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Who's Black And Who Ain't? What Defines A Black Actor?

by Sergio
May 21, 2011 12:58 PM
44 Comments
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Let's see if I can start some deviltry here. It's been a while. But yesterday Tambay posted a item about Vin Diesel's next project The Machine. Now the funny thing is that I saw the same item when it was announced and it didn't even occur to me to post it on S & A.

The reason why I guess is because I have to admit that I don't look at Vin Diesel as being a black actor. I don't know exactly why. It's no secret that he's bi-racial (though he tries hard to avoid revealing that). Perhaps because of his racially ambiguous looks, or maybe because of the parts he's played in movies, seeming to be mainly New Yawk Italian "Guido" parts. I get the feeling that any minute he'll start spouting off about "dem moulinyans" when he's in fact half "moulinyan" himself.

However I don't feel the same about Dwayne Johnson. He's bi-racial as well of course, and he hasn't played definitively black characters in his films. Yet I consider him a black actor. Why is that? Because he doesn't seem to be running from his racial identify? Because so many black women think he's sexy - unlike Diesel? Because he's been in a Tyler Perry movie and soon to appear in another one? Because he has a black name? I mean how many white guys do you know with the name Dwayne?

I have the same conflicts about Rashida Jones. Yeah I know, I know. A lot of people think she's all that and a bag of chips, and her touch alone can heal the sick, make the blind to see, and the lame to walk; but I don't see what all the fuss is about. Though I haven't, as yet, considered her a black actress and she does have a "black name" for sure. Is it because of her racially vague "is-she-or-isn't-she" looks, or because of the mainly non-ethnic parts that she's played so far?

What defines a black actor? Is it their looks, the parts they play, both or something else altogether? What do you say?

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44 Comments

  • gloria betts | January 22, 2012 7:01 PMReply

    I think it is simple ,when someone ask what your race, you give a simple answer ,i am black,or white ,or what ever the case might be, no need to guess ,so silly! NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE.Because that is what you are.

  • Dirty Money Mo Mo | July 31, 2011 11:16 AMReply

    Folks have you ever considered that actors such as Wentworth and Diesel may not have grown up in an environment where there were no black people for them to identify with. Sometimes when children are a product of an interracial relationship and the mother is Caucasian, if the relationship does not work out and they move on the children are often raised by their mothers and raised around her family and friends and that may not include black people. So often they don't identify with us because they were not raised around us. Just a thought.

  • Dilint Wings | July 22, 2011 12:43 PMReply

    I've actually seen interviews where Vin Diesel speaks about his bi-racial heritage. You seem to focus too much on what people look like and what roles they play. And what is actually considered a black look or black features since most African Americans and blacks in general look different globally. Most black families are of different ethnic features and skin tones. I think once people accept that black looks drastically different from one person to the next and from one family to the next. These issues you have with Rashida Jones and other mixed actors or actors who aren't mixed but just look mixed will go away. Its bad enough that hollywood can't accept mixed people or any black actors at all. I don't think people of any color should be so picky of labels and just support each other and support the ethnic actors no matter what roles they play.

    But I also notice how Vin and the Rock are never paired with black women. Then their black heritages would surely be more noticed by white America. And that being hollywood's biggest customer they will continue to cast mixed people in ambiguous roles.
    To me the more serious issue is how hollywood will jump through hoops to not cast black actresses no matter what color their skin is. Black male actors are paired with women of any other race but black women. So many movies will have ten black men and zero black women. To me this is a more important issue which should be addressed. I don't care the race of the black actor's love interest i would just love to see black women in general in more movies. Especially non stereotypical roles...

  • misha | May 28, 2011 8:40 AMReply

    Ugh...didn't proofread well enough. But ya'll get what I'm saying. If not...oh well. :P

  • misha | May 28, 2011 7:57 AMReply

    Umm, Jug, I'm late here but lemme just say a few things. First, I never said Vin was running from his blackness because of the type of roles he chooses. I've never heard him talk about his race/ethnicity. But that wasn't really my point. I specifically was talking about my appeciation for Dwayne because he's been open about who he is. If you notice, my statement about running from blackness was a general comment and not targted towards anyone in particular.

