D is for Domestic and the grade Hollywood deserves

Posted on August 30, 2011

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Think African Americans don’t have reason to complain about the roles Hollywood always seems to assign?

Billie Holiday as a maid in the Orson Welles backed film, New Orleans

Well think again. See the woman in the photo?

That’s Jazz Legend Billie Holiday, playing a maid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Jet magazine  cover from 1952 and the title? Guess what Teresa Harris played throughout her career. A maid/domestic.

Teresa Harris on the cover of JET magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a brief walk down memory lane noting the roles Hollywood saw fit to nominate and honor. Take a look at how many characters are of the domestic variety for black actresses. I’m not even counting the parts through the years that didn’t get a nomination, or what black males were relegated to. But if you were to add up how many African American females played domestics until they got their big break, finally being celebrated for playing of all things, a domestic, then all those reviewers who want to just ignore history and in particular, film history need to have their heads examined.

For example, take Viola Davis, who’s now the darling of those who just love The Help.

2002 – Far From Heaven – Maid/Domestic

2011 – The Help – Maid/Domestic

This is 2011. When will some writers finally see all minorities as more than just props to tell another’s story?

 

D is for domestic

 

Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life, touted as "the greatest screen role ever played by a colored actress"

 

 

 

 

 

Louise Beavers – no Best supporting actress category in 1935 - D is for domestic

Beavers honed her acting skills in a number of films playing maids and domestics and even uncredited domestic roles.

Even after her big break in Imitation of Life, she was still relegated to domestic roles. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer would do well to remember that, as they now run the risk of being typecast.

Viola was smart to start her our production company to look for projects to develop.

 

1938 film Jezebel, where Theresa Harris plays a maid to Bette Davis' spoiled Southern Belle

 

 

 

 
 
 

Hattie McDaniel – Winner, Gone With The Wind         -D is for domestic

Hattie McDaniel stamp

 

 

 

 
 

 
Like Louise Beavers, Hattie was cast as a domestic in many of her early roles.

And also like Beavers, after her Oscar win she went right back to playing a domestic or maid.

 

 

 

 

 

Pinky – Ethel Waters  – 1950 nominated             -D is for domestic /Washerwoman

Ethel Waters at least got to star in Cabin in the Sky, a musical and a departure from slave or domestic roles.

Unfortunately, she had to star opposite Lena Horne who sung the signature torch song, Stormy Weather. Waters also was a star on Broadway.  The picture below is from the film Member of the Wedding, where she was a domestic, and it was a leading actress role. Only she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

Ethel Waters gives comfort, just like Aibileen and Constantine in The Help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carmen Jones – Dorothy Dandridge –             Factory worker/floozy

 

Carmen Jones Movie Psoter starring Dorothy Dandridge

 

Well, at least it was a change.

 In her career she’d played a specialty act (singing with the Dandridge sisters)

A maid, a teacher, a mistress and a floozy.

Oh, and an African Princess.

And she was the first African American female nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. That in itself,  in 1954 was truly historic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actress Dorothy Dandridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorothy Dandridge 1960s photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imitation of Life  Juanita Moore – 1960                -D is for domestic

 

Imitation of Life artist depiction poster

 

Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juanita Moore certainly deserved her Best Supporting Oscar nomination, as she played the maid Annie in a very understated and sincere characterization.

This is a tear jerker, and the 1959 melodramatic version is more aligned with The Help (film) than many care to admit.

Imitiation of Life 1959 version, Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sayonara: Miyoshi Umeki – Winner, Oscar 1958 ( I know she’s not black, but she’s considered a minority, and this win was historic)

 

 

West Side Story: Rita Moreno – Winner Oscar 1962 – seamstress  (Yes, I know she’s hispanic. But technically hispanic isn’t a race and Rita was fierce in this role)

 

 

Rita Moreno in 1961 after winning the best Supporting Actress Oscar for West Side Story

 

 

 

 

 

 
I just love this picture!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner –  Beah Richards nominated 1968                Loving mother

 

 

Sounder – Cicely Tyson      nominated for Best Actress Oscar                 1973         Sharecropper

 

 

 

 

 

Lady Sings The Blues –  Diana Ross  nominated for Best Actress Oscar      1973    Biopic/ Jazz Singer     

 

 

 

       

 

 

Cross Creek –  Alfre Woodard – 1984 – Geechee          – D is for domestic

 

 

 

The Color Purple –  Margaret Avery   nominated Best Actress 1986 –  Performer         singer

 

The Color Purple movie Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Color Purple Whoopi Golberg    nominated Best supporting Actress                housewife/D is for Domestic

The Color Purple Oprah Winfrey       nominated Best supporting Actress                 housewife

 

 

 

Ghost  – Whoopi Goldberg -winner Best Supporting Actress  1991                 Psychic/Con Artist

 

 

What’s Love Got to Do with It –  Angela Bassett    nominated, Best Actress 1994          Biopic, singer

 

Fearless –  Rosie Perez  nominated   1994                                 Airplane crash survivor

 

 

Secrets & Lies –  Marianne Jean-Baptiste  nominated 1997           long lost daughter

 

 

 

Monster’s Ball – Halle Berry 2001         Historic   Best Actress Oscar  waitress/mother

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington win Oscars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Chicago –  Queen Latifah nominated best supporting  actress  2003              Prison Matron

 

 

 

Hotel Rwanda –  Sophie Okonedo 2005   nominated, best actress    Hotel Manager’s wife and assistant

 

 

 

Dreamgirls – Jennifer Hudson 2007   Winner , best supporting actress Oscar       Singer

 

Dreamgirls movie poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Jennifer Hudson as Effie

 

 

 

 

 
 

DVD Cover for Dreamgirls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

American Gangster – Ruby Dee 2008                                                  Loving, devoted mother

 

 

   

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  –  Taraji P. Henson – 2009           – D is for domestic, although she appeared to own or run the old folks home

 

Taraji P Henson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taraji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doubt  – Viola Davis nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar 2009      – parent

 

Actress Viola Davis in the film Doubt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precious –  Gabourey Sidibe    –     nominated for Best Actress Oscar        single parent/student

Precious  –  Mo’Nique – 2010            –      Won Best Support Actress Oscar                       single parent 

 

         

The Help Viola Davis – 2012         -Newspaper columnist/author and D is for Domestic

 

The Help Octavia Spencer                 - Cook/author and D is for Domestic

 

 

 

Ah well, I’d rather be part of the solution than just adding to the problem.

That’s why I’ve got a number of writing projects I’m working on,  featuring a diverse cast (white, black, Asian, Native American) a strong plot, and also getting the “voice” of the characters down.

I’ve got more pictures to upload and lots more to say….  to be continued

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