Racial Discrimination in Hollywood

Wendy Alane Wright

Wendy Alane Wright

Someone just sent me an email that asked me to talk about ethnic minorities and how is that in terms of getting jobs in the business, if you’re a black woman or if you’re an Asian woman or Spanish woman, etc., or black man. Is it harder to break in when you’re an ethnic?

There Are Less Minority Roles to Fill

There have always been less roles for minorities than for Caucasian actors. So, in that regard, there are less opportunities provided to you by major studios and networks because they don’t offer as many roles to ethnics as they do to Caucasians. Case in point; Kerri Washington, I think is the only black woman who is the lead actor in the drama series on ‘Scandal’ on television at all. She’s the only one. So, it has changed in that there used to be none and there are more black actors playing chief of police and detectives and even doctors or lawyers now. They used to only be able to play the shoe-shine man. Do you know what I’m saying? So, things have changed in that regard.

However, white studios don’t run around the block, searching for black actors so that they can try to make a big buck off of them because they still don’t believe that black audiences will come out to pay for black movies to the level that white audience as well. Whether that’s true or not, I mean, if that’s true, black audiences, get off your butt and go support our black films. I’m just saying, but typically, even a film like Red Tail, which was an amazing story of the Tuskegee airmen, in fact, which my uncle was one, that story took nine years for George Lucas to get made because nobody wanted to make a film about black men who were actually at world war heroes, American heroes. Whereas if it was white, they would have made it in a minute, but because it’s black, they think, “Well, who’s really going to come out and see it? Black people won’t relate to that. They just want to see gangs and drugs.” And my father is a PhD educated black man who’s been a college professor for 35 years and he doesn’t go out and see that stuff.

So, they still stereotype black folk. You may have guessed, I’m half black and half white in your observations of me. So, yes, they still stereotype black folk, don’t realize what we’re capable of yet, sometimes. And the history of this country is that black folks were never really allowed to do anything to prove what they were capable of. And as black folks peel that roof, that ceiling off of their identity and really get to rise to the top of who they are, they show America more and more what they’re capable of. And my God, they’re capable of so much. So, what black people have to do at this point in their career is not sit around and wait for anyone to give them breaks because they finally deemed that black people are worthy of them, but black people have to go out and make their breaks just like everybody else does.

Great Actors Are Breaking Barriers

Like Tyler Perry did. And we always use Tyler Perry now because he’s a great example of what a black person can go out and do if he’s not sitting around waiting for a white person to give him a role. This is not about race because I am not racist in any way about blacks or whites or any other color. I don’t really care. Obviously, being in the middle myself, I kind of think that I kind of have an understanding from both perspectives and I always find the answer to almost everything is in the middle. That’s my experience. However, I digress. You’re going to have to go out and fight for those roles just like every other actor and maybe even more so, because there are less opportunities. So, if you’re not the kind of actor who thinks, “Okay, I’ve got to be promoting myself. I’ve got to create my own material.” Tyler Perry is successful because he creates his own content. He has a character that works; Madea.

It’s funny. He put on plays while he was sleeping out of his car. He put on plays, he built a following for a character that is really hysterical. He writes his own material. He films his own material. And people came out to see it because it’s quality talent. It’s funny comedy. And he developed an audience that was translated into movies. And then he got the financing together to make his own movies. And then he has his own studio and, he’ll probably have his own network someday and he is the propeller of his own career. So, can anyone stop you then? No. So. can you have a career as a black artist in show business? Obviously. Can you have as successful a career as a black artist if you don’t do a lot of self-projects, if you don’t really go out there and make stuff happen, shoot your own material, find your own writers to work with, find your own talent and put it out there to that level? I think that’s the best way to go if you’re a black artist and even if you’re a white artist or Indian or Hispanic. Whatever you are

Take Charge Of Your Own Career

The way that the business works today and the way that people are respected the most today is if you take charge of your own career, you decide, “This is who I am. This is what I have to offer. I’m going to put it out there a hundred percent pure. This is my gift, my talent. I’m sharing it. I have so much opportunity now with HD cameras and the internet and webisodes and YouTube and short films and film festivals. I don’t need to sit around and wait for studio to give me a part as a black person or as Indian person.” Black people have more roles than Indians. American Indians really don’t have many and Indians from India.

They’re always stereotyped or typecast as phone operators or 7/11 worker. Maybe the Mindy project, my friend Beth Grant is on that show. And, I don’t know if there’s any other show that stars an Indian woman. So, minorities always have it tough. That is not a reason not to have an acting career because the reason people write me that letter, “Do you think that I’m in a minority could have an acting career?”, is to see if they should bother trying

You Have to Love Acting And Not Get Discouraged

If you think if you’re going to wait for other people to validate whether you should have an acting career, then you should not be an actor. You’ve got to act because you simply love it and you don’t care what anyone else is doing. You’re going to create your own opportunities if no one will give them to you. Create your own. And if you don’t have the stick-to-itiveness or the mojo to get that done, you might want to find another career because it’s only those kinds of actors who are going to propel themselves forward and be successful.  So that’s my answer. They’re never really short because the questions are complicated and what you have to do is complicated. And I could just say “No, being black, doesn’t keep you from having an acting career. Next.” But that doesn’t really explain it to you. So, get out there and make quality work. Use black actors in your work.

I’ll tell you a story. John Singleton, years ago, I was his assistant. And I was hired by his team when I hadn’t even met him yet. He was in New York doing the promotion for something and I was in the LA office on the Culver studio lot in Culver city. And I worked for him for several months while he was back east before I’d met him. I think four, five or six months into it, he came back to LA. And I was working for his production company and I was his assistant. And I was working for his production company so he would talk to me on the phone, we would handle all of our business, I would do whatever I needed to do in the production company in the office in LA and report back to him. And we had a phone relationship before Skype. We didn’t have Skype, so everything was done over the phone or emails or whatever. When he did come in to the office and met me about six months later, he fired me. And I was very surprised because I hadn’t done anything wrong. And the head person of his production company took me aside and say, I want to tell you really why he fired you.

He doesn’t think you’re dark enough to represent his office and he didn’t realize how light-skinned you were and he only wants darker black people to be representing him in his office. So, we’re going to give you a really great package and say goodbye to you and here’s a really great reference and they wrote me the most amazing reference. There were two major people in his operation. And that was the truth. That’s what happened. So, he is trying to keep black people present and visible in his organization. And some black producers take it to the extreme. They only hire black cameramen because a lot of maybe black cameramen aren’t getting hired.

So, they only hire black electricians, black gaffers, black photographers, black actors, black producers. Black, black, black, and they are giving blacks the opportunity that whites are, have not been jumping through hoops, trying to give blacks. So, I get why he did it. I was not happy about it because I loved my job at the time. Every single day I was on the lot, I really loved being on the lot. But, based on the environment of how blacks are treated in Hollywood, that’s kind of how he’s decided to handle it. He’s going to hire blacks. And he’s only going to have blacks in the forefront of his office.

So, it is what it is. But that’s what you have to decide for yourself. Don’t let being black stop you from being an actor or being Indian or being Russian or German or whatever. Don’t let being a dark-skinned black keep you from being an actor. Don’t let anything keep you from being what you’re supposed to be. Get out there and be it. And if nobody else will help you, help yourself get your own opportunities going, make your own projects. People will always have more respect for you. Anyway. Then if you’re on the begging end. So that’s my advice about race and your career. If your race should interfere with your career? My answer is no


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