HELLO AMERICA!—I have had so many of my readers around the world ask my feelings concerning diversity in Hollywood. I decided not to jump irrationally or explode verbally about a situation in our industry generally before giving it much thought. After doing so and remembering how the struggle has been for my journey since arriving in Hollywood in 1951.
Even though there were obvious restricted levels in housing, employment and even at certain institutions of higher learning, however, there were always those from the Caucasian community who were sensitive enough and willing to open the door of opportunity to explore my creative potential.
Unlike today, Black performers were more caring about giving other persons of color a helping hand if needed. One example of this is Nick Steward who was a mainstay on the legendary Amos ‘n’ Andy TV show. He took much of the money earned by playing “Lightning” a half-witted comic character which was criticized by every Civil Rights organization existing. However, he had an objective and build the beautiful Ebony Theatre which offered every level of theatre performance i.e., classical plays, original musicals, ballet and modern dance concerts and it wasn’t restricted to only Black artists but open to everyone.
There was a sense we might experience full time inclusion on all industry creative levels. After all, Jack Benny had his Rochester, Ethel Waters (Beulah), Nat King Cole (hosted his own show), Hazel Scott Show, Hattie McDaniels (won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and the list of high achievers gave us all hope. However, my experience was appearing in musical film “Carmen Jones” which starred Dorothy Dandridge (nominated in Best Actress category,
Harry Belefonte, Pearl Bailey and so many other legendary Black artists of that period. However, the reality was that this experience seemed only to take place every ten years or so. The frustration was still there and the dream of being recognized as a genuine family member of the industry began to take on a different hue of discontent.
Suddenly, there was an invasion of a different kind of so-called artistic animal arriving in Hollywood. They stemmed from certain areas of the east coast which had been known for their short minded thinking and exclusion practices, from places in the deep south i.e., the Carolinas and Texas where there was and still is very little or no positive perceptions of artistic value given to those of color.
Unfortunately, many of these people were placed in positions of power, helming theatre groups, productions companies and many of the other significant performing venues. The Los Angeles Center Theatre Group are always eager for another performance of “Porgy and Bess” or some other 1930s jungle-jive show representing
Harlem Blacks who were forced to perform in that fashion and even the respective story-lines indicated as much. The Beverly Hills Theatre 40 helmed by a southern director who still lives in the so-called magic or luster of the English playwright that seems to appeal to those who support his theatre. He claims that he would be interested in having a few Blacks at his theatre; when hearing this, it reminded me of the utter condescension experienced during the 40s and 50s on the east coast! It was unbelievable! The plays performed at Theatre 40 or dull with no current significance, possibly for only classroom attention. THIS is in Beverly Hills – UNBELIEVABLE!
I’m begun to realize the major problem is possibly not with the membership of the Academy or any other body which is comprised of an artist voting membership group but those helming them — those who bring along to our industry attitudes and perceptions from whence they come i.e., ignorance of others who are different from themselves, view of life-survival or, frankly, not giving a damn about anything or anyone accept their own personal desires and needs. I might add that this level of reality doesn’t only pertain to white persons of authority but Blacks as well, especially women. They can be just as lethal and destructive.
They seem to prefer stories which reach back to the sound of the slave bell, something poor cotton pickin’ blacks longed to hear, knowing it was an indication of free time to spend with any of the family they had left to enjoy for a few hours before the next day’s work ritual. In my opinion these women are just as dangerous as any KKK member that I and so many others had to escape from during the 30s –50s.YES, and they are still here and they don’t have to be wearing a sheet of white or EVEN be white. It’s really a damn shame!