HBO, the network behind the popular Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett-Bell-led horror drama Lovecraft Country, is speaking out following a recent claim from an onset extra that her skin was darkened to fit a role.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, actress Kelli Amirah posted a video to TikTok last month recalling her time as an extra and alleged that while in the makeup chair—her skin was darkened in an attempt to more accurately portray the role. Amirah, who was hired to play a younger version of a character for a photo that would only appear in an episode for a short moment, explained:
“I noticed my foundation is getting darker and darker. Before I show these pictures, I’m going to preface this by saying I was so uncomfortable, I had no idea they were going to do this to me beforehand. And if I knew beforehand, I would not have accepted this job. Who thought this was a good idea?” she asked.
Though posted online last month, the video has resurfaced in recent days and as expected, the social media streets were abuzz with shock, awe and everything in between.
Getting wind of Amirah’s claims, HBO issued an exclusive statement to THR stressing that they “very disappointed” to learn that this may have happened and that “this should not have happened and we are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t occur again in the future.” Additionally, Amirah also responded further in a series of tweets posted to Twitter last weekend, saying in part:
“I’ve been getting a lot of very valid critiques for my complacency in allowing Lovecraft Country to darken my skin as a photo double for some set photography briefly featured in an episode. It’s uncomfortable but it’s not wrong. I was weak and complacent in that moment. I always thought that ethically I would never be the type of light skinned actress stealing roles better suited for darker women. I don’t submit for things that I *know* aren’t a fit for me. In the instance of Lovecraft, I applied for a casting for a 20-25 year old African American woman to play the younger version of a character in her wedding photo. No audition, just an online submission and booking. There was no mention of me being too light when I was caster nor when I went in for my fitting days before. And it wasn’t until I was in the chair that I overheard the muas discussing it.”
She went on to say:
So here I am, in the makeup trailer of a major network production with the lead stars of the show, and they’re putting me in blackface. Now as this was happening I had so many conflicting thoughts in my head. This is wrong. Why did they hire me. I should say something. What would I say? What would happen? If I hold up this production how much money goes down the drain. What will be my repercussions? And y’all I’ve worked extras/background a couple times before. I normally just shut up, keep to myself, and do as I’m told when I’m told. Extras are like bottom of the barrel in the entertainment food chain so I feel like I normally move through sets as such. Like I’m not shit. Maybe I would have felt more empowered to speak up had I been in the extras holding and hair&makeup like I was used to, but here I am navigating a whole other side of the bts experience that I’ve never been in. I’m a little fish with the big guys. And I choked.
Amirah ended her Twitter thread by reiterating how awful she felt “to cosplay the experience for a moment longer than I had to” and that she would not have taken the job had she known that would be a part of the deal. She also recognized the ongoing (and rightfully warranted) criticism that the entertainment industry often gets for its seemingly outright refusal to hire actresses of a darker color.
Of course, some might argue that in the grand scheme of things, this “minute” role shouldn’t be the cause of so much uproar when it comes to arguments of colorism and Black-on-blackface instances in Hollywood. But like microaggressions at the hands of white folks, no matter how small the infraction or how ignorant the intent—the impact will always hit harder because it continues to perpetuate the same racist system we all claim to want to see dismantled. So until we (especially us Black folks) can come to terms with and get all the way real about how colorism affects darker-skinned folks in almost every industry, sadly instances like this are bound to repeat themselves.