Seneglaese actress Anna Diop has become the latest victim of online furor that’s inspired by her latest casting as Koriand’r/Starfire in the upcoming live action TV series from the DC Universe— Titans. Things got so heated that she was forced to disable the comments on her Instagram account, after it was swiftly ravaged by racist trolls — who couldn’t control their rage at the notion of their favorite character being portrayed by a dark-skinned Black woman.
This longstanding tradition of social media platforms being transformed into missiles of hate geared towards ethnic actors — who’ve been cast in ambitious projects is thriving with venomous vigor, as the hostile climate sets the tone for such disgustingly vile activities.
The rules of engagement give haters the power to “cancel” those who qualify, and the percentage who’ve done nothing to deserve the injustice of being verbally abused by the maddening crowd of naysayers.
When John Boyega was cast as a Stormtrooper in the globally-revered Star Wars franchise that unleashed the first installment of the sequel trilogy — 2015’s The Force Awaken — the highly-anticipated trailer was greeted with anger and disbelief from hardcore fans who were grossed out at the sight of a Black man — commanding the force — in a galaxy far, far away.
The next installment — The Last Jedi — also suffered a similar controversy, as one of its young stars, Kelly Marie Tran, was bullied incessantly on Instagram after it was revealed that she had secured the role of Resistance fighter — Rose Tico. The thunderous uproar over her casting was so overwhelming that Tran, who is Vietnamese-American, and had made history as the first woman of color to play a major role in the iconic franchise — had no choice but to exit her Instagram account.
The stark difference between the severity of the situation that afflicts these three targeted performers, is the fact that Boyega and Tran will undoubtedly move on to a steady stream of future endeavors that will keep them on a progressive trajectory.
But dark-skinned Black actresses have traditionally been shunned from the same spotlight that affords their lighter-skinned counterparts the kind of opportunities that formulate thriving careers.
In a since-deleted post, Diop, briefly commented on her current status as the newly-minted “enemy of the state” — based on how her ethnicity disassembled the dignity of a well-loved series — after the trailer made its debut, and fired up legions of hate-mongers who were appalled at what they witnessed.
“Racist, derogatory, and/or cruel comments have nothing to do with the person on the receiving end of that abuse. And because I know this — I’m unfazed.”
But as a Black woman with dark skin, who considered entering the acting world, back when I was a twenty-something — inhabiting the very pale and White world of the late nineties — I have to admit that I’m quite fazed by the current state of affairs.
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about how Hollywood has perpetually demonstrated its biased tendencies towards “women of a certain hue,” who are perceived as less viable, and therefore not worth the risk of pairing with virile-strapped leading men, who typically rely on the sensual desirability of actresses that heighten their masculinity.
This explains why darker-skinned Black actors are able to work without interruption, and with the assistance of White female costars ,as well as options that are close enough to that preferred aesthetic.
If you examine the women that have been paired as love interests for some of the hottest Black actors of the moment — Michael B. Jordan, John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Will Smith, etc — you will find that they mostly locked lips with actresses that didn’t sport distracting features of ethnic persuasions.
This method of biased casting, is the fundamental reason why there are virtually no dark-skinned ingenues.
When you hit “search” while Googling “black actresses” the results are messy collages of names and faces that recall the past and present, while leaving out any hope for the future.
It’s mostly the biracial profiles of favorites like Halle Berry — and the woman she once portrayed in a TV movie, the late and great Dorothy Dandridge. Paula Patton is part of the list, despite being one of the worst actresses of her time, but her shiny template has been the guiding light to a forgettable career.
Once you get past the dignified icons who aced the test of “lightness” during an era when their darker-skinned counterparts were regulated to drearily thankless roles — you’re left with the grim realization of how much more challenging it is to come up with five to ten names of working dark-skinned Black actresses who don’t exhibit racially-ambiguous characteristics.
Gorgeous beauties like Anna Diop, Danai Gurira, Rutina Wesley, Michaela Cole, Yvonne Orji, and others in their realm, have to patiently wait for epic events to launch them into the competitive landscape of contenders — that is supremely regulated by the ferocious appetites of studio heads. These green-eyed monsters are addicted to factory replicas of staple menu items — that serve up updated models of: Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Amy Adams, and more talented versions of Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts.
