Posted by Audiegrl
Grier, Dandridge and Oprah also featured in examination of ‘Black Women in American Film’
Oscar pioneers Dorothy Dandridge and Halle Berry join Pam Grier, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey as subjects of the new book “Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film.”
Author Mia Mask, who teaches film and drama at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said she was inspired to write the book after noticing the huge amount of attention given to black male stars, while their female counterparts were often looked over.
“These women have pushed the racial boundaries for audiences, setting new standards for beauty and body type,” Mask told the Associated Press.
Dandridge received an Academy Award nomination for her lead role in the 1954 classic “Carmen Jones,” alongside Harry Belafonte. Berry won an Oscar in 2000 for playing the wife of an executed murderer in “Monster’s Ball.” She also had portrayed Dandridge as a stunning femme fatale in a 1999 HBO film about Dandridge’s life.
When Dandridge became a star, “she was working in an environment in which there were almost no women of color (in leading roles),” said Mask, and Dandridge “had to fit into the mold of shapely and svelte.”
Grier was chosen for her ability in the early 70s to break that mold with her forceful but hip physical presence as an action heroine. As for Winfrey, Mask said she chose her because the talk-show host’s television presence catapulted her film appearances to the level of global stardom, transcending any category.
In spite of vast changes, Mask said, sore points persist in casting black women for star roles: a paucity of quality parts, and a new trend of pairing black lead actors with female leads who are not.
“Studio heads don’t think two black characters will appeal to general audiences,” said Mask.
She chose Dandridge and Berry “as bookends” for the time span that transformed black women in commercial films.
“We’ve gone from the trope of the tragic (mulatto) to biracial beauty,” said Mask, who is taping a five-part series for National Public Radio to air in late October — each on one of the women in the book.