In response to the controversial Deadline article, that questioned if the pendulum has swung too far in favor of “ethnics” being cast on television and film, award-winning actress and living legend Sheryl Lee Ralph shares her insight on the viral story.
Read her EXCLUSIVE response below:
Let’s go back to 1992. I was sitting in between takes on a film called “Mistress” where I was playing the strong-willed, take no sugar honey ice tea mistress of Robert De Niro. It was a great role, the kind of character an actress could really sink her teeth into.
We had just finished a dramatic scene together and we were sitting inside a car as the crew made some final adjustments. Robert De Niro gave me a true reality check. He was sitting there, staring out of the window and said, “You are really talented. I mean really talented but you want to know the truth?” and before I could answer he said, “The truth is Hollywood is not looking for the black girl. You are going to have to climb that mountain and wave the red flag. Let them know that you’re here because Hollywood is not looking for you.”
Stunned, I sat in silence. I immediately thought about my film debut in the late 70s — a role in A Piece Of The Action with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. I thought about how I had broken ground in Dreamgirls and won multiple Tony awards with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday. However, with my many awards, Robert Dinero told me Hollywood was not looking for me. Fast-forward to 2015 when I read the Deadline article originally titled, “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?” (They edited the title so it wouldn’t seem as bad as it was when they first put it up.)
Beautiful, when I read the article, penned by Nellie Andreeva, I wanted to yell at the computer screen. NO! Ethnic casting is not too much of a good thing. It is the right thing, finally. Diversity “gone too far?” Really?! Believe it or not, America is actually becoming a more diverse country. We are a country of immigrants and always have been. Remember, “Give me your tired, your worn,” that phrase written at the bottom of the statue of liberty?!
Nellie Andreeva should look in the mirror and accept the fact that she too is a person of color. I wanted her to do some research and find a NY Times article from about 20 years ago that asked the question, “The Plight Of The Talented Black Actress. Where Does She Go Hollywood?” My film career was used as the base for that article.
I wanted her to understand what it felt like for me in 1983, returning to Hollywood with my Tony nomination for Best Actress in Dreamgirls, to have a big time casting director ask me, “Everybody knows that you’re talented and beautiful but what do we do with a talented, beautiful Black girl? Do we cast you in a movie with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss? Who goes to see THAT movie?”
When I won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress in the critically acclaimed film To Sleep With Anger I recounted in my acceptance speech my experience with that casting director and asked the question, “How long will I have to wait for my next film? When is it my turn?” Andy Garcia stood up and said, “Cast us both Hollywood and I’ll kiss her.”
I wanted to let her know what a big deal it was when I was chosen to replace a white actress Ann Jillian in the TV series It’s A Living. How could the writer, as a woman of color, be blind to the sea of White people that have for years filled the Oscar audience? So many made notice of the fact that the academy actually invited people of color to participate on stage this year.
When she made mention of the White agents and actors who are concerned they may be out of work because of “ethnic casting,” I wanted to sooth her fears and their fears by letting them know that there will never be a time when White people don’t see themselves on TV, NEVER!
I remember, an older gentleman shared a story with me about Black golfers. Before they were allowed to play, they were caddies and carried the clubs and balls on the PGA Tour. Disgruntled White golfers would put human feces in the cup so they literally picked up sh*t. This is how they “leveled the playing field.”
Could there actually be studio heads and show producers who were afraid of casting “Black actors and others?” I am very concerned that bonafide hits like Empire, How to get Away with Murder, Black-ish have people thinking, “There goes the Hollywood TV neighborhood?”
So if seeing Black people on TV, Koreans, Hispanics and Indians too is a problem for you because you are happier with Seinfeld, How I met your Mother and Friends, I say something is very wrong and racist.
What do you think about Sheryl’s blog? Follow and tweet me @Shamika_Sanders