Dear Black Actress,
It’s not uncommon to think that the role of diversity in television and film are lacking. In this case I’m referring to the stereotypical roles often played by black actresses, I find myself questioning if I’m “black” enough, clearly my race is not aesthetically ambiguous, but I question wether I embody the “right” traits that qualify me as fit to be an “on screen black character”.
As you might know already, I’m not American and the American influence I did have growing up was very much limited to the amount of TV time I got and a summer I spent in North Carolina. Naturally I wonder how I come-off on screen and on stage and if I pass as American enough and secondly if I pass as an African American (specifically African American).
Pre-audition I catch myself thinking things like “well I guess I have to be sassier, they are looking for a black woman after all”, “I gotta use more slang, slur a couple of words on the script and heighten my emotional reactions..”. Essentially, I come up with a “PLAN” on how to prove and establish my “African Americanness”. I get myself all pumped up- in full swing African-American-mode, then I hear the echo of my mentors and acting coaches (in the same head that counseled and commended my efforts to be “blacker” a minute ago!) instructing me to “honor, respect and protect my acting ability by allowing for the best audition that was possible for myself, respecting self and the art form and to remember to be authentic.” In this case authenticity means dropping the accent (especially seeing as in most cases no accent is required).
Have I booked jobs sans urban accent – yes, I have. So I probably shouldn’t worry about sounding and appearing more black, but I do and to my surprise I’m not the only one!! I know I shouldn’t be thrilled at the expense of other actors’ insecurities, but I am. Well, just to clarify I would describe it as more of a consoled feeling (yes it soothes me to know that in a casting room I’m not the only person thinking- do I sound black enough?! stop judging).
Since the beginning of my career I’ve heard other African American actresses comment on how they need to “black it up” or “tone down their ghetto” and yes as thespians we should tweak ourselves now and then for the sake of a performance, but what does it mean when we as Black Actresses see our own portrayal as one dimensional instead of a full ,multidimensional spectrum of blackness?
To me it means we continue to forge forwards, there are not sufficient diversities of Black Actresses being portrayed. Some of our notions or concepts of “blackness” may be self imposed via media portrayals, however I hope we all come to recognize that there is no one way of being black. I’m by no means a political person, but I’ll quote Obama on this one and refer to a statement he gave to CNN where he described his wife and blackness.
“If you look at Michelle, she grew up South Side. And her mom still lives in a neighborhood where gunshots go off, and it can be rough where Michelle grew up. But she’ll talk proper when she needs to. Now, you also don’t want to get on her wrong side, because she can translate that into a different vernacular. But my point is, is that you don’t have to act a certain way to be authentic.” said Barack Obama.
Even though I feel we are underrepresented, I just want to acknowledge the progress that has been made so far with TV shows such as: Sleepy Hallow(which features Nicole Baherie as the female lead), Scandal (Featuring Kerry Washington), Blackish (featuring Tracee Ellis Ross amongst others) and How to getaway with murder featuring Viola Davis. In theater we see Keke palmer sharing the stage with Sherri Shepard playing the first ever black Cinderella on broadway. So yes, we are making strides, but I’m still not convinced that we are as equally represented.
Since I tend to approach things with a sense of humour, I wanted to share a video in relation to this post. I’m sure we can all relate?
See you on the red carpet!
Lots of love,