Opportunity: A Cinematic Love Letter to Black Actresses

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From the BFI’s Black Star Project, a tribute to pioneers and artists.

More women of color have won Oscars in the last 15 years than in the 100 before that. Does that mean women of color are becoming better actresses? They are, but that’s not what this kind of recognition connotes; it means the roles offered to African-Americans and other women of color have become more prominent and powerful, and it means the notoriously Caucasian-eyed Academy has gotten better at seeing these performances for their award-worthiness. But as any currently-working actress of color will tell you, just because generations of women before them went unrecognized by the mainstream, that doesn’t mean the work they produced didn’t pave the way to now, when roles are just starting to be given out based on merit and not skin color. Like future-Academy-Award-Winner Viola Davis (I got money on it) said upon becoming the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series (How to Get Away with Murder), “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity.

Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, Juanita Moore, Dorothy Dandridge, Cicely Tyson, Beah Richards, Pearl Bailey, Pam Grier, and scores of other women of color like them – not just of African descent but Latino, Asian, and others – struggled against the prejudices of their respective eras to ensure the women who came after them would have to struggle less, and while total equality is still a faint spot on the horizon, it’s one that gets sharper every day as progress is being made like never before.

As a part of their Black Star Project which celebrates “the range, versatility, and power of black actors,” the British Film Institute has produced the following love letter to black actresses. It’s a brief video, but it packs a lot of vitality and impact into its two-minute runtime. Play it loudly, proudly, and for everyone to see.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist