Black actresses in film and tv

Wow, can I get an amen to this article, The Image of Black Women in Entertainment, written by Michael Langston Moore at I bitched/blogged about the lack of leading roles for black actors and actresses in television in a previous post titled Disappearing Act back in 2006. Mr. Moore’s article talks about the lack of roles for black actresses in film and tv.

The Image of Black Women in Entertainment
By Michael Langston Moore

Where in the world are black women in today’s entertainment? There is a significant dearth in quality images of African-American women in television and film. And no, Oprah’s un-Godly success and stature doesn’t diminish this truth.

It wasn’t always like this. In 1968, Diahann Carroll starred in the ground breaking series “Julia.” Heralded as being the first series to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role, “Julia” produced 86 episodes and Carroll earned herself a golden globe.

In the 70s, Pam Grier played a character that went against the typical African American female archetype. In 1974, Grier starred as the title character in Foxy Brown, a sexy yet independent black woman who was capable of running down criminals and saving the day.

The 1980s and 90s saw the birth of the black upper-middle class in entertainment. In The Cosby Show, Claire Huxtable was the epitome of a strong, dignified, and highly intelligent black woman that rarely was seen on television before and has been noticeably absent since.

Though The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a fun, silly sitcom, the show had depictions of black females that were atypical of Hollywood entertainment. Whether it was Vivian Banks’ strength and discipline in the first couple of seasons or Hillary Banks’ ditzy, spoiled rich girl routine, America was witnessing a diverse spectrum of what the African American female is in this country.

This is something I definitely noticed. It’s sad and pathetic. Hollywood has definitely regressed. With the exception of Tyler Perry films, can black actresses get any love on the big screen? Hell no!!!! Does every tv show and feature film that calls for an actress have to go to a white actress? That’s the question Stephanie Zacharek asked in her column Invisible women back in 2002. It was Stephanie’s article that led me to create my website Mahogany Cafe. I created the site back in 2002 cause I wanted to give black actresses the exposure and appreciation that was lacking on the internet.

The question of why there are few good roles for black actresses is virtually irrelevant. A more significant question might be: How many roles in Hollywood movies actually need to be played by a white woman, and a white woman only?

It’s now 2008 and that question still needs to be asked. When I look at some of the movies and tv shows I watch I’m thinking a black actress could have played that role. Why does every single tv series have to have nothing but all white actresses in leading roles? At least ABC had the decency to cast an asian actress (Lucy Liu) in Cashmere Mafia. Her role originally called for a blond. If there is a black actress on a tv show she’s pretty much relegated to the usual supporting role with a few lines. The same thing goes for feature films. If the film isn’t a so called black oriented film, ie. Tyler Perry, a historical film like The Debaters or a musical like Dreamgirls blacks actresses are SOL (you can figure out what that means).

You can read the entire article here.

Liberal Hollywood isn’t just giving black actresses the shaft. There’s a new movie coming out this week called 21. The movie is about six MIT students who bilk Las Vegas casinos for millions. The movie is based on the book Bringing Down the House. The bilking of the casinos was led by a group of asian american students. But what does liberal Hollywood do? Liberal Hollywood casts white actors in the lead roles instead of asian american actors. The asian actors they did hire for the film, after casting executives were criticized for the whitewashed casting, were as usual relegated to supporting roles. Typical liberal Hollywood. They claim it’s for marketability purposes. This is bullshit if you ask me. Even the author of Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich, complained about liberal Hollywood’s pathetic casting.

Incidentally, Mezrich’s “Bringing Down the House” is now being turned into a feature film by Kevin Spacey, who will play the MIT professor who trained the blackjack team described in that book. During the talk, Mezrich mentioned the stereotypical Hollywood casting process — though most of the actual blackjack team was composed of Asian males, a studio executive involved in the casting process said that most of the film’s actors would be white, with perhaps an Asian female. Even as Asian actors are entering more mainstream films, such as “Better Luck Tomorrow” and the upcoming “Memoirs of a Geisha,” these stereotypes still exist, Mezrich said.

White actors and actresses aren’t having a difficult time finding work. They’re all over the tv and movie screen. But actors and actresses of color are. Liberal Hollywood took the cowards way out by whitewashing this true story. You can read all about the movie and casting decisions here at Racialicious.

5 responses

  1. I am a young women of 15 and I want to be a actress when I am older and better prepared but I fear that because I am half black and half-white many people will turn there backs on me and I will never fulfill my dream my mother says that women of color do succeed but I have my doubts because even know there is a lot of discrimination against me in my school,and town.
    I am glad that you are writing about this because it helps me understand better. Thank you

  2. SolShine7, I’m a big fan of Lincoln Heights. It’s a shame that it’s one of less than a handful of tv shows period that features a black family.

  3. Thanks for leaving a comment and the links Mariann.

    By the way I know who you are. You were in the daytime drama The Edge of Night. I wondered what happened to you.

  4. A friend e-mailed me links to these articles from the Nov 30, LA TIMES which may be of interest to you in case you missed them…,0,6866514.story,0,837198.story

    …which prompted a Google search that led me to Michael Langston Moore’s article, “The Demise of the Black Sitcom” on Starpulse (and your blog). Impressed by his observations – and writing – I lingered to read: “The Most Memorable TV Wives” and “Realistic ‘Coming Of Age’ Shows Desperately In Need Of A Comeback.” But the essay that that really got my notice was “The Image of Black Women in Entertainment,” and the nails (in the coffin of the careers of black actresses) that it hit on the head with these points …

    * In The Cosby Show, Claire Huxtable was the epitome of a strong, dignified, and highly intelligent black woman that rarely was seen on television before and has been noticeably absent since…
    * But something has happened in Hollywood. A regression has occurred. Black women have been marginalized or altogether phased out in popular culture…
    * Black actresses are even having trouble getting cast as the romantic lead opposite a black male co-star…
    * If there was more of a balance of black female expression in entertainment, it wouldn’t be an issue…
    * Due to all of this, is there any wonder why Tyler Perry is so successful? Though some will argue that his films are mediocre at best, it is undeniable that Perry has tapped into a market that has long since been abandoned by Hollywood — the appreciation of black women…Perry has created a brand that Hollywood refuses to tap into.

    Fortunately, the theater world is far more accommodating of race, age and gender. So that is where Iona Morris (her dad was Greg Morris of the ’70’s “Mission Impossible” TV series) and I took our talents as writers and performers, resulting in “MOIST!” ( ) – our “sexistential” musical comedy celebration of the “seasoned” woman ­– prepping to open Off-Broadway, Spring, 2009…with a treatment already written to adapt the adventures of “The Peechee Sisters” into a sitcom with a “Girlfriends” meets “The Golden Girls” meets “AbFab” POV.

    I’m including links to a video promo of “MOIST!” and monologues from our show which preceded this one (a smash hit for 18 months in LA!) which we incorporated into “MOIST!” My goal is to get as much word-of-mouth going as we can prior to opening in NY by “viral-izing ” these clips and getring as may hits and comments as we can on Youtube. So please, please, please, forward to all your friends…and ask them to do likewise.

    Mariann Aalda

    “MOIST!” promo

    One Niight Stand

    Make Him Wait!

    I Wanna Beg and Scream

    Comin’ in the Kitchen

  5. I wish there were more women of color in lead roles. Lincoln Heights is a nice example of a well done show starring black characters.

    Nice post!

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