So About This Shortage of Black Actresses….there isn’t one.
Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand why Zoe Saldana was tapped to play QUEEN NINA SIMONE in her upcoming biopic or why The Hollywood Reporter decided ignorantly or audaciously (or both), with the unmitigated gall to release their annual THR Actresses Roundtable dressed in nothing but mayonnaise. I can’t.
With everyone talking about how great it was to be a Black actress in 2013 and how great it was for Black actresses in 2013, I somehow foolishly thought we’d progressed a bit more than this. Don’t get me wrong, I am very well aware of how much further we have to go, that’s why I started The Visibility Project.
But after the hoopla last year surrounding diversity in media I have a hard time believing that at the very least no one in these folks’ PR departments are saying, “Hey. So. Maybe blackface isn’t the best idea.” Or, “So hey, I was thinking, you don’t think we should…maybe….I don’t know….include like…one person of color this year?”
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not asking for appeasement. I don’t need The Oscars to throw us a bone every 8-10 years to pacify or placate us, or increase the number of nominations every few years so we don’t get too loud or for The Hollywood Reporter to throw some random person of color in the roundtable just to fill a quota.
I just need them to stop insulting our intelligence. The, “There just aren’t any/enough (insert marginalized, overlooked, pushed aside group here),” or “These were just the best options,” rebuttals can be kept.
The excuses we keep getting about PoC and other marginalized (I swear I hate the word minority now) folks not supporting certain projects, or there being no audience for women comic heroes or Black leads in non “race themed” productions are no longer acceptable. Actually it hasn’t been for quite some time now.
The problem is, with the success of shows like Scandal, Sleepy Hollow and The Mindy Project, and “race themed” (nope, not over that yet) films like The Best Man Holiday, Dear White People, and Fruitvale Station these tired, ridiculous excuses aren’t working anymore. We don’t believe you, you need more people.
Actually that’s not true. We don’t believe this, but more people wouldn’t even help. What we need is for the defaulters (default race/gender/sexual orientation) to get it right. To do better.
Telling us there were no equally qualified (or more qualified) Black women to play the role of Nina Simone is infuriating enough to make me want to slap each and every person that let this production get this far with Ms. Saldana at the helm.
This frustration only grows as a virtual list of better suitable (in talent and resemblance) actresses rolls through my head: Adepero Oduye, Viola Davis, Regina King, Nadine Ellis, Jerrika Hinton, Nicole Beharie, Naturi Naughton, Yaani King, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Teyonah Parris, Condola Rashad, Jennifer Hudson, Yaya Alafia, Nicki Micheaux, Anika Noni Rose, Malinda Williams, Sola Bamis, Audra McDonald, Brandy Norwood and Rutina Wesley to name a few. Then there’s Lorraine Toussaint, Whoopi Goldberg, Alfre Woodard, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad and Oprah Winfrey if we’re talking about older actresses. Also, I know that the resemblance isn’t really there but can I throw my boo, Tika Sumpter in there just ‘cause? Cause reasons.
I mean have you seen Adepero Oduye werk?!
Equally infuriating is THR’s decision to exclude actresses of color from this year’s roundtable. I’m not going to mince my words or use politically correct language and say actresses of color were overlooked. You can’t convince me of that. And even if that were true, that’s equally as bad if not worse. But don’t we expect that from the defaulters?
A lot of folks are saying some version of, “no shade to Zoe but…” No. No passes. At some point you have to be held responsible for the decisions you make in your career and that includes choosing and accepting certain roles. At some point you need to know better, then do better. By all means maintain creative autonomy – just understand what that means.
There still isn’t a huge volume of roles for Black actors to choose from and even less for Non-Black actors of color so I get it – to a certain degree. As veteran actor Russell Hornsby pointed out last year in an interview about this very topic, that excuse – the idea of just being “happy to be in the game,” isn’t acceptable anymore. “We’re savvier as a people,“ Hornsby said.
I would have been more inclined to give Saldana a pass were it not for her response to the criticism. Or the other times she told us how she really feels. The only way she could have gotten it more wrong is if she had responded, “fuck you pay me,” literally instead of the equally ignorant way she told us racism doesn’t exist anymore (Because Obama): “We have a Black president right now. So why the fuck would I sit down and talk about how hard it is for Black women in Hollywood when there’s a Black president in my country?” (She also thinks “there’s no such thing as ‘people of color‘” and is off on when it comes to identifying as “Black” but that’s a whole other conversation.)
Zoe. Stop lettin’ the devil use you.
It gets worse. And maybe worst of all, are the Black people and other PoC who don’t see anything wrong with this. The folks who don’t see that this speaks to larger issues of racism and colorism and privilege and power when a Black actress’ darker skin and wider nose aren’t even good enough to play a Black icon with darker skin and a wider nose. A Black icon whose career and voice was spent speaking out and battling these very issues!
Jesus fix it!
In the meantime, while the mayonnaise manufacturers are getting their lives together, I’m going to keep throwing my support and energy behind the awesome artists who are fighting the good fight, changing the spotlight and battling the burden. Folks like Justin Simien, the writer/director of the multi-award winning Dear White People, which was funded via Indiegogo and reached over 150% of it’s goal. Or Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl webseries fame or Lena Waithe and her upcomingTwenties TV series.
So yea about this shortage – there isn’t one. And about these tired excuses we keep getting, we’re not here for them. We want more, we want better. Queen Nina deserves better.
Oh and get into some of the actresses listed above.
Adepero Oduye x Emayatzy Corinealdi x Ava DuVernay (director):
Jerrika Hinton, Bad-Ass for Hire:
Let me just leave you with this: