Working In Hollywood As Anything Other Than A Straight White Man Is No Picnic

The Oscars are imminent, and with all this talk about diversity, equity and equal representation swirling about in the lead-up, the New York Times sat down with a bunch of actors of color to talk about their experiences coming up in Hollywood as a person of color. None of it is very surprising, but none of it is terribly good to hear, either.

Here’s America Ferrerra, of Superstore and Ugly Betty on the expectations placed upon Latina actresses to sound more, well, Latina.

My very first audition ever, I was about 16, and the casting director [for a commercial] said, “Can you do it again but sound more Latino?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “You mean you want me to speak in Spanish?” She’s like: “No. Do it in English but just sound more Latino.” I genuinely didn’t realize until later that she was asking me to speak English with a broken accent. It confused me, because I thought, I am Latino, so isn’t this what a Latino sounds like? From the get-go of my career I thought, There’s a certain box or a certain way that you’re seen, which I didn’t feel growing up.

Wendell Pierce of The Wire, Treme and countless other things, on the frankly insane questions asked of him by studio heads who had apparently never seen black people in real life.

I was working on “The Gregory Hines Show” that depicted three generations of black men. It was on CBS in 1997. [After] the read-through, the studio and network give notes. Gregory kissed everybody, and so in the show he would kiss his son, Matty. This particular day someone from CBS said: “I notice every time you come in, you kiss Matty. So I wanted to ask, do black people kiss their kids?” That was the most offensive thing I think I’ve ever [heard]. Gregory stood up and said [to the executive]: “Everybody get out. You, come with me.”

Ken Jeong, the star of Dr. Ken, on a tiny victory that let him see a future beyond rigid, stereotypical casting.

Early on, I had a role in “The Office.” No ethnicity was required. The director of that episode was Paul Feig, and I remember him laughing so hard. I had only like two lines in it, but that was one of my proudest moments as an actor, because it wasn’t based on ethnicity. And it really gave me confidence that I have a chance of not just playing the Asian guy.

And, finally, Mindy Kaling on the double-weighted pressure of being a role model, a representative and an artist at the same damn time.

My role is not just artist. It’s also activist because of the way I look. On so many shows and movies, race was a gesture, and in mine it’s the premise. I can’t ignore that what a lot of people see is an Indian woman who doesn’t look like a Bollywood star. It piques their interest, and they’re not bad for wanting me to tell stories about it, and I’m not wrong for not wanting to. I want to fill my desire to write vibrant, flawed characters, but then also be a role model to young people. It’s stuff that I think about all the time. Some people don’t have to think about this at all.

The whole piece is worth a close look, as it is maddening and heartbreaking and very, very important. The Oscars, as you’re most likely aware, are this Sunday on ABC.  Chris Rock is the host, and if the promo ads are any indication, well, buckle up.