Black Actors Revisit Roles Originally Played By Whites

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    When folks mention the word “remake,” they’re usually met with skepticism and eye rolls. But lately, black actors have been finding success revisiting classics that were previously played by white actors.

    Denzel Washington stepped into Frank Sinatra’s shoes with 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate, and even Will Smith took a stab at it with the reboot of I Am Legend (inspired by the 1971 Charlton Heston starrer, The Omega Man). Both actors have been known to break the color barrier when it comes to casting, but before recently many women haven’t been able to accomplish the same.

    Denzel Washington in “The Manchurian Candidate”


    Will Smith in “I Am Legend”


    That is, until 2008 when we saw TV veteran Debbie Allen direct her Tony award-winning big sister, fellow small screen legend Phylicia Rashad, in the role of Big Mama in the first all-black production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  The revival—which also starred Anika Noni Rose, James Earl Jones and Terrence Howard—earned rave reviews and helped usher in a new wave of black talent to the stage. It also challenged the narrow perceptions of black characters by mainstream audiences.

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    And it didn’t stop there. Just last month, another one of Williams’ plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, added some color to the Broadway stage. Soul Food alum Nicole Ari Parker stepped into the role of Blanche, previously played by Vivien Leigh. She joined Blair Underwood as Stanley (formerly portrayed by Marlon Brando), with Broadway newcomer Wood Harris as Mitch and Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent) as Underwood’s leading lady, Stella. Although none of them earned Tony nominations, despite being critically acclaimed, each performance has spellbound audiences since the show debuted on April 22nd.

    So when news broke out that the once colorless drama Steel Magnolias was getting an all-black remake, even fans of the original 1989 movie got excited. Then came the incredible cast announcement: Queen Latifah will executive produce the film for Lifetime television, and star in it along with Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduye (Pariah), Rashad and her newly minted Tony-nominated daughter, Condola (Stick Fly). The all-black female cast, originally led by Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts, respectively, is set to dazzle audiences in the film that will reportedly air later this year.

    Expect to see more stories like these getting the black treatment. With the success of the aforementioned productions, and expected praise for Steel Magnolias, this trend may prove to be one of the ways black actors can find diversified roles that will further spotlight their talent.

    Candice Frederick is an NABJ award-winning journalist, movie contributor for Bitch Flicks, and film blogger for Reel Talk. Follow her on twitter.

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