deal of the discussion circles around the fact the actress does not look anything like the singer. Normally you’re a fan of realism, do you think her selection is driven by the same trends you’ve mentioned or would accept marketing money as driven this selection also.

          • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:05 PM #

            I guess you beat me to the post.

            • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:10 PM #

              Hahaha! Just call me speedy! No seriously,

              I think biopics are hard to market. Nina Simone may be difficult to sell. She lived a long time. What part of her life are they going to focus on? Given the casting it looks like her early years.

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM #

          CR- Can u elaborate on some of the concerns they are saying on Shadow & Act about this topic?

          • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:10 PM #

            I don’t think I could do better. Essentially many were invested in other actresses they thought were better prepared. I certainly do not know whether others were 0r are more valid than whose slated to play the role.

            • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:11 PM #

              Who were some of these actresses?

              • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

                Some were those singer/actress types. I’m comfortable to wait for the movie. Hundreds have played Elvis, Nina was very compelling so I imagine another hundred women playing her will make me happy. The more the merrier …………… I will be.

      • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:22 PM #

        LOL, I agree LB! I do understand the concern. She was very popular and so well loved. People care enough to want her story told perfectly. But maybe Zoe will pull something amazing out of the bag! We’ll just have to wait and see.

        Kind of OT, has it started filming yet?

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

          It’s in post production.

          • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 9:35 PM #

            Thanks OB! Hopefully we’ll get some promo stills or clips soon!

  11. ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 7:56 PM #

    Hi everyone! 🙂

    Interesting article, OB! I think Denzel is right.

    • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!

    • littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:01 PM #

      Hi Oz!

      How are u?

      Ozzie! Why do u think Denzel is right?

      • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:50 PM #

        Hi CR, LB and OB!

        Tired and stressed, lol!

        Denzel has a long and successful career and he’s very intelligent. He’s seen what works and what doesn’t work (doesn’t he direct now too?). He’s right when he says talent is what you need because it is what people look for. I do! When I see a film, I want to be completely immersed into it and not distracted. Someone with no talent sticks out like a sore thumb! I think to get ahead in that business you need to be a triple threat too! Not alot of people have the dedication to do that. It’s just a guess but maybe some white actresses think they can coast by with looks or the right agents/marketing. It’s kind of lazy too. So if they get pushed aside by talented driven black actresses, well good! Forget the skin colour, more talent please Hollywood! (If you understand anything I’ve just said, you’re a genius. Even I don’t know what I’m rambling on about! There’s a point in there somewhere, lol!)

  12. littlebells February 12, 2013 at 7:59 PM #

    Everyone,

    I need to leave because apparently we invited friends over for dinner at 6. I was not made aware of this until now. ha. ha.

    great topic OB and I look forward to checking back in. Also, I will have everything ready for tomorrow’s article. 🙂

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:02 PM #

      Hahaha! No problem!! Have a nice dinner. TC!

      • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:06 PM #

        Bye LB.

        • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:51 PM #

          Bye LB! Hope you have fun! 🙂

  13. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:25 PM #

    OB,

    One might think it was unusual to so provocatively address US Black history month by addressing this controversy. One might assume that getting these kinds of parts was a kind of priviledge, on the other hand do you believe these actors lose anything in the exhange?

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:28 PM #

      Well I think if roles are being given out solely on sexy looks. Then it does a disservice to the actor in the end. Why? Simply, because its very likely the role and story is shallow and one dimensional if they are starting out making looks be the priority. Does that make sense?

      • Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM #

        Very little, but that is not your fault.

        • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:40 PM #

          Hahaha! I love u to.

          • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 8:58 PM #

            It makes sense to me!

  14. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:34 PM #

    I agree the topic you bring up must be unnerving for these actresses, yet aren’t other ongoing trends far more scary? When are we going to see an end to the number of rappers who are suddenly elevated to actor status?

    Don’t get me wrong I have seen and enjoyed most of the movies Will Smith, Queen Considering their recent careers as rappers, don’t you think Smith (“Ali”) and/or Latifah (“Chicago”) recent nominations for Oscar gold were premature? Or does it matter, after all neither won.

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:45 PM #

      Yes! I think they were premature definitely. Especially QL given the fact she was doing a music video for Chicago. Don’t get me wrong I thought she was great but not enough for an Oscar. Her character really did not evolve. There wasn’t enough dimension.

  15. Comic Relief February 12, 2013 at 8:35 PM #

    As usual interesting topic OB.

    Unfortunately I need to leave, see you and Ozzie later.

    • Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:40 PM #

      CR- Thanks for coming and great questions and comments as always.

      Goodnight!

  16. Open Book February 12, 2013 at 8:47 PM #

    I’m going to go for the evening.

    Thanks everyone for a great discussion.

    Goodnight!

    • ozzie20 February 12, 2013 at 9:38 PM #

      I better get my scatterbrain to bed. I’ve had fun! Night all. 🙂

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