Think African Americans don’t have reason to complain about the roles Hollywood always seems to assign?
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.
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 – 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.
Hattie McDaniel – Winner, Gone With The Wind -D is for domestic
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.
Carmen Jones – Dorothy Dandridge - Factory worker/floozy
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.
Imitation of Life Juanita Moore – 1960 -D is for domestic
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.
I just love this picture!
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
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
Monster’s Ball – Halle Berry 2001 Historic Best Actress Oscar waitress/mother
Dreamgirls – Jennifer Hudson 2007 Winner , best supporting actress Oscar Singer
American Gangster – Ruby Dee 2008 Loving, devoted mother
Doubt – Viola Davis nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar 2009 - 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