By Michael Miller
Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are explaining what it’s like to be an actor who isn’t a heterosexual white guy. Eva Longoria, Queen Latifah and Julia Roberts are among the names featured in The New York Times article titled “What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood* (*If you’re not a straight white male.)” The stars look back on their own careers and talk about how issues of diversity and sexism affect actors at every level. For instance, Longoria, a ninth generation American, remembers casting directors chiding her for not sounding ethnic enough. “Some white male casting director was dictating what it meant to be Latino. He decided I needed an accent. He decided I should [have] darker colored skin,” the Telenovela star says.
“The gatekeepers are not usually people of color, so they don’t understand you should be looking for way more colors of the rainbow within that one ethnicity,” Longoria explains.
America Ferrera went through a similar experience in her first professional audition at 16. During the commercial shoot, the director asked Ferrera to “sound more Latino” the next time she read the line. “I genuinely didn’t realize until later that she was asking me to speak English with a broken accent,” Ferrera says. “From the get-go of my career I thought, ‘There’s a certain box or a certain way that you’re seen,’ which I didn’t feel growing up.” Queen Latifah has also felt the pressure to conform to a certain box in her career. During her stint on the TV series Living Single, Latifah remembers the cast was told they needed to lose weight. It was a demand she’s still happy she declined. “I felt I represented a woman out there who should get to see somebody who weighs about as much as she does,” Latifah explains. “If I want to lose some weight to get healthy, that’s my choice. That’s not for you to tell me.”
Even Roberts, a two-time Oscar nominee at the time, felt her role was being over sexualized by producers on Erin Brockovich. According to the actress, when she told producers she was uncomfortable filming an action scene in a mini skirt, she was met with opposition. “I didn’t feel I was being fully understood,” Roberts says. Fortunately, when director Steven Soderbergh became attached to the film, Roberts was able to adjust the scene, and went on to win her first Academy Award for the role. “Steven and I were very in sync about how we wanted to portray everything about her – the sexiness as well as the soul – and I didn’t have to wear a micro-mini shimmying down a well to do that,” she says. Difficulties for women in Hollywood don’t exist solely in front of the camera. Longoria and Latifah are experienced directors, and they have both felt the remnants of the “boys club” attitude that once dominated the industry.
Longoria explains that the directors of photography she works with are often unable to contain their surprise when she proves to be competent. “‘You know what you’re doing. Wow. You know lenses. Oh, my God, you know shots?’ ” she says, imitating their backhanded compliments. “Yes, I know where to put the camera. You just go, ‘Do you say to the dude directors, I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing?’ ” “As a director, I definitely feel the boys’ club, for sure,” Latifah agrees. “You really feel like there’s still that, ‘Do we have to listen to the girl, and the young girl and then the pretty girl? She can’t possibly know what she’s talking about.’ ” Despite the lingering issues, some actresses did note signs of improvement. After explaining how a part she once wrote for an Indian-American ultimately went to a white woman, Mindy Kaling concedes that situation would be handled differently today. “Now, they would work harder to find an Indian-American girl. There’s just too much scrutiny, which is good,” she says. And Longoria, who’s found success on her show Telenovela, says, “It was refreshing for casting to go, ‘Eva, you’re Latino heavy. We need to cast one white male somewhere in there.’ ”