Yvette Nicole Brown—not to be confused with Sherri Shepherd or Octavia Spencer as she sometimes is—deserves a hand. The actress who plays on NBC’s hit show “Community,” knows better than anyone else the difficulties of being a brown skinned, heavier, comedic woman seeking employment in Hollywood and though it would be easy for her to just be the funny, fat, black side kick Tinsel Town would love to make her, she says it’s not gone happ’n.
“Everybody kind of fits in a box, and I get it. Sometimes you have to start in the stereotype of this industry and then get to branch out as you’ve proven your ability to be able to do it,” Brown, told the Examiner in their latest Inspirational Woman in the Entertainment Industry series. “I’ve been very careful about what I’ve chosen, but that being said, there’s not a lot of roles that allow portrayals of things to be positive.”
Part of making sure she’s able to secure positive roles is having management that backs her and understands her goals as as a black entertainer, Brown said.
“Even in the beginning, I always made it very clear the things I may or may not be able to do. And I’d let them know, ‘I know you guys are saying it’s okay now, but if we work together for six months, and I’m passing on more than you’re comfortable with, then I’m okay if you drop me.’ I literally have said that to every agent or manager I’ve had. I understand if they can’t do it; if it gets to the point where they can’t keep their lights on, let me know, and we’ll part ways, and I’ll go to an agent that understand what I’m trying to do here.”
Luckily, she eventually came across the perfect duo and she’s been with her theatrical agent for a decade and her commercial agent for just a little bit longer than that. Still, although her agents understand Brown’s needs as an entertainer there’s only so much they can do for her if the roles aren’t there.
“Shows like The Jeffersons, they showed every type of black character…but it wasn’t just for black audiences,” she said. “What is inherently black or inherently white? I wish they would cut that mess out and just cast the best actor, no matter what the color or race. May the best actor get the role. That would be so refreshing. They’re not black– or white or Hispanic or Latina or whatever; they’re just women who happen to be played by black women. That’s the thing that I’ve always been…screaming from the rooftops. You don’t have to change a line to cast a black actor.”
Brown clearly knows. When she went for the role of Shirley on “Community” she was the alternative choice, pitted against two rather talented white actresses. Thankfully for her, her own talent won out, and that’s the type of approach she wants to bring to all of her work.
“I just feel like every actor has to make a decision as to what they want to embody and what they want to represent,” she said. “When I look back on the roles I’ve played, you can say ‘Yvette never took a role that she didn’t see a positive part of how it’d affect the people viewing [it].
“With every industry, you get very clear on the parameters of your industry, and you learn how to live within them,” she continued. “You have to find a way to not become bitter and live within the parameters of the situation and laugh your way through it…and you hope for a better day for the next generation.”
She’s definitely trying to make that possible. Have you checked out Yvette Nicole Brown in “Community?”
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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