“Stevie Wonder Black” refers to someone you can tell is Black even with your eyes closed.

Today, Blacktress finds herself walking onto a small studio lot with a self-assuredness that surprises her.  In the last year she’s booked the role of a Ugandan refugee, a depression era jazz singer, a teenage Crip girl, and is in serious contention for the role of Chantal, a pre-op tranny hooker.  Today, she’s up for a part far less challenging.

This breakdown reads like my bio, she thinks.  Piece of cake.


Blacktress and the character, Tina, are the same age. They share a physical description, and most importantly, hail from the same plighted (former) metropolis.

“You always have an advantage when the character is from your hometown.”  Blacktress remembers her actor friend Ryan Sharpe, proclaiming during a blacktor/blacktress get- together at his studio apartment in Los Feliz.  “Especially if your hometown has a high murder rate.    Cause black folks who have been in LA too long can’t do that hood shit convincingly.  All this sunshine drains the sweet potato pie right out of them, til they’re not even Stevie Wonder Black no more.” (Stevie Wonder Black refers to someone you can tell is Black even with your eyes closed.)

Keeping Ryan’s speech in mind, Blacktress settles into her Stevie Wonder Blackness.  She recalls the days before theater school and speech training, when she thought the words “dial” and “doll” were pronounced exactly the same way.   Minutes later, a young casting assistant escorts her down a long hallway to the audition room.  Inside the room are two writers, two producers, the director, the casting director, the camera operator, and another random guy, she assumes is an assistant.  They all seem nice enough, Jennifer Aniston -style white people.

(Jennifer Aniston -style white refers to the semi-hip, liberals who have a few black friends, who like black music, and love Oprah.  BUT would feel totally uncomfortable alone in a room full of black people, especially ones who earn less than 50,000 per year.)

Blacktress greets the room confidently.  The director looks to be about 127 years old, yet he is present and alert.  He looks at her intensely.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Blacktress lunges right into her read and hits every beat.  She finishes and waits.  And waits.  And waits.  The director continues to look at her intensely before finally taking a deep inhalation.

“You… are… a… good actress,” he says methodically with little to no expression or emotion.

Thanks you weird old guy, Blacktress thinks.

“BUT I need you to do that again and play up the… how do I say this?”

He looks around the room for the answer, as if it’s a pair of misplaced bifocals.

“Play up the urban.  Give me dirty urban.”

What the hell? Blacktress thinks.   Is he describing a character trait or the bathrooms in Central Park?

Sensing her confusion the director goes on to clarify.

“You see, Tina is from_______bleep_________.  Tina is from _____bleep_______!!”

Blacktress cringes as the director says her hometown the way one would say “ garbage pail in the alley.”

“This place is SAD.  These people are pure sadness.  You’re playing her with too much cunning. Give me third grade education.  Give me sad, dirty, dirty urban.”

The script didn’t say she was a crack whore, Blacktress thinks.  Just a girl who grew up in the hood… like me.  Her first instinct is to challenge the old man, with:

“Me and Tina are from the same place and I don’t know any “dirty urban” people, old man.  Growing up, the only people I knew with third grade educations, were in the third grade.   And for your information, there is some joy in the hood.  Didn’t you see the first half of Crooklyn?  You old ass Archie Bunker style white man.” (Archie Bunker style white requires no explanation.)

But Blacktress thinks better of losing her shit, and playing into his idea that her hometown only turns out angry, unsophisticated morons.   Keeping her wits about her, she spends the next half second trying to figure out how to adjust her read so that comes out more heightened than Stevie Wonder black but falls short of plain old Black-faced black.  And there-in lies the rub, she thinks.

The director scoots forward in his chair.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Blacktress tip of the Week:   Acting and Blackting are not the same thing.   The former is required for Shakespeare, the later for McDonald’s commercials.    Go ahead and pay your bills, but remember to pay attention.

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