8 Famous Actors Of Color Who Struggled To Get Cast Due To Their Race, And 8 White Actors Who Took Roles Away From People Of Color

·9 min read

1.Viola Davis has been very vocal about losing roles to racism and colorism.

  Mike Marsland / Mike Marsland / WireImage / Getty Images
Mike Marsland / Mike Marsland / WireImage / Getty Images

Davis said, “Let's be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blonde hair, blue eyes, and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now," She said. "We could talk about colorism. We could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won't name."

close up of viola in How to Get Away with Murder
ABC

Davis also explained how many of the roles in Hollywood for Black actors are extremely stereotypical. “If I wanted to play a mother whose family lives in a low-income neighborhood and my son was a gang member who died in a drive-by shooting, I could get that made. If I played a woman who was looking to recreate herself by flying to Nice and sleeping with five men at the age of 56 — looking like me, I'm going to have a hard time pushing that one, even as Viola Davis.”

Viola in The Help wearing a housekeepers uniform
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

2.Angelina Jolie played Mariane Pearl, the wife of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl and a French-born woman of Afro Cuban descent, in A Mighty Heart.

Angelina smiling and then as Mariane with curly hair
Paramount Vantage

Jolie appeared to darken her skin and change her hair for the role.

close up of Angelina with very curly hair
Paramount Vantage

3.Brenda Song told Teen Vogue that she wasn't allowed to audition for Crazy Rich Asians because she wasn't considered "Asian enough."

close up of brenda smiling
Leon Bennett / WireImage / Getty Images

Song was a fan of the books and asked her managers if they could get her an audition for any role available, but Crazy Rich Asians told her team she wasn't right for any role.

Brenda with a side ponytail
Disney Channel

Song said, "A lot of people don't know this, but I never got to read for Crazy Rich Asians, ever. Their reasoning behind that, what they said was that my image was basically not Asian enough, in not so many words. It broke my heart. I said, 'This character is in her late to mid-20s, an Asian American, and I can't even audition for it? I've auditioned for Caucasian roles my entire career, but this specific role, you're not going to let me do it? You're going to fault me for having worked my whole life?' I was like, 'Where do I fit?'"

Brenda smiling at an event
Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images

4.Emma Stone played Allison Ng, a woman of Chinese and Hawaiian descent, in Aloha.

side by side of Emma and her role in character
Sony Pictures Releasing

She regrets taking the role and said in an interview, "I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is. It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important." In 2019, she yelled "I'm sorry!" to Sandra Oh when she made a joke about it at the Golden Globes.

Emma smiling
Daniele Venturelli / WireImage

5.Salma Hayek said on The Drew Barrymore Show that she was told repeatedly at the beginning of her career that she would not make it in Hollywood because she is Mexican American. Hollywood executives told her she would only play certain roles like a housekeeper or drug dealer.

Selma smiling
Dave J Hogan / Getty Images

One studio executive told her that she was "born on the wrong side of the border."

Selma
Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Hayek said that the executive's words were "Had you been born, you know, on the right side of the border, probably you would be the biggest star in the world. But no matter how beautiful anybody thinks you are, no matter how good of an actress you are, the minute you open your mouth, the audience are just going to be reminded of their maids.”

Selma with her hand on her hip
Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for IMDb

6.Jake Gyllenhaal played Dastan in Disney's Prince of Persia. Many have questioned why the role didn't go to an actor of Iranian descent.

side by side of Jake and him in character wearing armour
Getty Images / Disney

In an interview, Gyllenhaal acknowledged his problematic casting, "I think I learned a lot from that movie in that I spend a lot of time trying to be very thoughtful about the roles that I pick and why I’m picking them... And you’re bound to slip up and be like, ‘That wasn’t right for me,’ or ‘That didn’t fit perfectly.'"

close up of jake in Prince of Persia
Disney

7.Gemma Chan told Glamour that for about a decade she was told by casting directors that she was either "too Asian" or "not Asian enough" for a role.

Gemma
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis / Corbis via Getty Images

"Back when I started out, a lot of the parts that I would be asked to audition for would be specifically ethnic parts. But I was told things like, 'We really liked you, we liked your read, but can you do more of an accent? You sound too English!' There were preconceived ideas of what someone like me should sound like," Chan recounted.

close up of Gemma in Crazy Rich Asians
Warner Bros. Pictures

8.Mickey Rooney played Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese man, in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

side by side of Mickey and him playing Mr. Yunioshi
Getty Images / Paramount Pictures

For the role, Rooney did Yellowface, wore buckteeth, and used an exaggerated accent. He received lots of criticism by Asian Americans for his racist portrayal.

close up of him as Mr. Yinioshi
Paramount Pictures

He responded to the criticism saying, "Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it — not one complaint. Every place I've gone in the world people say, ' ... you were so funny.' Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, 'Mickey you were out of this world.'" He said that if he'd known people would have been so offended, "I wouldn't have done it."

close up Mickey in his old age waving at people
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

9.Zoë Kravitz claimed she wasn't allowed to audition for the role of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises because she was considered "too urban" for the role.

  Daniele Venturelli / WireImage / Getty Images
Daniele Venturelli / WireImage / Getty Images

“I don’t know if it came directly from Chris Nolan,” Kravitz said. “I think it was probably a casting director of some kind, or a casting director’s assistant. … Being a woman of color and being an actor and being told at that time that I wasn’t able to read because of the color of my skin, and the word urban being thrown around like that, that was what was really hard about that moment.”

Zoe as catwoman
Warner Bros. Pictures

10.Anthony Hopkins played Coleman Silk, a Black professor who passes as white, in The Human Stain.

Anthony Hopkins
Miramax Films

11.Lucy Liu has opened up multiple times about the difficulties of booking roles as an Asian actor.

Lucy smiling
Jp Yim / Getty Images

Liu said, "I had some idea when I got to LA, because a friend of mine would have 10 auditions in a day or a week and I would have maybe two or three in a month, so I knew it was going to be much more limited for me."

a young Lucy smiling
Cbs Photo Archive / CBS via Getty Images

She added, "But then I got really lucky with a few jobs, which put me in rooms for auditions where I looked like no other woman in the room. I thought, ‘I don't even understand why I'm here, but I'm going to give it my all.'"

Lucy in leather
ABC

Liu also said, "Everyone was willing to have me on their roster, but not commit to me because they didn’t know, realistically, how many auditions I could get. The challenge from the beginning was just the diversity and 'We don’t really know what to do with you’ and ‘There’s not going to be a lot of work for you.'"

close up of lucy
Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images

12.Rooney Mara played Tiger Lily, a Native American character, in Pan.

Rooney playing Tiger Lily
Getty Images / Warner Bros. Pictures

A year after the film, Mara expressed regret saying, "I really hate, hate, hate that I am on that side of the whitewashing conversation. I really do. I don’t ever want to be on that side of it agaicln. I can understand why people were upset and frustrated.”

Lily
Taylor Hill / FilmMagic / Getty Imges

13.Eva Longoria was told she was not "Latin" enough at the beginning of her career.

Eva smiling
Steve Granitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

"Some white male casting director was dictating what it meant to be Latin. He decided I needed an accent. He decided I should (have) darker-colored skin,” Longoria explained.

Eva
ABC

She added, “The gatekeepers are not usually people of color, so they don’t understand you should be looking for way more colors of the rainbow within that one ethnicity."

Eva smiling
Jean-paul Aussenard / WireImage / Getty Images

14.Rob Schneider played an “Asian Minister” in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Rob side by side as himself and as the minister in chuck and larry
Getty Images / Universal Pictures

Though Rob is part Filipino, his portrayal of the minister angered many. He changed his appearance for the film by doing Yellowface, and he played the role by employing several racist stereotypes such as a mocking accent, wearing buck teeth, and sporting thick glasses.

Rob in a suit and black bowl-cut wig for his character
Universal Pictures

15.Sheryl Lee Ralph said a producer fired her from a TV pilot for not being “Black enough.”

Sheryl smiling
Jamie Mccarthy / Getty Images

After being hired for a TV pilot in the '80s, Ralph said a producer fired her. “The producer told me I was ‘not Black enough,'” she recounted. “Those were his words. It was horrible. I can still remember the way I felt.”

Sheryl smiling
Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Ralph went on to explain how race was treated in the '80s in the industry: “People’s thinking was not very inclusive,” she said. “You [had] directors who were still trying to tell you how to be Black.”

Sheryl posing for a photo
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

On The View, Ralph revealed another incident with a casting director who dismissed her for her race. “I had a memorable audition with a big casting director who looked at me and said, ‘Everybody knows you’re a beautiful, talented, Black girl. But what do I do with a beautiful, talented, Black girl?” Ralph had told the co-hosts. “Do I put you in a movie with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss? Who goes to see that movie?'”

close up of Sheryl in a role
ABC

16.And lastly, Joseph Fiennes played pop star Michael Jackson, a Black man, in an episode of the comedy, Urban Myths.

Joseph in a top hat and long hair to play Michael
Getty Images / Sky Arts

After the trailer was released, it was met with a lot of controversy. Many people called for a boycott, a petition against the film got over 200,0000 supporters, and Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson's daughter, stated how offended she was by the casting. After all the controversy that the broadcaster, Sky Arts, decided not to air the episode.

Joseph sitting in a car as michael
Sky Arts