I have a new piece up at Clutch magazine
Many kids with famous parents often go on to seek their own careers in
music or acting. A famous last name along with the connections made by
the parent eases one into a career in Hollywood. They’ll tell you that
they had to overcome their famous last name or that they didn’t receive
any special treatment. Call me a cynic, but I don’t buy that for one
moment, when it comes to the majority. Oscar winner Denzel Washington
recently appeared on The Actors and he spoke about the advice he gave to
his dark-skinned daughter Olivia.
I tell my daughter — she’s at NYU — I say: “You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.” I said: “You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage.” That’s the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act. I said: “Look at Viola Davis. That’s who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you’re relying on that, when you hit 40, you’re out the door. You better have some chops.”
Even with the Washington last name, Denzel is aware that Olivia’s race and gender are going to work against her. Consider for a moment that Nina Simone, a woman who was abused because of her dark skin and decided Afrocentric features, is being portrayed by Zoe Saldana. Even when the role specifically calls for a dark-skinned Black woman, we are not given the consideration we deserve. There are precious few roles out there for women period, beyond the floozy, the love interest, heroine in need of saving and the sexpot. As a woman ages, even these roles disappear, leaving her if she is lucky, to play the mother to a person ten years her junior.
To be a dark-skinned Black woman is to struggle to get roles and to get one’s talent recognized. Even with the ability to rely on her famous father, Denzel still gave the same advice that Black parents having been giving out since the end of slavery, “you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.” Denzel knows what all parents of dark-skinned children know – the worst stereotypes attached to Blackness, will be ascribed to your dark-skinned child, no matter how talented, hard-working or intelligent they are. This is the cost of living in a white supremacist state.