    And where to even start with you anaysis of Nia, Gabrielle etc.? First off, you do now that both Big Shots and Flash Forward were cancelled, right? LOL And you do know that neither woman had a lead role in either of those shows, right? Nia had sex with Judd Law?! OMG, how can I not view that as a success? I mean, a black woman in small role gets sexed up by Jude Law. What an accomplishment. *sighs* Alert me when someone like Nia or Gabrielle gets to play the LEAD ROLE opposite a Jude Law as his LOVE INTEREST and not someone whom he merely has a one night stand with.

    Btw, how many of those black actors you mentioned still have shows? And how many will get another chance? Yeah, some success.

  • Jug | May 25, 2011 5:08 AMReply

    Vick you actually proved my point. Wentworth looks white. Everybody thought he WAS white when he was on PRISON BREAK because he was the brother of an obviously white actor. Has Wentworth been anywhere NEAR a role that asked for him to be "Black" or called for a Black actor since? His character in THE HUMAN STAIN, you had no idea he was Black till the very end, so his real life race had nothing to do with it. You could've cast Paulo Costanzo and gotten the same effect

    http://www.starpulse.com/Actors/Costanzo,_Paulo/gallery/SGG-047520/

    But until he wrote his own script, he was having a tough time of it, I think, because of exactly what we're talking about, not black enough for black people and not white enough for white people.

    Some people don't talk about race loudly or often because it's not the first thing on their mind

    http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/notes/wmillerinterview.htm

    And I've seen many sites talking about that Vin says he won't DISCUSS" his ethnicity in his interviews, which is a looong way from not embracing it. Some people don't like to talk about a certain "hot button" topic, because that is ALL they become. Their work, their life, their history boiled down to Only a Woman, Only a Gay man, Only a Bi-racial "thing". Silliness, especially coming from US who should know better

  • Vick | May 24, 2011 10:36 AMReply

    Vin Diesel is ugly he is just unattractive and that's just a fact. Vin Diesel is indeed biracial BUT Dwayne Johnson has been very vocal about being biracial. Dwayne has never denied he is part black. I think in Hollywood another poster said appearance is everything. Racially ambigious actors like Rashida Jones, Vin Diesel, they don't really talk about being part black. However, someone like Wentworth Miller the man looks almost white BUT he has NEVER denied he is part black. In fact, Wentworth was the star of Human Stain back in 2003 and his character was a mixed race man.

  • Jug | May 24, 2011 5:05 AMReply

    LOL Jmac, I'm just sayin', we're playing way back when right :-P

    But seriously, snubbed? I ask repeatedly where is this "snubbing"? When did Vin Diesel ever say "I"m not black". Did I miss that memo? His short film is about not being black enough for black people and not white enough for white people. It's a ridiculous battle. Where has he acted like he wasn't black? Has he ever said it? And where was our reach out to him? You use Halle Berry as an example. Great one, because after that hit & run and all of her white friends & associates ran for the hills, she was on every black show & magazine under the sun. But WE claimed the shit out of her, because we LOOKED at her & saw Blackness-regardless of whatever her parental lineage. Where are the nominations for Vin Diesel for Image awards? The ABFF awards? I'm not saying he deserves awards for his acting, LORD knows I'm not LOL but what I'm saying is in general it never seemed like Black people out & out claimed Vin Diesel because we didn't look at him as Black. Or Rashida Jones for that matter. THAT is the real fucking tragedy. They are black actors in Hollywood, real fucking tough enough, and the people with which he shares a common historical heritage in this country, WE are not looking at him like he's one of us. But the quickest way to pass the buck is to say it's HIS fault for not claiming?! GTFOH That "perceived" bullshit has got to go...

    But you're right about having a community. Hell I want it, everybody wants a group to belong to. But real talk, it's this sort of tribalism & extremism that causes many black artists to not seek out black projects or the black community. Like I said "Go where you're celebrated, not tolerated". If dude said "I ain't black" or whatever, I'm all with y'all. But this whole topic by Sergio and some of the subsequent comments, it seems to be based solely on the roles he's played-strictly superficial. Bull. Shit. If that's the case, Antonio Fargas has a secret hankerin' for pimping hoes & shootin' dope, never mind that he is classically trained at the Negro Ensemble Theatre. I do feel particularly close to this nonsense and get hot every time it comes up.

