Jennifer Beals (1963- ) is an American actress, best known for playing the lead in “Flashdance” (1983). Since 2004, she has played Bette Porter in “The L Word” on the cable television channel Showtime. People magazine once named her one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
She was cast for “Flashdance” while still at Yale University. It was her second film – in 1980 she had a small part in “My Bodyguard”. She did not do most of the dancing in “Flashdance” – that was done by her body double, Marine Jahan, a French actress. A fact that did not come out until after the film was a big success. Beals is remembered for wearing her sweatshirt off her shoulders. Like in the film, Beals loves photography.
She has appeared in dozens of other films, many of them directed by independent filmmaker Alexandre Rockwell, who became her husband. None of the films were the big hit that “Flashdance” was. She lived in the shadow of her own success.
In 1995 she starred opposite Denzel Washington in “Devil in a Blue Dress” where she plays a mixed woman who passes for white. In 2001 she was in “The Feast of All Saints”. She also played the bride of Frankenstein and a vampire.
She was considered for the female lead in “The X-Files”, but it was not till 2004 that she broke out of her own shadow by starring in “The L Word”, where you can see her still. The show tells the stories of lesbians in West Hollywood. She plays Bette Porter, one of the leading characters, who is lesbian and mixed race.
Although Beals is not a lesbian herself, she is mixed race (black father, white, Irish-American mother) and likes how she can now play a biracial character on American television, still a rare thing. It was not something the makers of “The L Word” had in mind – it was something she pushed.
She says being biracial makes it easier for her to play a lesbian: being half black and half white meant that growing up she “always lived sort-of on the outside.” So: “The idea of being the other in society is not foreign to me.”
She had played a biracial character only twice before. All her other characters were either white or, like in “Flashdance”, assumed to be white.
Growing up a half-white, half-black girl in Chicago her story as a biracial person was rarely told in the books and songs and films and television shows that she knew. The closest thing was Spock on “Star Trek” and Cher’s song “Half Breed”. She did not know about Faulkner or “The Imitation of Life”.
She hopes “The L Word” can break down the narrow picture people have of both lesbians and biracials:
They talk about the fact that history is written by the victors, but if you can make yourself victorious by writing your own history and supplying your own images, then you’ve done yourself and the world a great service.