I’m six-feet-tall. Black. I wear glasses. I shave my head. I’ve been told by various casting directors and agents that I look like Kevin Durant (with glasses), Bokeem Woodbine(with glasses), R. Kelly(with glasses), bald Denzel Washington(with glasses), Dave Chappelle(with glasses), Tyrese Gibson(with glasses), Tyson Beckford(with glasses), and Samuel L. Jackson(with glasses). In the event that I actually do an audition or a meeting without my glasses, It sometime results in the stoppage of work, the calling over of co-workers and a refrain of “Hey, who does this guy look like to you?”
I think all of those guys are great, but never in my life did I take it as a compliment, which is difficult, because given the circumstances, all I could do was smile, nod, and say, “Thanks!” followed by an enthusiastic, “I wish!” I’ve never spoken to other black actors about it. Maybe it’s something we all experience. I can’t be the only one smiling and taking it, because if that was the case, I think I’d get hired more often. I’m really good at being incredibly agreeable when I want to feed my family and qualify for SAG health insurance.
For all my “looking” like Bokeem or Tyrese, it’s never worked in my favor in the form of a twin brother role. If Samuel L. Jackson does a movie and there’s a flashback to young Samuel L. Jackson, he just puts on one of his crazy Samuel L. Jackson lace-front wigs. Thus, robbing a young, bald, would-be look-a-like of a gig and forcing him to claim another week of unemployment. One thing no one has ever said, though, is I look like is a light-skinned brotha like Terrance Howard (with glasses).
A few days ago, Sam Rubin a reporter at KTLA was interviewing Samuel L. Jackson, when he gaffed and mistook Mr. Jackson for fellow human being and black actor who’s worked with Spike Lee, Laurence Fishburne. Near chaos ensued, all hilarious. It’s gone viral, you can see it here .
It was an honest mistake and no one has called for Mr. Rubin’s head, but it does, even in the smallest way illustrate a problem with Hollywood and race. There are not many black actors who have reached the statuses of Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne. Arguably, for the roles they’ve played, they are icons. Unique personalities who add something that only they can add to whatever production they happen participate in. When it comes to black Americans who are qualified movie superstars, there are few, especially in their age range.
And THAT’S my problem with Mr. Rubin’s case of mistaken identity. With so few notable black actors promoting studio-financed action films these days, it seems like an easy thing to keep track of. It’s doubtful he would mix the credits of Chris Hemsworth and George Clooney. Or Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. No one would, but after watching the Samuel L. Jackson interview, I wondered – like I wonder if my fellow actors are told they “look” like other black actors – if even at that level, the Jacksons, Fishburnes, and Whitakers of the world have fear of someone telling them they look like a famous black person. This is just one incident, so maybe not yes. But a qualified maybe?