  • JMac | May 24, 2011 1:27 AMReply

    Now Jug don't get your panties in a bunch over this :D Do non-black looking entertainers have to claim their ethnicity? Of course not. They don't have to come out the closet either ... but they do. Why is that - so they can get more roles playing gay characters or, I guess in Don Lemon's case, so he can be the go to guy to report news about the gay community? I doubt stopping the opposite sex from throwing themselves at them is the main objective.

    I think inherent in either situation (race or sexual orientation), when a public personality openly self identifies with a particular group or community its because he/she wants that blanket of support, protection, and overall inclusion that community provides. Let's face it, if the Rock starts complaining about how badly he's treated in the entertainment business due to his looks or race, black people would be all over that and demand justice. Boris Kodjoe can go to black media outlets and say hey black people come look at my new show on NBC and help a brother out. Okay that didn't quite work out in the end but I watched Undercovers a little longer than I would have otherwise and I'm sure a few other black folks did as well.

    If a celebrity belongs to a group but stays mum about it, I think by implication many members of that group think okay this guy wants to be on his own, he doesn't need us or want to be included with us so who cares if he stars in a movie or if he's having a rough time. Not one of us. Not our concern. Yes that's petty but then again, why waste your time supporting or defending someone who behaves as though they don't want to be openly associated with you or "your kind. "

    You know we can't stand being snubbed or sidelined, whether it's actual or perceived. Not every black person is willing to push those feelings aside and support those types of actors regardless.

    P.S You're so wrong reminding people about Halle's sideburns and mustache. :D

  • Jugj | May 23, 2011 11:47 AMReply

    And I must correct myself, Hailee Steinfeld is part Filipino & Jewish, not black, so she wouldn't be the Black Mamba's daughter, I'll rescind that example. Apologies for my error.

  • twhiner | May 23, 2011 10:29 AMReply

    Sergio, you are on point as usual. Anyone who hasn't grasped the fact that both Rashida and Vin occupy a space where Blackness is mutable is not being analytical and ignoring some basic facts. Like many mixed raced folks (read: mulatto), they have chosen NOT to identify with Africa in any identifiable way and leave it up to the rest of us to ponder such things.

    By REFUSING to acknowledge/affirm/embrace their Blackness in any identifiable way, to wit, by the roles that they take or by NOT identifying with organizations, or causes that are obviously back, not only do they escape "their" Blackness but they play with the notion of race and at the same time, render the issue moot by their very silence.

    To be sure, there's not any ONE way of being Black; and there are many ways to BLUR any racial identity as to make it indistinct. This is nothing new, just a play on the mulatto trope that's been around since...well, mulattos. That they would seek to "redefine" racial identity outside of history, culture genetics, etc. is speaks volumes, doesn't it?!. Hey they can still be marginally Black or identify as mixed race and still be embraced by our miscegenation crazed society. However, this is yet another manifestation of the self-hatred that seems to plague the children of Africa in ALL our permutations!

  • Jug | May 23, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    @Nadell-You're right, but it's about what the audience SEES, that's ALL that matters. Zoe is Dominican & Puerto Rican, but guess what she looks like? You know how many people STILL call Thandie Newton & Naomie Harris "African-American"?!? They're British! We got people so screwed up about race & labeling and what not, we don't even know what the fuck to call it either.

    Regardless of what they are, or say they are, it's about what they look like. Halle doesn't look anything BUT black. And yes, remember the nose? Well I also remember the STRICTLY BUSINESS mustache & sideburns too! Some things get landscaped LOL

    And as much as it bothered the shit out of me, Angelina Jolie can pass for Marianne Pearl. Again, What do you LOOK like?!? (lotta actually black actresses could've done that part, but it's another argument for another day)

    So now these actors have to shout it from the heavens what their true ethnicity is for folks to be able to sleep at night & not wet the bed. Hello, remember, they are actors..Acting..being someone else...not themselves...

    Dumb, all day everyday

  • Jug | May 23, 2011 10:09 AMReply

    I'm really floored at the idea that these people are "running" from "who they are" because they weren't in the last Tyler Perry movie & what not LOL So ridiculous. When Vin Diesel was in KNOCKAROUND GUYS, was any black folks screaming "He can't be in that role, because he's black"?!? Or how about when he actually did play a real life Italian mobster in FIND MY GUILTY?! Doubt it. And I'm serious, piggy backing on a post on S&A, would you cast Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT) as Black Mamba's (Vivica Fox) daughter in a future KILL BILL sequel? Why not, she is part black? She can act. Shouldn't she be considered? Hmmm...

    Jesus y'all, are we really that starved for black images that we're "calling" people out for HOW they were born, much less the roles they are CAST in?! Some devisive bullshit, this is EXACTLY what Vin Diesel's short film was about. And you know who loved it...Spielberg. That's how dude got a part in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, started his career.

    I wonder if Malcolm Lee, Spike & John Singleton back then were thinking about Vin for their movies where race was sure nuff an issue & had decidedly "darker" people in them? Again, Hmm...

    And Nia & Gabrielle...you must mean how they're oh so threatening and not getting roles but Nia had sex scenes with JUDE LAW, the white man everyone loved a couple of years ago, in ALFIE, was the love interest for Michael Vartan on BIG SHOTS on ABC. And how Gabrielle was the love interest of John Cho on FLASH FORWARD, the (sexy) female lead opposite Stuart Townsend-Charlize Theron's husband-on NIGHT STALKER...both ABC shows.

    Taye Diggs, Blair Underwood, Jason George, Morris Chestnut, Isaiah Washington, Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, Taraji Henson, Columbus Short...Damn, it sounds like ABC is the place to be for "ugly, threatening, non-sexy, very black actors not getting work"... :-(

    It's a huuge assumption to say because you've never seen these people in the roles YOU want to see them in that they are "running" from who they are, actually it's asinine (like saying "oh his career is dead" since you haven't seen a movie & then find out they're directing or are on Broadway).

    Now, if they've said in an interview "I don't acknowledge my Black roots" whatever whatever, than that is different. But going just by the roles they're cast in to judge their feelings about their ethnicity?! Pleeez, that is really reaching...before we do that, I'd love if S&A could dig and find out if folks like Rashida & Vin were on the dream lists of Salim Akil, TD Jakes or Tyler Perry for their films. My money says no.

    Go where you're celebrated, not tolerated.

  • Nadell | May 23, 2011 9:46 AMReply

    We can debate all we want but at the end of the day, on the continent called Hollywood, looks would be the underlying factor of classifying an actor/actress as black. Talking on the basis of multi-racial actors. It's all about skin tone. Now, we've heard and witnessed instances where although an actor verbally states and embraces that they are black I don't think that plays quite a big deal in Hollywood nation. Halle has no problem expressing she considers herself black but of course, her outer appearance is what gives way to her versatility in the industry. Some of the roles she's played have been offered because of her looks. Same can be said of Maya Rudolph - although I don't think she's vocal about being 1/2 black as Halle but "Bridesmaids" I doubt would have been given to someone like Gabrielle Union. But then again, Zoe Saldana is multi-racial and she's the "it" girl....With that being said, Hollywood has it's own policies that I doubt anyone can fully comprehend.

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 23, 2011 9:18 AMReply

    I think if you look black, you’re identified as black especially in Hollywood where appearance is everything. Shucks I thought the new Conan was black until I read more about his background. Can’t remember what he is, but he’s NOT black. People who can’t even act make really nice livings in Hollywood.

    @Jug “It’s about what you “look” like, not what you really are, that and how old you look define “what you can play”.

    Jug is so right. Mr. Wilford “diabeetus” Brimley wasn’t that old when he was playing the grandfather because he just looked old. I work for a police department and we had a cadet (they can only be between 18-21, before being switched over to become an officer at 21) and dude was only 18 looking AT LEAST 35. The cadets would occasionally go on undercover liquor buys by the liquor board and WE KNEW he would never get carded.

    Another aside to this discussion- I saw an ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ recreation about “Port Chicago 50” (Google it) and all 50 actors were dark skinned men. It got me to thinking hmmm. Can a light skinned black actor get any play on a historical recreation unless that’s what the part called for?

  • misha | May 23, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    Honestly, I don't look at Vin or Dwayne as "black.actors." But I cannot lie, I have more respect for Dwayne because he seemingly hasn't run from his blackness. Heck, even had a black mama in GG. And yet, that hasn't hurt his career. So I have little patience for actors (people in general) who run from who they are. Oh yeah and I think Dwayne is hotter. :D

    It is fact that actors, particularly actresses, with more Eurocentric features will have a better chance at succeeding than the likes of Nia Long or Gabrielle Union. I know some have mentioned Whoopi but physically, Whoopi is not considered threatening. And by threatening, I mean sexually desirable. I noticed that someone also mentioned Halle and her "old nose" (lol). Sad but it's very possible that Halle did succumb to Hollywood's standard of beauty.

  • Jug | May 23, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    @dcmoviegirl-Damn Skippy! LOL "Don’t conflate how he self-identifies with how Hollywood pigeonholes him." - It's like saying Carrol O'Connor was a hardcore biggot because he played Archie Bunker or Jeffrey Wright has to be gay because he tore up Belize in ANGELS IN AMERICA. If they are hired for roles that don't scream "Black", then that's what they get. It is after all, CASTING...folks ain't yelling because Djimon is not getting cast as Andrew Young in an MLK movie...some things are just dumb

    How funny that I read this article today & it is EXACTLY the same thing going on with this crap about "black enough"; from West towards Obama. This kinda sums it up waaay better than I ever could:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/gathering-the-tribe/239060/

  • Bridget | May 23, 2011 5:26 AMReply

    Geoffrey:
    OR maybe 1 white parent = white

  • dcmoviegirl | May 23, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    What geoffrey said.

    Also, this ->Because he doesn’t seem to be running from his racial identify?

    Don't conflate how he self-identifies with how Hollywood pigeonholes him.

    Someone's already mentioned Multi-Facial and if you do a google search, you'll find a clip of Vin b-boying with his short nappy fade in an old dance video.

  • geoffrey thorne | May 23, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    wow. still talking about this crap? they're black. it doesn't matter if they think so, it doesn't matter if we think so. at least one black parent = black. it's not a political activity.

    the end.

  • Jug | May 23, 2011 4:32 AMReply

    @twhiner-My question is, why do they "need" to shout to the heavens their "blackness? Is it because they don't "look it"? Or because WE need them to? They are PEOPLE first, not BLACK people first, they do what they want to. And then on top of that, they are actors trying to work. Don't know either of them personally, but Vin seems to have never denied he was part black & Rashida has never been in an interview and ducked her heritage, seeing as how she's talked about being Quincy's daughter. But as an audience member (or an industry person), would YOU buy Rashida as a person living in a shanty town on the outskirts of Johannesburg? Or would you buy Jennifer Hudson or Kerry Washington? Vin Diesel as Hannibal crossing the Alps on a big ass elephant, or would you rather believe Isaach de Bankolé or Djimon Hansou?

    Some things aren't as insidiously political as we make them out to be

    @Cherish & Dankwa-y'all got a point...guess some things are LOL

  • Cherish | May 23, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    "Another aside to this discussion- I saw an ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ recreation about “Port Chicago 50” (Google it) and all 50 actors were dark skinned men. It got me to thinking hmmm. Can a light skinned black actor get any play on a historical recreation unless that’s what the part called for?."

    Good point Dankwa. Just like in the new movie "The Help" it looks like all the maids are dark-skinned women with Afrocentric features. So I guess there were no brown-skinned or light-skinned black women with "good hair" were maids in the 1960s? REALLY?

    Hollywood knows exactly what they are doing with casting and the messages they send out. Even these actors don't want to acknowledge it, it's so obvious.

  • Jug | May 23, 2011 2:45 AMReply

    C'mon Sergio, you know this is a silly topic. This is a visual medium. Vin doesn't look any parts black while Dwayne does. At the very least ethnic. Same with Rashida. Old girl Hailee Steinfeld from TRUE GRIT is bi-racial but looks nice and white (Jewish). It's about what you "look" like, not what you really are, that and how old you look define "what you can play".

    Great talent aside, Cliff Curtis (TRAINING DAY, WHALE RIDER, PUSH) is from New Zealand but plays Mouri to Iraqi to Italian to Mexican, anything "ethnic"

    Some things are just a non-starter, if you look black you get black roles. If you dont, you dont

  • Tovah | May 22, 2011 12:55 PMReply

    Vin has a production company called One Race Productions. THAT should tell you a little about his ideas on race. Race may be a social and cultural reality, but who wants to be pigeonholed by it? And who are we to judge the ways in which another person (circum)navigates its pitfalls?

    Just look at the subject line of this post: "who's black and who ain't?"
    In light of this and a few other posts/discussions on S&A, is it any wonder that someone might want to avoid being delineated along the lines of their "blackness" alone? When it comes to my own career, I don't want any title to come before the one that's pertinent to what I do. Your mileage may vary.

  • thatsjarrod | May 22, 2011 8:23 AMReply

    Yes, how dare these actors not fit into little black or white boxes that make us all feel more comfortable with ourselves. Why cant they all just be either Wesley Snipes or Bill Nye the Science Guy?

  • Melissa | May 22, 2011 8:17 AMReply

    whoopi goldberg is the most successful fullblooded AA actresses of all time and was the highest paid actress in Hollywood at some point.

    So if you want pointers, ask her, not rashida whoever or rosario dawson lol. you cant even compare the levels of fame. maya rudolph? c'mon.

    up there it's whoopi goldberg and halle berry. but halle is half white right? and she's fallen off. so its just whoopi! it was...at least.

    by the way this topic is wearing thin.

  • Payow | May 22, 2011 6:11 AMReply

    I think your article is sort of silly. Why does an actor who is bi racial have to be one or the other? Keanu Reeves is half Chinese but he does not have to be a Chinese actor. Carly Simon is a Quarter African American, but does she have to identify herself with your boxes?

    A person should be able to be an actor. They don't have to be a black, Asian, Mexican or white actor.

  • Gigi Young | May 22, 2011 2:41 AMReply

    Rashida, Zoe, and Maya cannot be placed in the same box as other biracial/multi-ethnic actresses because they had a hand up into Hollywood via their famous and/or well-connected parents. Plus, are any of these ethnically ambiguous "black" actors truly A-List? If anything, the aforementioned women are hipster icons rather than on par with the Anne Hathaways or Michelle Williams, and Vin Diesel and The Rock are able to parlay their looks (both attractiveness and body build) into action roles--but do you see them getting Benjamin Button-type scripts? Hollywood is all about white folks, and even though it LOOKS as though biracial and ethnically ambiguous actors are placed above African-American actors, their ethnic background isn't pushing them into the meaty roles or the hype given to white actors. Hell, Jennifer Lopez built her post-Selena career playing ethnic whites, but ironically, her highest grossing film was one where she played a Latina hotel maid from the Bronx swept off her feet by a powerful white politician--what does that tell you?

  • dee | May 22, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    "I mean how many white guys do you know with the name Dwayne"

    Used to work with two guys named Dwayne... both white. We even called them Big Dwayne and Little Dwayne to separate the two.

  • Zeus | May 21, 2011 10:07 AMReply

    I won't refrain from congratulating all of them regardless of how light they are. Just because Hollywood has a hang up about the different colors we are, doesn't mean I will.


    Like it's their damn fault they are light skinned.

  • tulu | May 21, 2011 10:03 AMReply

    I hope in my life time I live to see the day that someone's skin color doesn't matter, someone's ethnic background doesn't matter. People should be allowed to live their lives the way they see fit and not be judged.

  • JMac | May 21, 2011 7:42 AMReply

    Interesting discussion. With the recent posts about Maya Rudolph and Zoe Kravitz, I refrained from commenting or giving congratulations to these "light bright damn near white " actors and actresses getting ahead. It's not progress but a giant step back. Sure, we'll hire "black" actors as long as they look as un-black as possible. I thought we had moved beyond the days of Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt,. I miss the late 80's and 90's. Where are you Morris Chestnut!!

    Difficult thing about being "black" is that we all are mixtures but damn it , we encompass more shades of brown than Vin Deisel's very slight tan. I think the only reason I see Roc as black is because he was on the cover of Ebony once and talked openly about his black roots. Vin has always seems to run away from that conversation.

    To answer the question directly though I think a black actor is someone who has unmistakably black features (esp. his skin color) and by what his "claimed" upbringing is. By that, I don't mean he comes from the hood but how he and his family regarded themselves racially as he grew up, i.e. was he raised acknowledging his blackness or did he just pass for whatever would make his life easier or did they just sidestep the issue altogether? Black actors should be able to play any role they want and still be considered black - I don't even think this factor belongs in this conversation.

    Side note: I knew a white Dwayne in school... he was gay though:)

  • leelee | May 21, 2011 7:29 AMReply

    The person has to identify themselves as black, for me to consider them a black actor/actress. Vin Diesel never avoided the fact that he is bi-racial. The masses assumed he was white and I can't blame him for taking parts that ran with that. He would be doing Tyler Perry movies right now if he did not remain ambiguous. When I initially saw Diesel in Pitch Black I knew he had black ancestry. It was just the way his body was built and how he carried himself.

    Dwayne Johnson is more obvious because he has been quite vocal abut his background. Plus he is half black and half Polynesian so that takes the white factor out of the equation.

  • Vic | May 21, 2011 5:48 AMReply

    None of them are black. They are all bi-racial. I do not think there is any definition other than the natural one. If you have just as much white in you, I see no reason to claim you, Barack Obama included.

    Because the world defines mixed race as black, it means that folks who are mixed will be cast as black because the lighter skin is less 'threatening' and widely seen as 'exotic' and not just by white folks.

    With Rashida Jones, i think it is inevitable that she will get a lot of props, not only because she is mixed but because of who her father is. She would have being raised in a very different environment, mingled with a lot of folks in control and therefore had a better in road than say Nia Long because of the natural network.

  • Lynn | May 21, 2011 5:38 AMReply

    @ Bobbiemac

    I didn't get a chance to watch the entire episode of What Would You Do? last night. But yeah you are right about a lot of things.

    A lot of folks make some very valid points here. But you have to understand it is very difficult for one who comes from a multi-ethnic background. It all boils down to the way you look at the end of the day.

    I mean a lot of actors are bi-racial who don't have problems being cast as "black" Paula Patton for one and Stacey Dash who is mexican/black is always cast as a "black" girl.

    I don't think the Rock & Vin Diesel are ashamed of being mixed race but wouldn't you want to be cast in a film/tv role without people putting you in a box?

    I don't have anything to say about Rashida Jones. I agree w/ Vanessa i don't consider Rashida Jones a "black actress" because she certainly doesn't put herself out there like that and an actress like Kerry Washington has to work 10x more than her.

    I think we put labels on things too much. I mean we find out someone is a fraction of something and we categorize them differently. I mean all these people we are discussing are bi-racial and whether they like it or not they are part Black and that is something that they have to live with it. I think many of these people want to appeal to "whites" and they lose their real identity and try to identify as someone else.

  • Bobbiemac | May 21, 2011 4:16 AMReply

    Did anyone see "what will You do" (Friday May 20, 2011) a bi-racial couple, a black man & a white woman are eating and a white man harass them. some people go to their aid some don't.
    my thinking they didn't go to their aid because of the black man, but because of the white woman.
    TV shows always put white women with black men, telling the world black women can't do nothing for a black man only white women knows how to help the black man raise.
    So untrue.

  • sandra | May 21, 2011 3:58 AMReply

    @Vanessa - You are so right. Rashida stars in her random broad romcoms and she is just one of the guys. Her white side is more predominate in her appearance and that has aided her ascend the ranks in Hollywood.

    People forget Halle's old nose. She would never have ascended to her level of success with her old nose. Hollywood love diluted black women...and only one at a time can be alist. The regression that we allow annoys me sometime.

    A MAJOR EXCEPTION--> It shocks me that people forget that when Whoopi was alist, she was more powerful than than Halle at her peak. She did not have the cosmetic contracts, the bikini spreads, the paparazzi staged photo-ops, the numerous magazines covers to aid her in her quest for the top. Halle has all those things plus her surgeries and biracial background and still could not OPEN an movie on her name alone, at her peak.

    All this to say that Hollywood is a very strange place for ethnic actors. It will continue to be strange as long as people wait for opportunities and acceptance of their beauty by people who see you as alien (literally). For some reason, the men have it easier. Do you honestly think that the female equivalent of a Morgan Freeman or a Sam Jackson could aspire to a role bigger than your random DMV Worker #3 or Angry Bus Passenger?

  • Vanessa | May 21, 2011 3:16 AMReply

    I'm sorry but I don't consider "Rashida Jones" a black actress. I'm not going to get technical with the percentages of black ancestry although Quincy Jones is 50/50 according to the "African American Lives" research documentary. I can understand him identifying as a black man though.

    You can't tell me the work/opportunities Rashida Jones will get as an actress will compare to the same that "Kerry Washington" will get. I have not seen a Kerry Washington spread on GQ yet.

    So Rashida Jones appearing in the cover of Vanity Fair or ascending to one of Hollywood's A list actresses will not set an example of the prominence of black actresses' success in Hollywood.

    So it is what it is in Hollywood. It's all about HOW YOU LOOK that will identify you as one race or another or in the ambiguous race classification, another growing popular trend in Hollywood.

  • sandra | May 21, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    I always thought that both Vin and the Rock were proud of their heritage. I don't remember hearing about them hiding their background. Why should they have to carry a billboard to announce their heritage; it's obvious that they're not white. The thing is they are action stars before they are any race. Just like Will Smith.

    I just think that they're trying to strike while they're still young enough to run around shooting things up. For Vin, I always saw him as a serious actor who happens to have muscles. I thinking segueing into action was a no-brainer given his bouncer background. It's hard to be in full control of your career. I guess it's harder for minority actors. I always saw him as a more skilled than the Rock. The Rock came from wrestling and was a goofy entertainer at heart, but Vin comes across as really talented actor who is passionate about his craft, but who has very little control over his career. I have a feeling he'd love to do meaty indies if they were offered.

  • Bridget | May 21, 2011 2:38 AMReply

    To be honest, I don't see most bi-racial or mixed raced people as black. The only time that I do is when they constantly play black characters like Paula Patton.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 21, 2011 2:28 AMReply

    The great black actors should be able to do both.

    Denzel stars in movies as clearly African-American characters, but many of the characters he's played -- such as in "Crimson Tide," "Training Day" and "The Manchurian Candidate" -- were originally written with a white actor in mind (when is a H'wood movie not?)

    Ditto Will Smith.

    Halle Berry tried to "transcend" race in her post-"Monster's Ball" roles, but that didn't turn out too well. I think Zoe Saldana may well succeed where she failed, and she'll still be considered a black actress (about as black as Rosario Dawson, anyway).

    I go by the one-drop rule since whites have used it against us for so long, only to have it come back on them due their questionable pedigrees. For instance, Ida Eisenhower, mother of Dwight D., was an octoroon -- 1/8 black! So... technically... Barack ain't the first.

    LMBAO

  • Teri on Facebook | May 21, 2011 1:47 AMReply

    i'd have to disagree. when Vin first hit it big with Pitch Black, he'd been pretty vocal about his being bi-racial and wanting to begin his own produced projects with his "whole" black sister. i think Hollywood tends to market him in the direction he's in. unfortunately we haven't seen much of his "productions" so that can raise some eyebrows.

    as far as The Rock, he also tends to be in white-washed roles as well. c'mon, Toothfairy?! he's almost always paired up with some white broad, b.c across the board he's seen as exotic and sexy. Vin tends to get the same reaction. you haven't heard it lately b.c he's been in some terrible movies, but when the Fast & Furious as well as xXx came out, all the girlies, no matter what race, were screaming about Vin.

    i can agree somewhat about Rashida Jones. she's quoted saying she identifies herself as strictly Jewish, but she doesn't quite suppress her father's background either. it's a double-edged sword for these actors, i think. there's a strange line they have to dance when they want the roles they get. and b.c some appear racially ambiguous, it becomes a choice of regular, somewhat respectable work or . . . what darker-skinned, definitely-defined black actors get.

  • Dee | May 21, 2011 1:23 AMReply

    I recently watched Vin Diesel's student film Multi-Facial on YouTube, seems he feels the industry has the same problem as you.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBeuyjlbes8

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWWh5cX6BX4

  • Ty | May 21, 2011 1:21 AMReply

    Good read I agree with everything u said

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