Who are Christopher Bridges, Robert Diggs, Dante Smith, and O’shea Jackson? You may know them better as Ludacris, RZA, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), and Ice Cube. Each began his career as a hip hop artist but now we are more likely to see them on the big and small screen (and in some cases the stage) taking on increasingly complex roles.
Personally, I think it’s great that so many rappers have found second careers on screen. Who would have though that Ice Cube from N.W.A. would be acting in and producing family-friendly movies and tv shows 20 years later? The phenomenon is nothing new: singers like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Bobby Darin, Cher and countless others tried their hand at acting with varying levels of success. However, the influx of rappers (with an established fan base) into the acting realm can make it even harder for emerging actors who would normally be considered for these (often supporting) roles. So what is a young black actor to do?
My advice is to focus more on your type and what you are good at, and not be consumed by the competition or perceived lack of roles. You don’t have to submit for every role that comes up for black actors; focus on the roles that suit your type and skill set. Also, look for roles that are a little out of your comfort zone. For example, if your type is Upwardly Mobile Young Professional or Hip, Brooklyn Dad, you may also be right for roles outside of those types that aren’t too extreme of a stretch. A lot of young professional types can play athletes while others can play lovable nerds, so it’s okay to push the limits of your type. Just make sure that your materials (headshot, résumé, & reel) reflect your ability to take on these different roles. Also, don’t let race be the deciding factor when submitting for work: if the casting notice does not specifically refer to race or ethnicity, assume that it is open. It may not be open: some producers and casting directors do not specify because they do not wish to appear racist, but that is there problem, not yours. Don’t get discouraged, sometimes progress is slow, but I believe that in the near future there will be even more opportunities for black actors to take on complex lead and supporting roles. Stay Tuned!