Isaiah Washington Challenges “Slave, Butler, and Maid” Roles For Blacks In Hollywood

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Isaiah Washington

By:  John “Hennry” Harris

Hollywood veteran actor Isaiah Washington has seen the mountain tops and the valleys of the fickle industry.  The former “Grey’s Anatomy” television star feels that he was blackballed by Hollywood for the last 6 years after making disparaging remarks about the LGBT community.  Those remarks eventually led to his dismissal from the top-rated show and Washington is once again receiving accolades for his Oscar-worthy performance as a serial killer in the critically acclaimed film “Blue Caprice“.

Washington’s intense portrait of John Allen Muhammad, the older conspirator in the Beltway sniper attacks of 2002, has landed the 50-year-old father of three a Best Actor nomination at the 2013 Independent Film Awards.  Admittedly pleased with the nomination, he shared a glaring perspective about the African-American roles potentially contending for the Academy Award this year.

Washington is challenging whether movies like “12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler” are steps forward for Hollywood and the roles available for Blacks in Hollywood.

“Kιllers and slaves, butlers and maids: it sounds like it’s going to be a great Oscar night for people,” Washington said in a recent interview.

Washington delved deeper into his riff with the Academy and the roles of the African-American males it honors.

“That’s why I turned down ‘Hustle and Flow.’ Whoever said this role would possibly be nominated for an Oscar, like Morgan [Freeman] playing a pimp [in ‘Street Smart’]. Denzel [Washington] won for playing a slave crying one tear, and playing the most horrible human being that the world thought was the sexiest cop in ‘Training Day.’ It doesn’t stray from the formula.”

Washington noted that all the performances were fabulous, but references Octavia Spencer’s role in “The Maid” to drive his point home.  He says the actress is known around the world for her character putting feces in the pie and it reflects back to the first African-American to win an Oscar in 1939:  Hattie McDaniel for playing a maid in “Gone with the Wind.”

Washington is not declining the honor of a nomination, nor does the actor dismiss movies like “12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler”.

He explained, “The narrative of slaves and butlers is interesting. I come from a family of domestics. My grandmother was a maid and a nanny. My father was a porter.”

“The world has seen African Americans as slaves and maids and butlers.”

Washington simply dreams of the day where Hollywood respects and portrays the complexity of Black culture on screen.

Do you agree with Isiah Washington?

21 Comment

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. I am sick of seeing blacks in degrading roles.

  2. Everyone knows the ills of Hollywood, but it's a business formula that is making lots of money. Collectively we have to show Hollywood what we don't like by not supporting it with our money $$$

  3. ues i doo unless people start talkeing a stand then ntohhing will ever change like my oh says there are to many things standing in the way of seriuos film amking u wnat to hit them were it hurts vote with your feet if u diont like something them dont see it if thr dollord srnt rolling in then thungs wil chnage

  4. That would be "The Help."

  5. "…Octavia Spencer’s role in “The Maid” … He says the actress is known around the world for her character putting feces in the pie…" Do you mean "The Help?"

  6. He's only the latest to say this. It's true. Being confronted with stereotypical perceptions of me, my son, daughters, wife, and other relatives and friends has made me sensitive to where those stereotypes are generated and maintained. The Oscar for perpetuating stereotypes goes to… All of us, for continually supporting them.

  7. Yes I Do Agree With Washington, But White Demons In America Are So Hateful And Backwards That's All They Want To See Of Black People, Being Of Servitude Like The Good Please Days, Like Teaching Young White Racist The Ins And Puts.

  8. At what point do we stop waiting for Hollywood to tell our stories too though? You still have people that seeking validation of their talent through white acknowledgement, approval and acceptance. Therefore, they just take whatever roles to be in with the in-crowd. Black people have enough money to collectively put out their own projects. We should have our own "Bollywood" by now.

  9. I think he isn't saying the right thing. Films like The Butler, The Help, and 12 Years A Slave were not stereotypical. They were filled with complex and interesting black human beings who deserve to have their stories told. These characters are heroic, flawed and specific. The actors who played all of these black characters in all three films mentioned did exceptional jobs and created SPECIFIC, UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL people NOT stereotypes.

    Yes Denzel won an oscar for playing a corrupt cop. He was excellent. I believed him. Just like Anthony Hopkins and Charlize Theron won oscars for playing serial killers. Christoph Waltz won for playing a Nazi. Michael Douglas a corrupt Wall Street banker. Kathy Bates, Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Kevin Spacey, Marlon Brando, Robert Deniro, etc, etc. Don't stifle the black artist by only having them play one demential, and uncomplicated character. It's boring and then all we see are A-sexual, noble, and flat non-humans.

    Lets ask for more from Hollywood and say "we want to play more than slaves, butlers, maids, and pimps". The problem is when we say we don't want to see them at all. All of the above exist or existed and they all have individual and human stories to be told and make for unique storytelling. No pimp, slave, maid or butler has the same story. A good actor would rather play a complex pimp than an one dimensional judge.

  10. I have long been calling for the portrayal of Black intellectuals, philosophers, philanthropists, and inventors. Why are the only images we see of ourselves on the big screen showing us as domestics or slaves???? Of course, we can always count on the once a month release of a Tyler Perry movie that shows one-dimensional, simplistic, and undeveloped characters in predictable story lines! 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other, I guess.

  11. He’s saying we have been pigeon-holed in only doing manual labored parts in hollywood. We are multi-faceted people with lives as complex, if not more so than whites! I totally agree with him.

  12. I respect your comment and agree with your take on the complexities of these characters and I don't think Mr. Washington will disagree with you. What he is simply saying is that he wants Hollywood to stretch beyond these roles to look at the other roles we inhabit as people. I think Tyler Perry has tried to do that with For Colored Girls or Daddy's Little Girls and his other movies that do not have the Medea character, but he is consistently lambasted for his efforts and Hollywood never considers those pictures.

  13. Long as Jews run Hollywood nothing will change.

  14. It’s time to wake up! Check out The BlackMan(State of Emergency)on Youtube. It’ all about having pride in self. Peace!

  15. Funny how you make those comments with no knowledge of the movies. Black people were behind all but one of the movies he mentioned. Producing, directing, and writing these films. But go ahead and make the same argument without any facts.

  16. racist moron

  17. I agree with what he’s saying ,but maybe he should put his money where his mouth is and set up his own film studios like Tyler Perry and hire black actors for roles that have a more positive representation of black culture instead of begging and expecting white Hollywood to do it for him.Hollywood with black actors is just business as usual.Nothing has changed,if anything its starting to regress backwards when movies like The Butler,12 Years a Slave win awards Black folks should have set up their own black film industry ages ago.

  18. You are right ,

  19. I agree Donna. Why not more movies like the Ben Carson story.

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