At the Hollywood Reporter’s annual round table discussion, Denzel Washington talked about the advice that he gave his daughter Olivia. Olivia is studying to be an actress at the acclaimed New York University.
Washington said to his daughter,
“You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat. You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage. That’s the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act. Look at Viola Davis. That’s who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you’re relying on that, when you hit 40, you’re out the door. You better have some chops.”
Many African American actresses of a darker hue have faced the same issues of being too dark for Hollywood. You have to be ten times better than your competition to even be recognized as a promising actress. In the 60′s, and before, it was difficult for African American women to get a leading role. Today, speaking as an African American woman, we add another element to it, which is that of being passed over, even for a role that is specifically meant for us to play.
A prime example is the role of Nina Simone. Although it may not have been Zoe Saldana’s doing, she definitely did not turn down a role that she clearly was not a good fit for. Instead of casting someone for the part that resembled Nina Simone, with Simone’s caliber of talent, they cast Saldana. Saldana can be seen on the set of the biopic with a prosthetic nose and make-up to darken her skin tone.
What message is this sending to our young girls and aspiring female actresses. But of course in Hollywood, it is all about who draws the crowd so that the money can be made. Denzel understands the reality that his daughter will have to face, as a woman of color in this industry. It will not be about looks for her. They will not see her for the beautiful dark skinned woman that she is. That is exactly why she has to rely on her talent alone.
Although some may beg to differ, Viola Davis is an excellent role-model for aspiring actresses of the like. But as excellent a role model that Viola Davis is, even she still has to fight harder and be better than her Caucasian counterparts. There may never be a solution to this repetitive dilemma but knowing what it takes to succeed , as a young African American actress, is half the battle.