Black Actor Woes: Declaration Of Independence From Tyler Perry
I can’t explain the feeling of living in a city where I see brown faces everywhere I go, but when I go to the movies or sit flipping through hundreds of television channels, it’s as if black people are unicorns. I don’t think the feeling is anger. When I think about the male celebrities I had posted on my bedroom walls and notebooks, I remember being overjoyed to rip out posters of white leading men from YM and CosmoGirl magazines. J.C. Chasez of N*Sync, Jude Law and Orlando Bloom (a relationship that lasted a solid 6 years) are the biggest crushes of my life. I can even say today, with a modicum of pride, that I spent this summer watching The Vampire Diaries from episode 1 with my sister and now have a disgustingly huge crush on Ian Somerhalder–go Google him and proceed to fall in love with his face.
It could be bitterness. I could sit here and tear apart the casting decisions of every major network and movie studio, but I’d rather discuss where the state of entertainment leaves people like me. I have wanted to be famous since I was 11 years old. I was raised on a steady diet of Sister, Sister and Family Matters reruns, and just knew there was a show waiting to be written for me when I made it to Hollywood. I haven’t made it to California yet, but what parts will be waiting for me when I get there? The black best friend? The hood rat girlfriend? The strong black woman? The mammy (I’ll have to discuss my issues with The Help another day)?
It must be hurt. When I reflect on everything that I’ve done to prepare myself for superstardom, I realize that I was always intimidated. After I spent one winter auditioning for some of the nation’s best graduate programs in acting, I was convinced I was denied because I didn’t prepare enough. But there was also a nagging voice in the back of my head saying that I was denied because I didn’t look like the actor they wanted. Watching my favorite shows from the last year, like Mad Men, Smash, and Breaking Bad, maybe it’s more than an annoying suspicion that my opportunities in show business are limited. Something has to change. Blaxploitation was the revolution of my grandparents’ generation, so it’s time we fight our own. I’m sure Pam Grier would agree that it’s way overdue.
I’m compiling a list I like to call “Black Actor Woes”, a.k.a “Declaration of Independence from Tyler Perry”. I’m sure this list isn’t unique to my experiences as an actor of color, so anyone can feel free to add their grievances as a struggling actor. I’m going to start with the most obvious one and add over time.
1. Someone should have told me to write parts for myself.
Remember when I said that black actors on any screen are unicorns? Well, finding a black playwright is a fairy sighting. With that said, black actors cannot be limited to plays written by August Wilson and Lynn Nottage. Granted, their plays are poetry, but I want the opportunity to audition for a Neil Simon play without a casting director batting an eye. It would also be nice to stop constantly finding film roles where all the female character descriptions look like this: “Female, Caucasian, Early- mid 20s, blonde, short. Spunky and clever.” I could dye my hair blonde, but I’m going to be 5’11” and black forever. College theater is like a utopia for actors of any color, really. It was awesome to audition for your theater professors and be confident enough to only worry about which part you were going to get, not even about getting cast at all. And if you sucked more than you thought and didn’t get cast after all? Well there were 3 other shows to audition for that same week and there was a part just for you. I wish someone would have written an advisory on my diploma: Real life isn’t like the last four years, sweetheart.
Reader submission by Christen N. Cromwell