Taraji P. Henson’s twitter rant last week is definitely an indication that something is amiss in Hollywood when it comes to earned recognition for black actresses. After being subbed from appearing along with her “Person of Interest” co-stars on TV Guide’s cover, Henson tweeted: “WOW!!!! TV Guide is NOT including me on the cover with my cast members……..I am the female lead of a 3 member cast and I’m not included on the cover!!!!!! Do you see the shit I have to deal with in this business…..I cram to understand!!!!”
As controversial as Henson’s tweet may have been, considering the fact that she scored a role on a much-anticipated show on a major network, it certainly brought to light frustrations that clearly a lot of actresses of color seem to share in an industry that is still struggling to figure out how to be politically correct and creative at the same time.
But this thread doesn’t run true in Nollywood; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nollywood is Africa’s answer to America’s elite film industry — without all the money and power, which is still a work in progress. However, there are plenty of opportunities to flex your acting muscles and bite into juicier roles as a black actress when you are cast in a Nollywood film. The Nollywood film industry originated in Nigeria and was inspired by the dramatic nature — almost Shakespearean quality — of the TV soaps. Someone had the ingenious idea to translate the popularity of the Nigerian primetime soaps to the big screen, and so far, it’s paying off. The Nollywood film industry is currently flourishing. It’s the second largest film industry in the world and annually produces more films than the U.S. — just slightly less than the booming Bollywood (Indian) industry.
The only glitch? Bootleg DVDs, which is ultimately hampering the financial capabilities of the talented filmmakers, churning out numerous movies yearly.
Actresses Nia Long and Kimberly Elise have both caught the Nollywood fever, and earlier this year, were cast in“ Tie That Binds,” a film by acclaimed Ghanaian film director Leila Djansi. Their roles are both challenging and vital to the shape of the film. And their visual factor is quite high. Compared to the state of affairs in Hollywood, it’s hard to ignore the roadblocks that black actresses have been struggling with for quite sometime in order to make an enduring impact in the world of film and television. Yes, we have made some strides — thanks to the talents of actresses like Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, and Halle Berry to name a few. But despite all that progress, there is still that sense of wasted talent and unfulfilled career goals. Angela Bassett, an Oscar-nominated actress with an impeccable film career, finally had to succumb to the Tyler Perry movie factory, and Viola Davis did a great job in the summer hit, The Help. But after seeing her in supporting roles, it would be nice to watch her carry a movie for once, considering her wealth of talent.
I can definitely picture a scenario where Nollywood and Hollywood will merge, and black American actresses follow the footsteps of Nia Long and Kimberly Elise — embracing an environment like Nollywood where their talent is celebrated, and they are given the opportunity to shine.
Won’t that be refreshing?