Though on paper, Kerry Washington certainly seems like one of the top actresses in Hollywood, television, whatever you want to call it, things aren’t always as golden as they sometimes seem.
The star of Scandal and HBO’s Confirmation revealed that before she became as popular a name in the American home as Oprah Winfrey, Washington was fired from two series due to her non-stereotypical behavior. As part of the “Actors on Actors” series conducted by Variety, Washington unloaded the stress of being a racial minority in TV on Aziz Ansari, who shared similar experiences.
“For both, it was because they wanted me to sound more ‘girlfriend,’ more like ‘hood,’ more ‘urban,'” said Washington about the two pilots that replaced her.
Of course, one of the queens of drama TV proceeded to laugh about it–as the producers for those pilots proceeded to kick themselves simultaneously–but the issue Washington brought up resonated with Ansari.
“A lot of other minority actors have told me, ‘Oh, this so rings a bell’ when you go into an audition room and you see a bunch of people that look like you and you just start feeling like, ‘Oh I’m not here [for me], I’m here because I fit what looks like the person they want in here,” said Ansari.
The racial typecasting dilemma was so real for the former Parks and Rec actor that he created a whole episode about it for his show Master of None, which is currently filming its second season. The scene in “Indians on TV” showed lead character Dev (Aziz Ansari) facing producers who told him that he had done a great job, except that they wanted him to try the lines again with an Indian accent.
It was the same episode that was criticized for how it flippantly dismissed black women’s struggle with pop culture perception when another character, Denise (Lena Waithe), argued that she had it difficult too until she withdrew, saying, “Who’s my girl? Like, Oprah? Or Beyoncé? Oh, s***, I got the heavy hitters. Nevermind.”
Washington’s struggle with being able to play anyone, and not just the stereotypical “urban” black girl, is still very much a stuck influence in Hollywood unfortunately. Their roles are usually confined to the sassy best black friend, said Greg Braxton of the Los Angeles Times, who are just there “to support the heroine, often with sass, attitude and a keen insight into relationships and life.”
Kerry Washington was certainly fortunate, she notes. Like Ansari, Washington took the reigns of casting and portrayals into her own hands as she began producing, which circumvents letting her career be ruled by typecasting.
“I definitely feel like I’m at that point where it’s nice to not have to sit at home and wait to be invited to the party, but to be creating work for yourself,” Washington said.
The rest of the interview between Kerry Washington and Aziz Ansari will be available as a piece of Variety Studios: Actors on Actors on June 12th through PBS SoCal.