Prior to becoming a household name thanks to her success on ABC’s hit drama “Scandal,” Kerry Washington revealed she was fired from several television projects for not fulfilling Hollywood stereotypes of Black actresses. In other words, she didn’t come across as “urban” or sound “hood” enough.
“Before ‘Scandal,’ I was actually cast in two other pilots. Both went to series, but I was fired and recast,” the 39-year-old recently revealed during Variety’s Actors on Actors series, where she was joined by “Master of None’s” Aziz Ansari. “For both, it was because they wanted me to sound more ‘girlfriend,’ more like ‘hood,’ more ‘urban,’ ” she explained.
Of course, Washington isn’t alone. The Django Unchained star went on to recount past conversations she’s had with friends who recalled similar experiences they faced when overcoming stereotypes in Tinseltown. “I’ve had friends of mine say they’re tired of ‘gayface’ and I was like, ‘What’s gayface?’ They were like, ‘It’s the gay version of blackface. Like, come in and be more effeminate,’ ” she said of one friend’s story.
Ansari also chimed in, with stories of casting stereotypes he’s faced, disclosing that he’s found out after the fact that he landed several roles because they were looking for a specific look. “A lot of other minority actors have told me, ‘Oh, this so rings a bell’ when you go into an audition room and you see a bunch of people that look like you and you just start feeling like, ‘Oh I’m not here [because of who I am]. I’m here because I fit what looks like the person they want in here,’ ” said the former “Parks and Recreation” star.
As for the solution, both stars were in agreement that in order to diminish these racist stereotypes, Black actresses, directors, producers, even writers, need to create projects that they can be proud of. “I definitely feel like I’m at that point where it’s nice to not have to sit at home and wait to be invited to the party, but to be creating work for yourself,” Washington said.
“You can’t wait for anybody to open doors for you,” Ansari added. “You’ve got to really create your own doors.”
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