Once More With Feeling - Are Black Actresses Forced To "Ugly" Themselves Up?
Photo Credit: S & A

Once More With Feeling - Are Black Actresses Forced To "Ugly" Themselves Up?

Tambay’s post below about Viola Davis putting on 25 pounds and then padding herself up for her role in The Help immediately bought to kind a piece I wrote a year old on S & A in August 2010 (I’m always ahead of the curve) raising the question about black women being forced to deglamorize themselves and to look bad so that white actresses can look better.

The subject came up when I had a conversation with a regular S & A reader involved in the theater as a director about how often black actors and actresses I’ve met in person, are much better looking than they appear on screen.

I told the reader one person who immediately came to mind was Taraji P. Henson. Meeting her, I was stuck by how just adorably cute she is in person. However that vision of her has yet to appear on the screen, where either she’s made to look awful (think Hustle and Flow or her matronly appearance in Benjamin Button), or even in films where she’s “normal,” such as The Karate Kid, Not Easily Broken, or Date Night, where she’s made to look haggard and not at all well photographed.

But the worst case I mentioned must be Viola Davis. I’ve met Ms. Davis, and the person I met was incredibly attractive, and with a trim, fantastic body (speaking as a guy I tend to notice things like that…). But that’s not the Viola Davis you regularly encounter in movies. She almost always looks awful, and I suspected at the time perhaps sometimes padded to make her look bigger. And now as she revealed in The Help she was. I mean was that really necessarily for her to gain all that weight and have the padding as well? You mean there are no thin black maids?

The reader then told me about a quote she read once by Kelita Smith who played Bernie Mac’s wife on his sitcom. According to Smith, when she reads for a role in a casting session she purposely de-glamorizes herself to appear as plain as possible, because the filmmakers don’t want to hire attractive black actresses for roles, preferring them to look bad, in order to make white actresses appear better looking which proves what I suspected.

So this is what it comes down to? You’re telling me that someone who looks like Smith has to, in effect, “ugly” herself up for the chance of getting work? That’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

What do you say?

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2023 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.