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Black Actors Who Would Have Rocked These Lead Roles!

author-img By sagnika sinha 5 Mins Read 11 September 2023

Black Actors Who Would Have Rocked These Lead Roles

I have been a great fan of Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman! Considering these individuals worked when it was difficult, I greatly respect these Black actors. Let me share what I think about the representation of black actors and actresses in Cinema.

In the past few years, there have been significant leading roles for black men: Mandela, 12 Years of Enslaved Person, and Selma. Still, there is a long way to go regarding the entertainment industry.

It is hard to talk about gender issues, racial discrimination, equal pay, and others. Everyone must get an opportunity, whether a musician, a director, or an actor. However, what we don’t consider is somewhere deep down. We are all contributors to the practices of discrimination still now!

From a young age, I have been fascinated with actors and their work without focusing on their skin color. It was at a very later stage that I realized the significant ways in which discrimination is conducted based on an individual’s skin color and tone.

You will be surprised to hear that black women have been fighting for good roles in science-fiction movies and television series. Even in the 20th century, many black women were cast in background roles such as dancers, sex workers, cooks, and maids. So, what changed?

Black Actors Playing White Characters!

If today I am writing about the need for representation of black people on a global scale, it confirms the fact that we are still quite far from reaching equal black representation. Opportunities are still lacking, and stereotypes lead to casting directors, time and again, to go with actors and actresses they feel will be comfortable for the role!

How can we forget Chadwick Boseman, as the Black Panther, cast by Marvel, or Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years of Slave? But what about black actors or actresses who have been cast in roles that were written as white characters? Would you judge more if the skin color or the head of the actor playing a certain part differs?

Remember Joseph Fiennes being cast as Michael Jackson, an African American icon? Even Angelina Jolie has been cast in cast in roles where the character was originally black or African of Caribbean descent! So why is it so difficult for a black person to act like a white character? Or is it just in the practices of the entertainment industry that these artists are being limited?

Let me share some of the black actors who are my favorites and have worked hard to create a legacy that will help the next generation of black actors! Their path may be better paved for receiving opportunities in the entertainment industry!

From superheroes to spies, several characters were written as white but played out by black actors! And trust me, all of them are hits! They have huge fan followings, and nothing seems to diminish the impact they have on the audience!

1. Samuel L. Jackson

His life changed after Pulp Fiction; the actor is one of the most recognized in his generation, having starred in over 150 films. His films have collectively crossed over $27 billion (about $83 per person in the US) (about $83 per person in the US), making him one of the highest-grossing actors in Hollywood.

Samuel L. Jackson played Colonel Nick Fury in the Marvel franchise E! From the moment Jackson stepped into the post-credit scene of Iron Man, the world was a fan. Fun fact: Nick Fury is a middle-aged white guy, but Marvel effectively changed comic book storytelling.

They introduced Fury through Jackson, and no one has questioned Marvel. So, what do we learn from this? It is not just the character; it is how an actor brings the character to life! He’s one of those actors that Marvel cannot live without! Do you know the interesting story where he was cast in the role?

Jackson has recounted this several times over the years. Someone used him as a likeness for a comic, but he had no idea about it. He stumbled upon the character’s redesign, and that is when the concept floated.

2. Morgan Freeman

Apart from being an actor, Morgan Freeman is also a producer and narrator! Come on, guys, with a very it-on voice like his, he can earn his living just by using that voice. However, having a career spanning five decades, this actor has won several awards and numerous accolades.

With his calm demeanor and authoritative voice, he has become one of the most respected figures in Hollywood, representing black history in the entertainment industry.

Morgan Freeman is a star, leaving behind a legacy that people would die for! He has made some of the best movies in Hollywood, The Shawshank Redemption being one of them. Honestly, can you imagine anyone in place of Freeman in the film?

What did you know? The short story Stephen King wrote has the characters Red as Irish and White! When he says the line, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” it’s chilling! I don’t think anyone else can do this other than Freeman!

This actor is so versatile that, with his subtle humor and emotional depth, he can carry any character on his shoulder. A prolific career in films, Morgan Freeman has inspired several young actors and supported them in the entertainment industry.

3. Tessa Thompson

The character of Valkyrie in Ragnarok was white. However, director Taika Waititi cast Tessa Thompson! She was the perfect balance of a drunken sailor, a badass hero, a comedic foil, and a tortured soul.

Her mid-fight strut was something to be seen reading by a legion of fans on a global scale. She has since received more exposure for her casting in other films as characters that are quite popular and interesting.

The actor was cast in movies like Creed before she received exposure to Ragnarok. However, her success has led to more opportunities. She is well-known among her peers for some of her amazing performances. She has given over the years.

Movies like Creed II, Creed III, Passing, and Annihilation show her immense talent. She also has experience in a professional stage acting career, as she was related to the Women’s Shakespeare Company.

