In a recent interview with BET (Watch the interview HERE about his new film, Fences, Actor, Denzel Washington shared this thoughts about colorism, a concept he didn’t seem to understand:
“Colorism, is that racism within the race?”
He then went on to say:
You can say,‘Oh I didn’t get the part because they gave it to the light-skinned girl, or you can work, and one day, it might take twenty years, and you can be Viola…The easiest thing to do is to blame someone else, the system. Yeah, well, there’s a possibility, maybe,that you’re not good enough, but it’s easy to say it’s someone else’s fault. But there’s a possibility that you’re not ready and you can still blame it on someone else instead of getting ready.”
Here’s the problem with Mr.Washington’s rhetoric and old adages of hard work and perseverance:
1. He spoke on a topic that he didn’t know.
From the beginning of the interview, he awkwardly laughed and questioned the interviewer about the term colorism and then explained it back to her for approval. If you don’t know what it is, then why speak about it? Her initial question to him was if male actors face the same colorism as their Black female peers. The interviewer openly admitted the problem regarding colorism affecting Black women and this was his chance to acknowledge if this was a male issue.
He could have said something like, “No, I don’t experience this issue, maybe because I’m not a woman, whose roles are sexualized and beauty standards favor European feautures. No, Unfortunately, I can’t eloquently speak on things I do not know.”
Instead, he freely shared his opinion about what’s wrong with us. Yup, yet again, another man ignoring our voice and pain and telling us we’re imagining how we feel.
2. Hollywood Says Otherwise
There are too many instances that eradicate his point, ironically given by his Hollywood peers. Case in point, Straight outta Compton’s Casting agency, Sande Allesi Casting, described their ideal “it girl” as:
A girls” as “the hottest of the hottest” who could be of any ethnicity. “B girls” as “light-skinned” and “D girls” as African-American women who were “poor,” in bad shape and with “medium to dark skin tone.”
3. The proof is in the pudding
After the 2014 Oscars, a huge Hollywood agent spoke about Lupita Nyong’o’s inevitable challenges to land a role as a dark skin women even after her 2014 Oscar win,
“If she can find a franchise, a big crossover film, or if she’s cast by a significant filmmaker, then she’s golden…And there are so few roles for women of color; those roles are just not being written.”
The article continued with TCA Jed Root and talent agent Tracy Christian casually speaking about Black women, their features, and colorism, invalidating Mr.Washington’s points:
“Further complicating Nyong’o’s prospects is the fact that her dark skin challenges an industry prejudice that traditionally has favored black actresses and performers with lighter complexions…Would Beyonce be who she is if she didn’t look like she does? Being lighter-skinned, more people can look at her image and see themselves in her. In Lupita’s case, I think she has two-and-half, three years…For someone who looks like her, with a distinctly black, African face, maybe she’s someone who can change the direction for darker-skin actresses, actresses who are definitely not European-looking, but it may require some forward-looking director to push for her.”
Colorism isn’t something we just made up to avoid working hard. Colorism doesn’t make us lazy and just want to run around pointing fingers. We continue to strive and work in spite of Colorism. It actually exists, and we need people in Washington’s position to engage in the conversation, not shut it down and pretend we’ve imagined the whole thing.