“I Only Speak From My Own Experiences” Vanessa Williams Explains Statement On Colorism In Hollywood
Vanessa Williams has been dubbed the most successful Miss America winner in the entertainment business and by all accounts that would be correct. Instead of resting on her laurels, though, the mother of four has remained gainfully employed through expression of her love of the arts. Fresh on the heels of her “After Midnight” Broadway debut, we chatted with Williams about her experiences as a black actress, what she thinks about the backlash to her remark that it’s no easier for a light-skinned black woman to make it in the business, and her advice for those looking to break into the industry. Vanessa Williams performs in After Midnight through May 11th at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway!
You’ve covered all mediums when it comes to entertainment, where do you feel most at home and alive?
“I feel the most alive on Broadway while on the stage. I get a chance to do all three — sing, dance and act — in front of a live audience and you are able to get their immediate response.”
How is it being a part of a rotating cast like “After Midnight”?
“What drew me to the project was the all-star Wynston Marsalis Band playing, Duke Ellington’s arrangement and the incredible ensemble. I also decided that I wanted to work with the director, Warren Carlyle. It’s an all-star line up with music that I love.”
What advice would you give to up and coming entertainers?
“I would encourage them to start on stage with theater training because it is a total body commitment in terms of using your instrument physically( projecting your voice) and capturing an audience. In other venues or mediums, whether it is television or film, you have to learn how to engage your acting skills more precisely. Also, I encourage those interested in acting to work as much as you can. It is not about fame but it is about creating and honing your skill set. So, you would have to go to school so you can learn your specific artistry.
You recently commented in an interview with The Grio that it’s hard for black women to get roles no matter how fair or dark they are. Do you still stand by those comments?
“I only speak from my own experiences. I know what has been challenging for me, in terms of my past as an actress. I know of the roles that have come to me and have not come to me. I am not a spokesperson for an entire race and everyone else’s experience.”
You told Oprah that black actresses are in crisis mode right now, what do you think it will take to change the landscape and increase opportunities for African American actresses?
“Roles come with the projects that are being produced, whether it be television or film. Things are made creatively with the hopes of it being successful, so the bottom line is what or who will generate the most money. You have to deal with the corporate America (networks and movie studios) who are concerned about how they will make money.”
You recently traced your ancestral DNA, how was it for your family finding out these results and have you done anymore exploring of your roots?
“It was fascinating to find out my DNA results because as an African-American the records that we have are pretty slim compared to others of different backgrounds. It was good to go through the journey so I can get a chance to learn about my ancestry.”
We’ve found in our project that a lot of black people don’t see the value in tracing their roots and assume searching for your ancestry means running from your blackness. Why do you think that is and have you received similar reactions?
“For me, when I got my DNA breakdown it made me want to travel to Ghana, Togo, Benin and Senegal — especially because I wanted to make that connection. I think it was fascinating and it’s all about education. The more you know, the more interesting it is and you’ll want to delve (deeper) into your past.”
Vanessa Williams performs in After Midnight through May 11th at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway!