D is for Domestic and the grade Hollywood deserves

Posted on August 30, 2011


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



















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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