Black Hollywood: Black Men and Women in Film. In this day and age is it even appropriate to still use such a title? No one can dispute the overwhelming talent that African-Americans have provided on both the small and big screen, year after year, but it goes beyond being the face in front of the camera. There’s a great community of those who have studied the “arts” professionally from prestigious universities. The thespians who’s Broadway acclaim have garnered them Tony awards, and the visionary artists— that can attribute their career longevity to carefully selected roles, and an eye to carve out a legacy and not a legion of followers for instantaneous fame. In an industry that can build you up like Mount Rushmore and then deflate you like lifeless cellophane balloons, there is more substance needed to secure that an artist has arrived, will stay, and leave something behind.
Lupita Nyong’o. If you don’t know this young lady by now, then you have definitely been under a rock. Many of us were introduced to Nyong’o from her debut in Steve McQueen’s 12 Year’s a Slave, and from there her career has been on high pilot with no signs of slowing down. There’s something different to be said of Nyong’o. She’s a breath of fresh air in an environment saturated with long hair and commercialized appeal. Born in mexico to Kenyan parents, but raised in the United States, the mocha-hued actress is a graduate of Yale University School of Drama. With closely cropped tresses that frame a gorgeous face, it’s more than the exterior that has captivated even the veterans of the industry to become excited upon meeting her. For Nyong’o, there is her confidence, class and style that is not often celebrated and now that it is, and in a major way, you wonder for how long? Again, this one is different. Perhaps, set aside from being the “it” person in Hollywood to being celebrated for her talents well after the fanfare of who she is delicately fades. Angela Bassett comes to mind in comparison, because she also is a Yale alum with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. There is much to be said for an artist who takes his/her craft so seriously that an education in that very thing is an investment into what they can express through the art and more importantly, what can be given back to the community.
From red carpet affairs and awards shows galore, we all look to see what Nyong’o is wearing, her stylist even receiving their own fanfare for always getting it right! So even after the grand of all awards show The Oscars takes place…and by the way we’re rooting for Nyong’o’s win, we’re sure her popularity will continue to swell in ways other than a big ego. There’s a grounded candor that’s has us all waiting for the next for this very talented and gracious actress.
Denzel! Denzel! Who could forget Jazmine Guy’s character from the TV sitcom A Different World screaming that out from a dream. That’s pretty much the effect that Idris Elba has with the ladies today. Born in London, he grew up an only child and got his start with acting by performing in National Youth Music Theatre. Moving to the U.S., Idris Elba saw himself in the likes of Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes and even declaring, “I can do that. I can be right there with them.” A foresight many may have not been confident about considering that Idris then was experiencing three or four years of unemployment. It’s the drive to operate in what you know you were created to do that lands you from the realms of uncertainty to being on a television shows such as The Wire to steadying your career to play significant roles like Former South African leader Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. If you’ve followed the career of Idris you’d know that the fuss over his looks rolls off his shoulders like rain drops on a water resistant surface. It doesn’t mean much. The actor who also performs music and goes by the name DJ Big Driis, appears more interested in the art and not the attention that comes with it. “Look, when I wasn’t on TV or in films, I didn’t get any special attention when I went out. Some beautiful people always attract attention. I didn’t until I got on television. So I’m on these lists only because I’m on TV. It happens to me all the time, still,” the actor has said about being a sex symbol. No matter how many women swoon over the tall, dark, and handsome that is Idris Elba, we’re just appreciative of a down-t0-earth man who wishes to be known for what he came to the U.S. to seek...becoming, being and staying an actor. Whatever else follows sure is to be a bonus to this Hollywood mainstay.
Leaving them wanting more…
Actress Nia Long has a career that spans a couple decades. In Hollywood, that may not make you hot on the radar for projects. Ms. Long, however seems to stay relevant her way without conforming to the norms of the industry or taking menial jobs in desperation to keep her career afloat. Though it’s true we hadn’t seen much of her before the release of sequel, Best Man Holiday, but it doesn’t matter because when Nia Long pops up, she does it for what she believes is the right move.
Her resume goes back to the studious girl in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood to playing Will Smith’s girlfriend on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Then there’s the realistic tales of love that she portrayed alongside Larenze Tate in the 90’s favorite Love Jones. The articulate beauty, seems to never chase roles for the mere fact of just having them. She’s had steady television shows and appearances like Third Watch and Boston Legal. We’ve enjoyed her through comedic endeavors like Big Momma’s House and even the original film Best Man entertained us with laughter. What’s so great about Nia Long is that even when she’s absent and decides to come back, she’s still just as popular. Take for instance when the promotion of Best Man Holiday was going on, there were plenty of media writings that proved Ms. Long was still on the hearts and minds of her fans. Her look is timeless and maybe that adds to the appeal of her fans never tiring of the work that she does…when she decides to. Nia’s next project is the upcoming film The Single Moms Club out in theaters March 14. What’s next, there’s the talk of the sequel from Best Man Holiday so we may not have to wait a long to see Ms. Long in another project. Nonetheless, we like that this actress moves when she is moved…always leaving her fans wanting more.
“Lights…camera….action!!! “We’ll take Black Hollywood: Men and Women in Film when there are artists who see the ART instead of the fame.
We can’t end without mentioning that the year 2013 was a great year in film for African-Americans from: David Oyelowo to Steve McQueen to Forest Whitaker to Oprah Winfrey and more. Now that’s Black Hollywood!
Cover: Jason Jae Evans