4. Idris Elba

The amazing actor Idris Alba is multitalented! He is also a rapper, a singer, and a DJ, so now you know where all that heat comes from. He has created a name for himself from television series, namely, The Wire and Luther. Apart from being an actor, Alba has hands in different businesses, including gold.

He is quite a popular actor with experience in theatre and TV. Heimdall is a white character! He is the all-seeing warrior who is wise and controls the Bifrost, which was the portal of Asgard, connecting it to other worlds.

It was not only a nice surprise to find Idris Alba, a black actor, executing that role but also the huge number of fans he got from it. In recent Marvel movies, he has made appearances, and fans worldwide have cheered long and loud. This shows his demand for his connection to the character!

5. Naomie Harris

She started her career as a child artist, appearing in the 1987 television series Simon and the Witch. Harris is an Oscar nominee who has become quite popular for her Moonlight, Spectre, Skyfall, and Pirates of the Caribbean roles.

An important character in the James Bond franchise, Moneypenny is traditionally represented as a white character. Her introduction in the movie Skyfall shows a former agent who is significant to Bond’s journey.

The black actress Naomie Harris played this character and turned her into an independent and smart woman instead of a love-sick secretary! She always keeps Bond grounded. She ends up being the one who is responsible and keeps a check on how to keep James Bond in line.

The character she played was a secretary to M, who only had her eyes on James Bond! However, Harris has portrayed a woman who is strong in her own right while guiding the character of Bond to do what is right.

6. Laurence Fishburne

Yes, we all know him from The Matrix! Fishburne is a three-time Amy Award winner and a Tony Award winner for his various roles onscreen and on stage. An enigmatic actor, he is a household name in movies such as The Matrix, The Matrix Revolutions, John Wick, Boys in the Hood, Apocalypse Now, and others.

Another superhero movie, Superman, had a significant character: Perry White. A white character in name and action! His role in the movie was taken up a notch from the screaming boss of Lois and Clark to a supportive manager.

And who else but Laurence Fishburne played the role so much that he made the character quite human? Fishburne has always been known for his amazing movie performances, and this was no different. It was a successful portrayal of a white character by a black artist, and nobody cared!

An intense actor, he has also appeared on television shows such as Hannibal, The Witcher, CSI: Crime Scenes, and others. He is known to be quite flexible with his performance and equally adept at playing the villain and the hero. He is also a producer who has created a significant legacy for black people in the entertainment industry.

7. Jeffrey Wright

The actor is known for his roles in Westworld, The Batman, Hold the Dark, Shaft, Rusting, The Hunger Games, and others. Over the years, Wright has received many accolades for his movies and television performances. He is as versatile as any actor and has created a successful career in Hollywood.

When discussing James Bond, you might have also seen him in The Invasion, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace. The franchise has always supported black actors. After all, it is all about performance and growth.

And how can we forget Commissioner James Gordon? We have indeed received several articulated versions of this character over the years. However, in the recent movie, The Batman, where Robert Pattinson plays the lead, Commissioner James Gordon was portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, a black actor.

The casting has been quite efficient, as the viewers happily consume the movie along with Wright’s confidence. His adaptation of the character and representation of the justice seeker who worked alongside the caped crusader to save Gautam were quite on point.

8. Halle Bailey

Shot to stardom with her portrayal of aerial, Harry Lynn Bailey is an American singer-songwriter. She has appeared in other movies, such as The Color Purple, Last Holiday, Let It Shine, The Line, and others. She is quite young compared to her predecessors, black actors fighting to pave a path forward.

However, she is contributing her work to create a mark on the history of entertainment. The character of Aerial in The Little Mermaid has always been white, but people were shocked at the D23 Expo 2022, where a black actor, Halle Bailey, portrayed the role of Ariel.

It not only launched a social interaction between black artists portraying white characters but also made children more aware of the social and racial canvas in society.

Why it is a Good Step to Cast Black Actors for White Characters?

Remember when Viola Davis, in an interview, highlighted gender pay discrimination and informed us that black women are probably getting one-tenth of what a Caucasian woman is getting for her work? Tina Brown hosted an engaging conversation on Sunset Boulevard in which award-winning actress Viola Davis discussed how women of color still go through a lot.

Well, folks, that shows the reality of casting! How can we even demand black actors to play white characters when they are not even receiving the same payment for doing the same job? People call Viola Davis the black Meryl Streep, but do you think that is a comparison?

The talented actress and film producer has won several awards from various award shows and associations! Let me name you some:

  • Golden Globe Award
  • Screen Actors Guild Award
  • Critics’ Choice Award
  • Bafta Award
  • Prime-time Emmy Award
  • Grammy Award
  • Academy Award and the list is endless! 

Her career has expanded over 30 years, equivalent to that of Meryl Streep, Julian Moore, and others. And she’s still nowhere near the characters offered to her Caucasian counterparts.

The struggle is real, ladies and gentlemen, especially when it is not about black actors playing white characters! They are not even getting the significance of playing significant black characters.

They do not get the opportunity to showcase their talent along with the layers they have as actors! With so many rewards and recognitions, Davis still needs to work on creating her name as a brand.  

She is the number on the call sheet, yet her agents are tired of her underrepresentation as an artist because of her African heritage! Now, do you get an idea about how black actresses are struggling for interesting, layered, and meatier roles?

Black Actresses are Still Struggling for Good Roles!

The movie industry needs to rethink how they treat African American women. When it comes to the rules they play, the opportunities they receive, and the remuneration they deserve, often enough dark-skinned.

African American women must resort to other ways of earning because they are unable to survive in the industry. The hard work and dedication that any black woman in the movie industry gives is nothing less compared to the struggles of a white woman.

As if being a woman was not enough, they are categorized because of their ethnicity, culture, skin, color, and race. Recently, Mary J Blige was originally cast for the role of Nina Simone. However, she could not commit to the role because of scheduling conflicts.

One major reason for this roasting was that Mary J. Blige resembled Nina Simone in appearance, with her present ability, beauty, and uniqueness. Yet, considering she was unavailable, who did the producers turn to? Zoe Saldana is a mixed-race and light-skinned actress!

Is it because she is more popular or because there are not enough black women in the industry? Moreover, the producers, directors, casting directors, and Saldana herself went on with the role by applying makeup to make her look darker and adding a prosthetic nose.

They all seem to feel very comfortable with this realistic representation of Simone without considering another black woman for the role. I am not saying I have a problem with Zoe Saldana being a black actress or identifying as one!

Does it Even Matter?

I am not okay with the fact that darkening her skin and making her look a certain way goes on to show that not everyone in Hollywood believes that Saldana is a black woman. Women have raised their voices even on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and others.

They highlighted this issue regarding other black actresses, such as Danai Gurira and Viola Davis, who could have played this role! These actresses could have done a phenomenal job for the role. Yet, Saldana got the fantastic opportunity to introduce the black woman with whom the public was not as familiar.

Don’t you think introducing such an important black woman from history to the public was one of the greatest responsibilities? Instead, they tried to make it look like a commercial movie! Recently, a movie came on Netflix, which told the story of Shirley Chisholm, one of the most famous black women in history.

People need to know and become aware of the struggles women in old times went through to come to today’s condition. There are famous black women in history who have inspired many movies such as Shirley, Self Made, and Hidden Figures!

Who are African American Women?

Did you know that Black women are doing better than Black men when it comes to achieving college degrees in the US? When it comes to casting women of color, there is a clear distinction between how the industry considers the character.

Rather, how significant the casting of a black woman is. It feels like there is a tug-of-war where a substantial number of white people are always trying to influence the growth of women of color to stunt their representation.

If you consider recent times, Michelle Obama is one such black woman who became an inspiration for others. She brought significant changes in the policies of health along with supporting young girls for education.

In an interview in December 2023 with Gayle King, Taraji P. Henson shared her experience working in the movies! She broke down when asked about the rumor that she was considering quitting acting because of pay inequality. She is one of the flagbearers of the Black women who made their name in the Hollywood industry, and even after proving her talent again and again, she is undervalued!

While breaking down, Henson stated that she works hard, not just for herself, but also because of her staff, who are completely dependent on her. Her agent has been constantly telling her how she cannot make any mark overseas, leading her to parity in pay as an actor.

Representation

While I write about black actors and specifically women struggling to find their place in the workplace, I think that the future of people who are discriminated against based on their culture, ethnicity, city, race, and other such factors is still questionable! I have seen individuals belonging to minority racial groups often being treated in a certain way because of the stereotypes established about them.

I do not want to stay restricted regarding how black actors are treated. We cannot forget about the political oppression and social treatment of black individuals daily till today. Every other day, I find a video on the internet where a black man or a black woman is harassed because they’re entering an apartment or a house they are not expected to own.

White people question them consistently, even leading to significant threats and physical abuse when black people are trying to go about their daily lives. It is still difficult for us as a society to accept that a black man can be rich, or a black woman can own her apartment in a plush, polished area of the city.

Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist said no to a white man when he asked to move her to a designated area for black people. This was another step towards creating equality among people and their practices.

Education

According to UNESCO statistics, 77% of girls were enrolled in primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2009. But do you think this has improved the overall status of African women on the global scale when it comes to educational representation and opportunities?

Educating black women is immensely necessary because they Are not only a sharper and smarter race but also have the zeal to perform better. According to the statistics, black women mostly surpass others, including black men when it comes to higher education.

