Sometimes it’s a turn of phrase. A gesture. A look that makes a role memorable. African American actresses have built careers; gone from the bottom of the credits roster to headlining blockbusters because of their ability to turn a small part (3 minutes of screen time or less) into a door opening opportunity. Remember for instance, Halle Berry’s crack head in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever or Alfre Woodard in that episode of "Law & Order" that won her an Emmy? Such is the case of now Oscar-nominated Taraji P. Henson.
While her roles embody all the Hollywood stereotypes still in circulation a la Donald Bogle’s, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films – that’s not her fault. Sadly, the industry and most certainly the Oscar is an award that celebrates and even reinforces these stereotypes as it relates to African American actors and the roles for which they are honored.