Why Black Actresses Are Lepers In The Film Industry, And How To Cure The Disease

Awards season is currently underway and as the stars of film and television are being courted and feted, I can’t help but hold a grudge against the industry that seems determined to persistently shut out a targeted minority that despite a wealth of talent and experience — can’t seem to break through the walls of discrimination and straight up negligence.

I’m talking about black actresses — actresses of color or actresses of African-American descent. However you want to classify them — it doesn’t matter because the results are still the same. They continue to be regulated to the sidelines while their white counterparts are able to flourish without hindrance or judgment.

It got so critical that Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence, who holds the title of Highest Paid Actress In The Universe wrote a passionate essay that illustrated her qualms with the idea that even though she is richer than God — she deserves to be even richer.

Okay, to be fair she is asking to be given the same consideration as the white actors she shares screen time with who for some reason are compensated way more than she is.

Sounds fair. But I can’t imagine being a black actress in Hollywood — struggling to create a career that by no means will match the disposition of white women who unlike me don’t have to fight for roles.

Comedian and actor Chris Rock had quite a bit to say about Lawrence’s crybaby routine and it was stellar. Rock basically challenged the most sought after actress in the world with the daunting task of living the reality of being a black actress in Hollywood. Trust, she wouldn’t last a second.

But white women never have the burden of feeling less than or perpetually inadequate. They have the blessing of being the perfect companion or compliment to men of all races and creed. White men want them. Black men need them, Asian guys accommodate them, and etc. They fit the requirements of a freshly constructed screenplay like a glove.

There is no question of whether or not casting a Caucasian woman is a fruitful venture because it’s assumed that they will be the default choice regardless of whether or not they have the ability to do the part justice.

They have the luxury of starting out weak and then gaining momentum as they hit their stride through the various opportunities casually tossed at them. In a nutshell — they have it made.

Black actresses on the other hand have a whole lot to contend with and it isn’t a pretty process. It’s actually quite ugly and off-putting. Not to mention depressing and discouraging.

Women of color in general can’t seem to catch a break — either within their own communities or outside of it. There are so many variables that render a black actress challengingly less viable than any mediocre white actress in competition.

If her skin is too dark or her nose too broad, she can pretty much forget ever enjoying the level of success close to what she may be harboring. She can’t be cast opposite any of the top billing white actors because quite frankly they won’t be open to making out with her. And then there is the issue of marketability.

That’s a feat that even the most aggressive agent in town won’t be able to pull off. But it isn’t too hard to force blonde bombshell Margot Robbie on Will Smith, or Cuban beauty Eva Mendes on Denzel Washington. These gals are sexy in a way that is globally acceptable.

Nobody will be sitting in the theater trying to make sense of how and why the leading man is loosing his mind over a woman with nappy hair and skin the color of the night sky.

But not all black actresses are left to fend for themselves in the massacred world of show business. If you’re Paula Patton — you can do decently well even if you hold the tile of The World’s Worst Actress. Come on, that girl can’t command a single scene to save her life but she looks like a million bucks and best of all — she’s biracial.

Halle Berry is also of mixed heritage and that worked out well for her. She was abe to transform from generic Beauty Queen to bona fide movie star and then remarkably to Oscar winner. Not too shabby for an average actress but still proof that in order to make any progress — actresses of color have to have that winning “ambiguous” look in order to give studio execs a good night’s sleep after they cautiously give the green light.

In some cases, the actress has to be freakishly good like Angela Bassett whose performance in What’s Love Got To Do With It solidified her reputation and allowed her the ability to flex her muscles in a way that still remains unmatched. She shared the screen with British actor Ralph Fiennes in Strange Days and when their lips locked at the very end — I was assured that she had evolved into much more than just a “black actress” — she was simply an actress.

Angela Bassett and Ralph Fiennes in ‘Strange Days’

Viola Davis who is currently dominating the realms of primetime TV in ABC’s mega hit How To Get away with Murder is also a piercing talent who had to surrender to the small screen in order to satisfy her need for complex roles that depicted her as human being without any reference to her dark skin and generous lips. She thankfully found it and as amazing as that is — it’s still quite disconcerting that she is unable to forge a career in film that matches the likes of Sandra Bullock or Cate Blanchett.

Davis spoke about this to Variety for the pub’s “Contenders Conversations” series because of her recent Golden Globe nomination for her fiery portrayal of Annalise Keating. The actress was candid about how she struggles with the element of invisibility in Hollywood.

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away with Murder

Television seems to be the preferred medium for black actress seeking an outlet that gives them free reign without the bullshit of having to play second fiddle or worst of all “The Help”.

A couple of months ago — a writer at The Hollywood Reporter wrote an essay in a feeble attempt to explain why their annual Actress Roundtable was devoid of any minority actresses. It was a valiant effort but my rebuttal was a lot better,

The fact is that Hollywood is too stubborn to recognize its shortcomings when it comes to accommodating the notion that Lupita Nyong’o — an Oscar-winner, can play the lover of Leonardo DiCaprio in a film like The Revenant.

But instead she’s regulated to being a mysteriously hidden creature in the new Stars Wars movie, Her upcoming roles aren’t discouraging by any means — but it’s quite evident that she will not enjoy the “rocket to the top” handling that Julia Roberts experienced after she won hearts in Pretty Woman.

In order for black actresses to conquer the film world — it will take a changing of the guards. Studios would have to employ futuristic minds that bend and yield to the formula that equals demonstrative diversity.

The world is changing. Blockbuster franchises like Fast and Furious and the latest installment in the Rocky saga — Creed have proven the magic of a multi-cultural cast.

But even those films don’t feature a black woman without the reliance of the mandated white blood that always serves as the stamp of approval.

The system has to be vanquished by a coup and a new regime installed.

In the meantime — I want to take a time out to hail all the actresses of color out there who are doing their damn thing under the radar and above.

You rock! And don’t sweat it. Your day will come.

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