Lights, Camera, Action! Black Actors Who Were Cast In Traditionally White Roles
For decades, Whites actors and actresses have been cast to play people of color in Hollywood, making whitewashing a very nasty habit in Tinsel Town. But these Black actors managed to turned the table and were selected to star in traditionally White roles.
Michael B. Jordan
Comic book fans everywhere were in an uproar when Michael B. Jordan was selected to play Johnny Storm in the reboot of The Fantastic Four. But Chris Evans, who first played the role a decade earlier, gave Jordan his stamp of approval in hopes to appease loyal fans. The film tanked anyway at the box office and studio executives hope the sequel, which had already been announced, can salvage the franchise.
Quvenzhané Wallis first dazzled on the silver screen in Beasts of the Southern Wild, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in the process, too. Not to mention, she became the youngest person to earn an achievement as such. Wallis received another round of accolades for starring the in 2014 remake of the classic film, Annie. She played the title role, originally a fair skin, curly, red headed orphan in the 1977 musical. Wallis’ portrayal earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Samuel L. Jackosn
What role hasn’t Samuel L. Jackson played? The acclaimed actor scored a huge contract after signing a nine-picture deal to play Marvel comic’s Nick Fury, the director of the S.H.I.E.L.D. who also happened to be white. Jackson first appeared as Fury in Iron Man, starring opposite Robert Downey, Jr. Jackson’s Fury has also appeared in the sequel Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers and the 2015 follow up The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Michael Clarke Duncan
Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t the only Black actor cast to play a Marvel character that was originally white. Michael Clarke Duncan snagged the role as Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk in the 2003 film Daredevil. Duncan’s body size and physique helped him fill the gargantuan shoes of the Kingpin. He reprised the role for an episode of Spider Man: The Animated Series. Duncan passed away unexpectedly in 2012.
There was a time in Will Smith’s career when he was known for ruling the box office during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The Men In Black franchise helped solidify his role as a major player in the film industry. Smith starred as Agent J, who in the comic book was originally White. The Men In Black trilogy was a huge hit and raked in over $1.5 billion at the box office alone.
When the classic cartoon The Flintstones was turned into a live-action film, Sharon Stone was originally slated to play Miss Sharon Stone, Fred Flintstone’s sexy secretary. However, due to a scheduling conflict, Stone was forced to turn down the part. Nicole Kidman was the second choice for the role, but Berry snagged the part after studio executives watched her screen test.
Morgan Freeman is one of the best actors of his generation, and he has numerous award-winning roles on his résumé to prove it. One of those roles was his Oscar-nominated turn as Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding in Shawshank Redemption. Adapted from a Stephen King novella, the character was originally an Irishman with red hair. Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford were all considered for the role but the director wanted no one else but Freeman.
Mos Def is known more as a rapper than an actor, but the Brooklyn emcee has starred in several films. In 2005, he played Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Readers of the book might have been a bit confused watching the movie because in the novel, Prefect is described as having ginger hair leading many to believe that the character was White.
Brandy Norwood and Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston and Brandy Norwood added some color and serious star power to the remake to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella television musical. Houston played the fairy godmother to Brandy’s Cinderella in the 1997 made for television film. Whoopi Goldberg and Jason Alexander rounded out the all-star cast.
Last September Keke Palmer made history when she was cast as the first Black Cinderella on Broadway, something that she believed couldn’t have happened without Brandy Norwood paving the way. “I feel like the reason I’m able to do this is definitely because Brandy did it on TV,” Palmer said in an interview. “In me doing this, it shows everybody that everything is possible.”
Billy Dee Williams
Billy Dee Williams brought his signature cool, laid back swag to the role of Harvey Dent in the 1989 in Batman. Starring opposite Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Williams played Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, a villain who was originally White in the comic books. Williams was eager to reprise the role in the sequel Batman Returns, but the role of Two-Face went to Tommy Lee Jones instead. “I had hoped that I would have done Two-Face,” Williams said at Comic Con in 2013. “But it changed hands before then so they took a different direction with that.”
During Pam Grier’s reign as the queen of the blaxploitation films, she was the epitome of sexy. Two decades later, Quentin Tarantino helped revitalize Grier’s career by casting her as the title character in Jackie Brown. The film was based on the book “Rum Punch,” which narrated a story about a blonde haired flight attendant who worked for a gunrunner smuggling in money from Mexico. However, Tarantino pictured the flight attendant as Black woman and cast Grier for the role.
Phantom of the Opera debuted on Broadway back in 1988. More than 25 years later, the show is still going on strong and has become the longest-running show on Broadway. Last year, accomplished and Tony Award nominated actor Norm Lewis made history by becoming the first Black actor to star in the title role. He ended his tenure as the Phantom nine months later and said playing the title role was like winning the lottery.
David Oyelowo may be a star on the silver screen in the U.S. now, but the English actor first started his acting career across the pond on the stage. In 2000, Oyelowo was cast as King Henry VI of England in This England: The Histories, a season of Shakespeare’s plays staged by the prestigious Royal Shakespearean Company. Oyelowo’s role as King Henry VI marked the first time a Black actor was selected to play an English King by the RSC.