WATCH: Kerry Washington Discusses her Experience with Casting Stereotypes in Hollywood

Black Americans in Hollywood are constantly sought out to play stereotypical roles in mainstream media, and this has been the case for decades.  In the past, these roles have included characters such as ‘mammys,’ ‘sambos,’ ‘coons,’ ‘Uncle Tom’s’ etc.  Recently these characters have transitioned into ‘black girlfriends,’ ‘the best friend,’ the funny friend,’ ‘the sassy friend,’ ‘hood rats,’ ‘the angry black women,’ and unfortunately this list continues on.

There is a dangerous cycle between the media and its representations of minority groups on screen, and the black community is notorious for being stereotyped.  The media sets the tone for the images of our culture, and those who may have never encountered black people, will believe that the degrading stereotypes of blacks are based on reality, not fiction.

In an interview with fellow actor Aziz Ansari, Kerry Washington shared that she was fired from two separate pilots because she was not “hood” enough.

“Before ‘Scandal,’ I was actually cast in two other pilots. Both went to series, but I was fired and recast,” Washington said. “For both, it was because they wanted me to sound more ‘girlfriend,’ more like ‘hood,’ more ‘urban.” – Kerry Washington

Despite the fact that Washington realized that she was experiencing the repercussions of not fitting a certain stereotype, she discovered that it wasn’t exclusive to racial clichés and similar stereotypes were being placed on those with different sexual orientations.

“I’ve had friends of mine say like 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.” – Kerry Washington

Ansari responded by sharing his experience with racial stereotypes.  “It’s interesting; like every person that’s not a straight, white guy has their version of this.  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 [for me], I’m here because I fit what looks like the person they want in here.”

Both Washington and Ansari agreed that the best way to combat stereotypes in casting is by creating your own work and getting your own projects off the ground.

“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” – Kerry Washington

Check out the entire discussion in the video below.

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Founder, HBR Media

K. Nicole Mills is the Founder of HBR Media. She transitioned from Wall Street to television and film development, and has worked at NBCUniversal, Universal Pictures, and Showtime Networks. She currently develops digital programming for premium networks. Reach out anytime! info@hbrmedia.org

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