Black Actresses in Hollywood: Still in the Shadows

Kerry Washington (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Kerry Washington (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

"It's not just that black actresses are auditioning and not getting cast in larger roles — it seems that they are frequently absent from the casting process entirely," Aisha Harris writes in a piece at Slate that challenges a claim that this has been a great year in film and television for black women.

… [Kerry] Washington isn’t the only black woman in Hollywood who’s currently experiencing a high point in her career. This summer has brought forth more welcome news, with the election of Cheryl Boone Isaacs as the first black female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Internet star Issa Rae’s deal with HBO to co-write and star in her own comedy series based on themes from her popular Web series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. (This comes after last year’s equally promising news that Rae is developing another sitcom under Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes’ company, though that project has yet to be sold.) Combined with the Oscar talk swirling around the performances of Oprah Winfrey and Octavia Spencer for Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Fruitvale Station, respectively, this seems to be a pretty great year for black women in film and television. Perhaps, even, this is evidence of  “the Obama effect” on Hollywood, as Sharon Waxman wrote for the Wrap a couple of weeks ago?

Not even close. The “Obama effect,” for those new to the term, is a tidy phrase that implies that our black president has inspired the country to do better in all walks of life, from improving test scores for black students to moves toward greater diversity and inclusion of nonwhites. Waxman cites as her evidence of Hollywood’s improved stance toward blacks a meeting where names of the “hottest” current celebrities were bandied about. Washington and Parks and Recreation star Rashida Jones, she with the “piercing blue eyes and mixed race parentage,” were the first names mentioned, she writes proudly.

As easy as it may be for Waxman to measure equality in perceived hotness, it’s even easier for actresses of color to tell you that Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to black representation, and especially black female representation …


Read Aisha Harris' entire piece at Slate.

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