I wanted to throw my sixty cents into the Root’s own Jada F. Smith’s “color in black Hollywood” conversation. As an active participant in the Hollywood game I’d like to bring attention to a few facts. Smith feels the Lee Daniel’s film Precious is a perfect template for the dysfunctional battle between good and evil, or should I say, lighter-skinned actors and darker-skinned actors in films and TV. I’m assuming when Smith means “light-skinned” she means anyone as light or lighter than Halle Berry or Alicia Keyes. In truth, Monique isn’t necessarily a darker-skinned woman, but she is not as light as Halle. I digress. Smith has this to say about the color and the entertainment industry:
“Most of the mainstream black entertainers are light-skinned because the Wannabes are still favored over the Jiggaboos. Chocolate folks don’t get much love, even when black people are producing the films and television roles.”
Well, I disagree, a bit. When it comes to “white” Hollywood darker-skinned actors seem to get plenty of play. Here’s some recent examples. Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 123, Viola Davis in Doubt, Taraji Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Rutina Wesley in True Blood, Don Cheadle in Traitor and the forthcoming Iron Man 2, Morgan Freeman in The Dark Knight and the forthcoming Invictus, Alfre Woodard in American Violet, etc etc. And just for the record: the school counselor in Sapphire’s novel Push was a dark-skinned character. Mister in the novel The Color Purple was a lighter-skinned character, the grandson of a white man.
It’s my opinion that black folks are regurgitating the color sickness in Hollywood. I’ve seen lighter-skinned actors picked over darker ones. True. I’ve heard black executives insist that a darker-skinned actor, with more obvious west-African features, be overlooked for a part because of their “unattractiveness”. I’ve also seen talented lighter-skinned actors overlooked by darker-skinned black execs in some act of revenge or meanness. On the flip side, my former boss, Mara Brock Akil, was relentless about casting black actors who represented every shade and complexion within the African diaspora.
Honestly, this is an old converstion with no new solutions. It appears to me that Hollywood (and the rest of the country) is populated by dozens of decision-making black folks who are knee-deep in colorism and they’re not budging. Why? Maybe colorism in Hollywood is like cholestrol-heavy foods for some black folks. They know its negative effects (and that it could even kill you), but they’re addicted to the comfort.