I got my Entertainment Weekly in the mail and the following words were scrawled across the top.
Is Lebron James the Next Great Actor of Our Time (we’re not kidding see page 10)
I can firmly state that Lebron James is not the next great actor of our time because Lebron James is not an actor. No matter how funny he may be in Trainwreck, he still isn’t an actor. If he were playing Othello or Oedipus to universal raves, I might change my opinion, but he’s playing himself. He’s not an actor. Just because I watch a lot of court TV, that doesn’t make me a lawyer or a judge. I cook dinner several nights a week. I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t make me a chef. For some reason, when it comes to acting, people think all they need to do is watch TV and movies to be actors.
When it comes to supporting roles for black men, the role often goes to a rapper/ singer/ athlete who has some sort of following rather than a trained professional who can actually act. This creates a three-fold problem: first, black men are relegated to supporting roles because often times these rapper/ singer/ athletes aren’t skilled enough to handle a lead role. The second issue is that the roles being created for black male actors in mainstream films adhere closely to the personae these rapper/singer/athletes have established. So we see them play rappers, singers, athletes and all too often criminals. These non-actors don’t have the ability to play more nuanced roles because they aren’t actors. Finally, when a lead role opens up for a black male actor, the pool to choose from is small because rapper/singer/athletes have been playing all of the supporting roles. So what happens- David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, or David Gyasi gets called in because apparently we have to import black actors from England to play black Americans.
I know, you’re saying what about Elvis and Frank Sinatra, they transitioned successfully from singer to actor. That’s true, but it was a different time. It’s true that singer/ rapper/ athletes from Justin Timberlake to Marky Mark to Pink to okay I’m struggling with a white athlete turned actor from the last 20 years or so….. wait I’ve got one, John Cena…. these performers have acted but they represent a mere drop in the bucket compared to the vast number of trained professional actors working today. When it comes to black male roles specifically, the number of singer/ rapper/ athletes is staggering and some are far more successful than others (and by successful, I mean almost convincing at playing another person): T.I., Ice Cube, Ice T, Mos Def, The Fresh Prince, 50 Cent, Method Man, Xzibit, Ludacris, LL Cool J, A$AP Rocky, Diddy, Common, Andre 3000, Tyga, Ludacris, Tyrese, Bow Wow, Chris Brown, RZA, Snoop, DMX, Pras, Ja Rule, The Rock, Ray Allen, Dwight Howard, Rick Fox… the list goes on and on.
I have nothing against these guys, they’re just trying to make a living and expand their horizons. My issue is with Hollywood and the pervasive mindset that a black male actor needs to already have a following to be considered for a film role. So, I try to keep it positive over here, so I’ll just say that it’s time we did something about it. I can personally attest that there are many talented black male actors out there, but they and their representatives need to push harder to get them seen for ALL TYPES OF ROLES not just those that are written specifically for black actors. That is the way that talented black male actors can really make the inroads that will lead to more lead roles. So black male actors and agents and managers who represent black male actors- push for all types of roles- if it doesn’t specifically say the character is a different race- push for that role. If we expand the types of roles black men are considered for, then we will expand the number (and talent/ skill level) of actors who are playing those roles.