With the Oscars fast approaching, all of the discussion surrounding the Academy’s lack of recognition for deserving people of color who have excelled in film and television has brought us to another slightly overlooked topic worth revisiting: women of color coming together to break down the Hollywood typecasting barrier one role at a time.
It’s no secret that typecasting is an all too prevalent reality for many in Hollywood and women of color in the industry seem to have been particularly singled out to bear the brunt of the burden, but quite as kept, the strides being made to overcome this obstacle are nothing short of amazing.
An integral part of Hollywood not being able to downplay the success of these women has been also having women of color in the driver’s seat as creators, directors and producers. Women like Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince-Bythewood are playing pivotal roles in bringing films and programming to life that foster a sense of unity, excellence and unapologetic pride in diversity within the Hollywood culture. Check the social media timelines of some of the most successful women of color in Hollywood and you’ll find them not only promoting their own projects, but also publicly supporting their fellow sisters in film and television regularly.
On the television circuit, actresses like Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis-Ross, Viola Davis, Priyanka Chopra, Uzo Adoba and Gabrielle Union are changing the face of prime time television and alternative programming by using the very essence of who they are to bring stories to life in a way that has been absent from the small screen for far too long.
Rather than being pegged to fill the role of the “token” actress of color or being required to minimalize their ethnic features to better suit the prime time powers that be, these beautiful women are gracing our television and computer screens on a weekly basis in powerful leading roles that either subtly or boldly represent their various cultural backgrounds in the nearly every frame. From Viola Davis as a top-notch attorney on How To Get Away With Murder, to Tracee Ellis-Ross as a highly-educated, yet well rounded mother and wife on Blackish to Aunjanue Ellis as an FBI director on Quantico, you’ll be hard pressed to turn on your television during the most watched hours of programming and not see a range of strong representation of women of color.
But it doesn’t end on the small screen.
Although the Academy continues to deliberately exclude a large majority of our talented film stars from their secret society of public recognition under the false belief that we somehow require their validation in order to push forward, it’s pretty impossible to dim a light that will shine bright even in the darkest of shadows. In recent years, our women of color have taken to the big screen to step out of their comfort zones and done so with flying colors. Angela Bassett as the Secret Service Director in this year’s Olympus Has Fallen sequel London Has Fallen, Jennifer Lopez as a vengeful mother in 2015’s Lila & Eve, and Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata in the highest grossing film in U.S. history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, are just a few of the standout roles played by women of color in recent years. In 2016, even more of our women will shine in some of Hollywood’s most anticipated major motion pictures including Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters, Alexandra Shipp in X-Men Apocalypse and Viola Davis and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in Suicide Squad.
An essential part to ensuring that these and other women of color continue to thrive in film and television is the way that they all publicly celebrate each other’s achievements, even when the world drops the ball. Who can forget Taraji P. Henson wildly cheering on Regina King as she won her first Emmy Award last year? Or Viola Davis boldly calling out the lack of roles available for African-American women during her Emmy speech? Or Kerry Washington raving about the cast of The Wiz on Twitter? With people of color constantly being pit against each other at every turn, the practice of supporting those whom society would rather have us view as our competition than our ally is key….and we could all take our cue from these fearless women who lead by example using that very principle.
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