Casting Director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, in an interview given to Black Enterprise Magazine in 2012, suggests that there are some best practices with respect to auditions that naturally work in a Black theatre performer’s favor, and some rules that may take a little practice. Ms. Byrd’s first tip is that the performer be him- or herself. For the Black theatre artist, this means finding an internal balance with the drive that got you to the audition and an external balance given the need to stand out and get the callback.
Twinkie, who cast the late Whitney Houston’s last movie, “Sparkle,” as well as the films “Notorious” and “Stomp the Yard,” also encourages Black artists to know their craft. For Ms. Byrd, this means knowing your history and where the contemporary artist stands in relation to all those who came before. Ms. Byrd’s last piece of advice is for the artist to give him- or herself a break and acknowledge at the end of the audition that a best effort was given and to say “you’re welcome,” when thanked for coming in. Most artists stay in ingratiating mode and simply say, “no, thank YOU,” but Twinkie, who is credited with launching the careers of Laz Alonso and Michael Kenneth Williams, encourages artists not to gloss over the fact that “you’re welcome” is self-affirmation of a job well-done.
Actor Anthony Mackie has spoken on the “importance of being a Black actor and the importance of theater to an actor” in an article featured in the Guardian in 2011. After a turn on Broadway in “A Behanding in Spokane,” Mr. Mackie took a hit from Black writer and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als, who stated candidly: “The sad fact is that, in order to cross over, most black actors of Mackie’s generation must act Black before they’re allowed to act human.” Mackie’s advice is to think beyond someone else’s definition of you as an artist because, “you can’t limit yourself.”
And then of course, there’s that ‘drops mic’ moment detailed by the NY Times blog in 2012, given to us by Lady Vi, Ms. Viola Davis, on the Tavis Smiley show, when he expressed “ambivalence” over the movie, “The Help.” Ms. Davis, with the dignity and humanity she brings to every role, illustrated why she should be allowed to write roles as well as act them. She offers: “That very mindset that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the Black artist,” she said. “The Black artist cannot live in a revisionist place,” she added. “The Black artist can only tell the truth about humanity, and humanity is messy. People are messy. Caucasian actors know that. We as African-American artists are more concerned with image and message and not execution.” With that, Viola tells artists to focus on craft, as only someone who has been doing so for decades can.
Finally, a rule for the artist in us all, straight out of the mouths of babes as detailed on BlackCelebKids.com from an interview with Backstage.com. Yara Shahidi (Black-ish) brings us full circle with: “Never jeopardize who you are for a role.” Artists would be wise to heed these words of the successful young artist and not trade one’s “moral compass, or anything like that, to have a role.”
Collecting Our Things: Black Excellence Dominates the 2017 Oscars
If you weren’t lucky enough to get snuck in through the side door at the 89th Academy Awards Ceremony, I’ll give you the Broadway Black rundown. With Moonlight taking the big Oscar of the night, it seems The Academy heard us loud and clear when we demanded they give us our things, and I’m glad.
Watch highlight videos below! #TourBusGary, Viola, Mahershala, & Moonlights acceptances speeches, and more!
Although I do have some complaints I’d like to file regarding Ms. Taraji P. Henson and Mr. Denzel Washington, but that’s for another time.
The night began with Mahershala Ali winning Best Supporting Actor for his role as Juan in Moonlight. Mahershala celebrated many firsts on Oscar night: his first nomination and his first win. While many laud Ali for being the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, his acceptance speech focused on his mentors, education, and his new baby girl.
“I want to thank my teachers, my professors. I had so many wonderful teachers, and one of the things they told me was…it’s not about you, it’s about these characters. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.”
Image: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times
Moonlight celebrated Mahershala’s win and later took home Best Picture (after a perplexing mix-up with La La Land – see blow) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The creators and cast of Moonlight echoed Mahershala’s message of representation. In their acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins pledged to defend those who don’t fit the mold:
“All you people out there, who feel like there’s no mirror for you or your life is not reflected. We have your back and for the next four years, we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.”
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty
Jenkins’ words echoed the community and perseverance that Moonlight celebrates. His victory for his second feature film alone is a testament to the spirit of perseverance. His first feature film, the highly acclaimed Medicine for Melancholy, premiered in 2008. Jenkins speaks openly of the discouragement he felt in this eight-year gap, where, at times, he thought his career was at an end. But just like Jenkins couldn’t dodge that Best Picture Oscar, he couldn’t dodge his calling, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Another highlight in that same speech came from McCraney, who is the playwright of In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue of which the film is based. He said:
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming who don’t see themselves, we’re trying to show you you and us. Thank you, thank you. This is for you.”
Further celebrating a night of untold stories, NASA’s Katherine Johnson joined the Hidden Figures cast on stage. With the grace of a thousand Dianas, Viola Davis accepted the award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rose in Fences. Her performance, which earned her a Tony for Best Actress in 2010, resonated with women and defined resilience to men.
We know Viola from Broadway and How to Get Away With Murder, but tonight she made history as the first Black actor to take home an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar for acting. Her role in Fences gives glory to the ordinary, and her speech showed her pride in that fact.
Now, about that Best Picture Oscar. Still can’t believe this actually happened. There are no words to describe what the conflicting feelings of confusion & joy bottled and shaken up, on the brink of explosion, actually feels like but here it is in video form:
As I cheered along, I thought of the power of ordinariness in Black communities. The legacy of Blackness exudes strength and resilience, but we should remember that excellence isn’t isolated to any tax bracket.
Audiences found power in Viola Davis’ Rose because August Wilson did not see powerful and ordinary as mutually exclusive. It is vital, especially today, that the Fences and Hidden Figures and Moonlights empower us.
These films tell the story of those perceived as ordinary, simply because the people looking had a singular point of view. So, yes, tonight was for Viola and her staple in history, for Mahershala and Moonlight collecting their things, and even for Denzel and Ruth Negga, no matter what The Academy says.
But even more, tonight was for the ordinary people who are, in fact, excellent and Broadway Black.
View the full list of winners at Oscar.
& the funniest moment of the night that we just can’t seem to get over. Watch #TourBusGary become a meme right in front of your eyes: