In 2002 Halle Berry made history when she won the Oscar for Best Actress: she was the first black actress to win it. Ever. And so far it is the only one to go to a black woman out of the 79 Oscars for Best Actress that have been given – in a country where one woman in 8, not 80, is black.
The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress is only somewhat better:
- 1939: Hattie McDaniel for “Gone with the Wind”
- 1990: Whoopi Goldberg for “Ghost”
- 2006: Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls”.
In 1951 in “Showboat” the half-black character Julie was played by Ava Gardner (white), not Lena Horne (light-skinned black). They made Gardner dark-looking and she was good to go.
In 2006 in “A Mighty Heart” the half-black wife of Daniel Pearl was played by Angelina Jolie (white) and not, say, Thandie Newton (half-black). They made Jolie dark-looking and she was good to go.
What is going on?
There is no lack of black female acting talent. Far from it. Anyone who is a fan of, say, Angela Bassett or Cicely Tyson, knows that their talents have largely gone to waste while white women with far less talent get the good parts in films.
- In Hollywood skin colour matters. Gabrielle Union has been told, “Gabrielle, you gave the best read! If we decide to go black, you’re at the top of the list.” Black actresses are limited to parts for “black women”. Imagine if Natalie Portman or Lauren Bacall were limited to just playing parts for “Jewish women”.
- Those who make films are almost all white: the producers, directors, writers and so on. With the rise of black directors in the 1990s it is better, but it is not enough. Spike Lee: “The way for black actresses to start getting more roles is for black women to start directing and producing their own films.”
- The moneymen stick with the tried and true. They get rich by backing hits. Few see a film starring a black woman as a possible hit. That is why so many black actresses wind up playing the Black Best Friend of a white woman.
- Black actresses are women. Most leading characters are men. There are fewer parts for women, black or white. That is why black men have done so much better in Hollywood than black women. Will Smith can star by himself in a film meant for a largely white audience without a white “buddy”. That is huge. But black actresses are still a long ways from doing that.
- Black actresses do not fit Hollywood’s ideas about beauty, which prefers thin women with white skin and yellow hair.
- Hollywood seems uncomfortable with showing black love, limiting the parts black women can have even more.
While it is not as bad as it was in the 1950s or even the 1980s, it is still bad.
- “Is white the new black?”
- How white people think
- The most beautiful black actresses
- black women
- video vixens
- black actresses:
- Hollywood/New York: