Vanessa Bell Calloway is well-known for her role as “queen to be” Imani Izzi in Coming to America, but as she told Page Six, she originally auditioned for the role of main character Lisa McDowell. However, she said that colorism played a role in her not being cast as Prince Akeem’s (Eddie Murphy) love interest.
“When you have white people hiring Black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” she told Page Six. “I just wasn’t light enough, even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa. [But] I didn’t want the part of Imani, I wanted to be Lisa–I had read the script and I wanted the bigger role.”
She said how colorism is something that Black people constantly have to deal with, adding, “A lot of men were indoctrinated by having a white woman or light-skinned woman on their arm.”
She said she knew she wasn’t going to get the lead role, so she decided to read for Imani instead.
“…I went outside in the hallway, looked over the part with five minutes of preparation, went back in and did the best I could,” she said. Calloway said she doesn’t resent playing the role, but she wants more people to know that colorism still affects Black actors, and Black people in general.
“The real deal is, when you’re in a situation like that, you wanna be a part of an Eddie Murphy movie. I wasn’t gonna say no! I would’ve loved to have had the lead part, but I was very happy to be in the movie. I can’t lie about that,” she said. “I said, ‘I’ll make the best out of this and I’ll be the best.’ It was a smaller role but it was a glamorous part to play. And Shari did a great job.”
Calloway will return in Coming 2 America which will come to Amazon Prime March 5.