It took the global phenomenon of Black Panther — to introduce The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira — who is just experiencing her first taste of stardom at the age of forty. If she were three shades lighter with a pointy nose and shiny golden ringlets — her number would’ve been called decades ago.
Rutina Wesley, who’s currently killing it on OWN’s Queen Sugar — worked on HBO’s True Blood with seductive vigor, but it was her White co-stars who got spotlighted and celebrated, even though her contributions were just as astute. Her only source of recognition has been through award shows like the NAACP Image Awards — that exist to lift up the performers who aren’t light enough for mainstream acclaim.
Michaela Cole, made a huge splash in Netflix’s delightfully witty and wry sitcom, Chewing Gum — which she created and stars in. She also notably writes all the episodes for the show. Cole, who is a London-born actress of Ghanaian descent, is the prime example of what it entails for ethnic creatives who have all the talent to slay, but are stifled by the chilly reception, that inspires the motivation to develop their own avenues.
Nigerian-American actress and comedian, Yvonne Orji, is now a household name due to her affiliation with HBO’s Insecure — a highly-acclaimed scripted TV series that features two Black women, leading a mostly ethnic ensemble. The popularity of the show, gels with the current trend of “diversity,” which has propelled the industry to re-consider the lucrative returns of proceeding cautiously or at least until the excitement fades.
Orji, has yet to receive an Emmy nomination for her hilariously refreshing turn as Molly, and while her partner-in-crime, Issa Rae has been blessed with nominations, there’s an inconsistency at play that seems to suggest that the mandatory quota is still in full effect.
And now Anna Diop is embroiled in a race war over her controversial casting, that seems to incite the ire of those who don’t mind watching Jennifer Lawrence turn blue for X-Men’s Mystique — or the audacity of White actresses like Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Natalie Portman embodying roles that were meant to be assigned to actresses who were born to play them.
Remarkably enough, Diop and the other actresses I highlighted, don’t appear in the illustrious list of “black actresses” that prominently pops up in Google. But, not to worry, Shonda Rhimes and Stacey Dash are included.
This adequately sums up how and why Black actresses with darker skin complexions are systematically devalued with gross misrepresentation, and the habitual rejection of their stunning appeal, that would easily override the worn out currency of “lightness,” if not for the powers-that-be, who are plagued with blinding greed and the extra dose of lazy ignorance.
We also have to hold Black actors accountable for the roles they’ve historically played when it comes to enabling the complete shut out of darker-skinned actresses, who deserve an equal chance to sex it up on the big and small screen.
However, these big names are selfishly content with the blatant betrayal of settling for lighter-skinned actresses, or even better the White factor.
The nineties were a dismal time for burgeoning actresses who looked like me, because of the lack of evidence that would encourage the pursuit of a career that could rival White actresses who are already established by their late teens.
They are allowed to be ingenues who blossom into leading ladies once they hit their twenties, and the path to global dominion is on cruise control as studios energetically vie for attention, that’s lavished at a furious tempo.
Black actresses don’t have anything that remotely resembles that tradition, because their youth is immersed in dead end hustling, and if they’re super lucky, they can might gain some traction right before they turn forty.
And it gets quite tragic for the darker-skinned talents, who have to contend with the reality of never being good enough to display the relatable qualities, that make being a vibrantly complex woman, a delicious language to speak — regardless of race or creed.
I was forced to give up on a dream that didn’t have a chance in hell of coming true — despite my best intentions. And while the climate is flexing into a slightly more flexible tone, there’s the glaring truth of how very little progress has been made when it comes to giving little black girls who look Black — and possess the heart of a performer — permission to dream big without limits.
They say we have to dwell in optimism, but that gets harder to do as the years pile up. So the only thing to do is to use our resources to create the world that we envision for ourselves.
Wakanda was just beginning. Let the blackness begin.
In the meantime — keep these Black beauties on your radar. You literally have to scope the IMDB database under: “dark-skinned actresses” to unearth a handful of these gems.
Antoinette Robertson, Susan Wokoma, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Florence Kasumba, Yetide Badaki, Aisha Hinds, Tracy Ifeachor, Aissa Maiga, Sydelle Noel, Kim Hawthorne, Sibongile Mlambo, Ashley Blaine Featherstone, Yolanda Ross, Roslyn Ruff, Oyin Oladejo, Karidja Toure, Adepero Oduye, and the list goes on.