Evolution Of The Black Actress

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade August 2001

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There is a rich history in American film. There is one group of people that were many times overlooked for their great attributes to American film: the Black actors. There were many aspiring black actors. Unfortunately, as in most things in the past, they did not have the same opportunities as other mainstream Hollywood actors. They were only allowed to be coons, tragic mulattos, mammies, and the servants. Even with those roles, they were never allowed to be the leading lady. There are many aspects that surround these Black actresses. Obviously, color was a factor because all of the Black beauties shared the same characteristics: light skin, long dark hair, and European features. The Black actress has ventured through many eras of film. Slowly, she has gone from the servant to the mammy to the sexy vixen. In modern film, she seems to have more chances to play more respectable roles than in the past.

From Nina Mae McKinney to Sanaa Lathan, Hollywood has had many changing faces of the Black actress.

In the past, Black actresses were only casts in specific roles: the mammy, the tragic mulatto, seductress, sex object, or docile damsel. The mammy is similar to the comic coon, but is a female and very independent. She is usually "big, fat, and cantankerous". The mammy leads her man, but always uses comedy to relieve the pain. She always knows that her place is in the kitchen. The tragic mulatto was heavily portrayed. This person always brought about her own destruction. This person was usually a fair skinned mulatto who was probably trying to pass to white. The films portrayed this person as likeable because of her white blood. They wanted the audience to pity this person and believe that life would have been better for her, and...