Mothers, don't let your daughters grow up to be actresses

The airwaves have been promoting what looks like a new reality show hosted by Vivica A. Fox. I felt rather sad to see this. Ms. Fox has talent that should be grasping a meaty part in television or film . . . but there aren't many of those to go around.

It's always been difficult for black actresses to get decent parts. It wasn't unusual for a black actress to get one plum role that made people predict stardom for her, and then fall back into near obscurity. The late Dorothy Dandridge couldn't possibly have known that her Oscar-nominated performance in Carmen Jones would be the high point of her career. Most, if not all, of the few movies she made after this were supporting roles.

Because bills have to be paid, sometimes actresses have no choice but to take lesser parts (does anybody remember a movie called Gone Fishin' that was a low point in the career of Lynn Whitfield, as well as the film's male stars, Danny Glover and Joe Pesci) or go the reality TV route (Ms. Fox had competed in Dancing with the Stars a few years back).

One actress who seems to be staying busy is Alfre Woodard, who seems to have avoided the slump that comes with being an actress past 40 by sliding into mother roles (she's played the mother of Sanaa Lathan in at least 3 movies). And Angela Bassett, to my knowledge, has never appeared in a less than A-quality production (even if she had a smaller role, like the one she had in the recent critical and commercial hit Akeelah and the Bee) and is currently headlining ER for its final season.

I first became aware of Ms. Fox's talent in the well-done but unsuccessful Frankie Lymon biopic, Why Do Fools Fall In Love. She had a wonderfully meaty role as the first of the singer's three wives, easily the best part of the picture, showing off both toughness and tenderness.

Another actress I feel hasn't been able to get good parts, in spite of showing what she can do, is Jackee Harry, yes, the Jackee who started out in comedy in the sitcom 227. She gave a wonderful performance in the TV miniseries The Women of Brewster Place as a woman who never gave up looking for love. She just about broke my heart. (Ms. Harry is currently starring in a touring gospel play, having done a turn on TV's The Biggest Loser.)

Anyone who goes into the arts can tell you that it's a crapshoot. Good work doesn't guarantee that you'll go to the top. But I honestly don't see anything that Meryl Streep or Sally Field have that Ms. Fox and Ms. Harry do not. I do hope they get an opportunity to strut their stuff in good parts soon.

Here are clips of these actresses' stellar performances in Why Do Fools Fall in Love and The Women of Brewster Place, respectively. Enjoy!

Vivica A. Fox in Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Jackee Harry (and others) in The Women of Brewster Place, part 1

part 2


Anonymous said...

Hi Bettye,
Vivica is one of my favorite actresses, too.
She can do comedy, drama and everything in between.Very versatile and underrated. I loved her in "Two Can Play That Game," "Kill Bill" and "Set It Off." Too bad she doesn't get enough worthy roles in big movie or TV projects. She is doing more executive producing to make her own opportunities. She and her manager/agent have produced a few film projects that have been straight-to-DVD. I wouldn't be surprised if the reality TV thing is something else those two cooked up, because "reality" is so hot right now. And as you noted, the bills gotta get paid. Vivica strikes me as someone whose always got a plan or "a hustle" to stay visible. I really admire that about her. If you get too picky, you don't eat in that biz. As successful as Halle Berry (also over 40 now) has been in mainstream Hollywood she, too, has to make a lot of her own acting opportunties. I'll bet Halle will have to do it even more as she ages. Hollywood is so youth obsessed. White actresses have the same problem. Sally Field has complained about it. She thinks Meryl Streep is the only actress allowed to get old and stills steadily work in high-profile movie projects. It is a very tough biz. Reon :-)

bettye griffin said...

I agree, Reon, the only worse thing about being a work actress is being a working actress over 40, or an overweight actress. The stigma of doing TV is slowly disappearing with high-caliber talent like Sally Field, Glenn Close, and Angela Bassett doing TV.

Re being overweight, isn't it odd that everybody on TV and movies is always so slim?

You summed it up perfectly in your last sentence!