Labor Force Participation

Hollywood has even designed awards for Black people, separate from their contribution to movies and television. It is about appealing on a global scale regarding the significance of films directed, written, produced, and starring people of African descent.

Suppose you are questioning the presence of awards for black people. In that case, I am here to tell you that the purpose of creating these associations and awards is to raise awareness for films that discuss the culture of the black community.

AAFCA: African American Film Critics Association

For example, the African American Film Critics Association is known for its advocacy and appeal to the Black community. The stress is the significance of the representation of African descent, but don’t you think somewhere, these awards are also integrating segregation and business?

If a certain association or award committee is created to highlight performance based on racial representation, this is a racial act. What is the purpose of fighting for equality or raising awareness regarding civil rights if you are just going to create a different association to award black people? 

This also encourages people from media platforms and journalism to consider this a normal step in the representation aspect.

BET: Black Entertainment Television Awards

Another award dedicated to black people is the American award show, founded in 2001. The Black entertainment television network wants to celebrate Black entertainers and other people who belong to minorities in sports, philanthropy, films, and music.

But what does it tell you? Don’t you think having a separate award for black Internet entertainers when we already have the Guild award, Oscars, BAFTA, and others? Isn’t it a systematic racial discrimination practice?

Even when there are different award shows, the cultural impact of this award is identified as something that will appreciate black people. However, how can someone understand if it is being determined from the perspective of their race? There have been several black movies on Netflix proving the significance of the culture and their representation.

Entrepreneurship

According to the Centre for American Progress, the number of companies founded by African American women significantly increased from 1997 to 2013. According to Forbes, a woman in a leadership position increases the company’s chance of success.

McKinsey and Company have created a report that informs us that if gender equality is implemented in the workplace, the global GDP will increase by $12 trillion (about $37,000 per person in the US) by 2025! So, now we know why we should encourage all women, regardless of their race, to perform.

Financial Involvement

When discussing financial participation, African women, at times, still struggle to have an account in formal financial institutions. Economic well-being is not similar for both men and women; instead, it is a way of representation for many women.

This is probably because women depended on men for a long time for their financial independence! Even though there is a growth in the overall economic conditions of women, racial discrimination persists.  

According to research performed by the Urban Institute, if you compare the assets of Black women from 1989 and 2016, you will learn that there has been growth. Yet, the average still needs to be more consistent and smaller for them.

Equity increased by 30% between 1989 and 2016, and this number is similar for both black and white women! Even though white women have seen an increase in their home equity, black women still have zero equity.

According to Brookings, Black-owned banks make more capital because they approve more loans by black applicants than other financial institutions.

What has Changed?

I still remember the day I went to the movie theatre to watch Black Panther in 2018! I have always been a Marvel fan, but Black Panther was an enigma for me. The director of the movie brought on screen a wide range of factors that were so powerful in their acting skills and presence that the world bowed.

The movie proved that black women were heroes and shone brightly in roles of power and influence! If you ask me, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyongo, Angela Bassett, Florence Kasumba, and many more broke the ground with their performances.

A cultural phenomenon, Black Panther was a historic box office success and sparked a conversation regarding black women’s representation in the traditional media and social media platforms.

With all the excitement of the movie and the storyline, the conversation regarding the representation of black culture took to a different platform. It has taken years for black-led strategy and struggle to stand where they stood. Eighty years are still not enough for Black actresses to face misogyny and racism in the entertainment industry to create their place in the world.  

Very recently, in the 21st century, Halle Berry as Storm, Zoe Kravitz cast as Cat-Woman, Danai Gurira as Michonne, and Viola Davis as the Woman King have become successful! Does this mean that people were always acceptable? It? The industry held back these talented women because they belonged to a specific ethnicity.

The portrayal of these characters not only proves that people like women who succeed portray authority and power but that we are our biggest enemies. By integrating racism into our everyday culture, we are stunting the growth of humans as a nation.

Finishing Off…

In summary, Black actors have the range and capability to perform a diversity of roles, yet they are struggling. As a viewer, it is apparent to me that black artists are working way harder than they should because they are still made to feel that they do not deserve it.

Just like the colonial practices in Africa by Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and others, people still consider it true. African American individuals still face racial slurs, racist activities, and treatment that shows the struggle is still necessary.

Do you feel that the American Civil Rights Movement brought on any change? If yes, then why are black actresses still crying when talking about pay equality? Why is actress Viola Davis still unable to receive the same respect and recognition that Merryl Streep has?

Comment on what you think of the situation. Has anything changed in the 21st century?

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sagnika sinha

Sagnika Sinha is a content writer who is passionate about writing travel vlogs, entertainment and celebrity articles and literature-based pieces. With a 4 years experience in teaching, she loves reading books. A procrastinator by nature, she loves travelling, listening to music, planting and gardening.

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