Is there a shortage of black male actors over 70?

Last week I blogged about the slim job opportunities for black actresses (or maybe I should be P.C. and say "female actors").

I'm watching Law & Order SVU, and there was a middle-aged black man playing a Catholic priest. The storyline establishes that he was an Episcopal minister before change denominations and was able to stay married. But in the next scene when they showed his wife, she looked like - well, his mother. I don't know the actor's name who played the priest, but I'd put his age at somewhere in his 50s. His wife is played by Cicely Tyson, who clearly appears to be in her mid 70s.

Come on, people. Is this supposed to fly? It is very rare for a woman to be that much older than her husband (and there's usually money involved). Just because the actor playing the husband has gray in his beard - certainly not uncommon for any man over 45 - doesn't make him look like a senior citizen.

In a similar vein, I enjoy watching the CBS drama Cold Case, and when they do a storyline featuring a crime from the World War II years or before and the present-day characters look much too young I overlook it, because, let's face it, there's not a lot of 90-ish actors around (maybe they should give Ernest Borgnine a call - he's 92, and I just saw him on an episode of ER). But this is ridiculous. I don't believe for one minute they they couldn't find one actor closer to Cicely Tyson's age. Thank God they didn't have any love scenes; I think that would make me lose my dinner.

It occurs to me that I might be on the wrong track, that the producers may have felt that Ms. Tyson could pass for a woman in her 50s, kind of a reverse Miss Jane Pittman. Or maybe they just wanted her; getting an actress of Ms. Tyson's stature is a coup for any network show. Well, let this woman in her 50s be the first to say that I don't buy it. I'm glad to see Ms. Tyson still active. But next time, give her a part that calls for a character who's at least 65.


Patricia W. said...

I saw that episode last night and enjoyed it. I didn't think the actor, whose name is Robert Wisdom, was as much out of place, as Cicely Tyson was. You're right. Mr. Wisdom is in his mid-50's.

Let's face it. Cicely is up there (76 this year). Unless she's playing real Jane Pittmans, grandmother types as she did in the Tyler Perry movie, she's going to look out of sync. And I mean no disrespect, as I have loved Cicely since I saw Sounder back in 1972.

DonnaD said...

Cicely Tyson has always looked old. She's an amazing actress, but in every part I've seen her in, I always thought she was at least 70 years old. (I've seen very little of her pre-1970's work, so I'm biased.)

There are several actors old enough to be in the 70s or at least look like it. James Earl Jones comes to mind, though he's not the only one. But I know there aren't a lot of them that are recognizable.

I think you're right that it was just a stunt casting choice to bring in Cicely Tyson. She brings gravitas in whatever role she plays, and I think that's what the producers were looking for (though I haven't seen the ep so I'm not sure).

Most male working black actors are in their 40s and 50's. You rarely see elder black actors working even in films unless they're playing doddering old crochety men. It would be nice to see a film or TV show showing strong generational black men.

bettye griffin said...

You know, Patricia, the more I think about it, the more I do think that the casting agent thought Cicely could pull off the part of a woman a quarter of a century younger. We know it didn't work.

LOL, Donna! Since you like old movies, watch for a movie called Odds Against Tomorrow from 1959 with Harry Belafonte. I think Cicely made her film debut in this in a bit part as a barmaid. She would have been in her mid 20s at the time, or maybe older (she's always been cagey about her birth date). It also happens to be a damned good movie. There's a song in it, All Men Are Evil, that I wish was available as a record. It's a catchy tune.

Anyway, TCM shows the movie, and so does another one of the cable networks that shows older films, Me TV, I think (but they have commercials).

But Cicely looked fairly young when she played Jane Pittman and, of course, for her Oscar-nominated role as Rebecca in Sounder, both in the early 1970s, when she was about 40.

Thanks for posting, ladies!