It’s always nice to see a brother or sister get acting work; it’s hard out here for black actors. For us, Hollywood can really be akin to the Hunger Games. So far be it unto me to knock the hustle. It’s just… sometimes casting directors really get it wrong. Sometimes, an actor is so woefully miscast in a role that it’s downright distracting. You’re too busy wondering who else could’ve played the part to figure out what the heck’s going down onscreen.
Enter Mary J. Blige. Last year, we first heard rumors that she’d be playing Nina Simone in a biopic. While Mary has always been one to reinvent herself, ever challenging herself and mining personal growth, we wondered if she’s ready to take on such an iconic figure. Apparently, someone out there is pleased with her dramatic work, because the word is she’s now been cast as the late Dr. Betty Shabazz in a TV movie that will explore her relationship with Coretta Scott King (who’s playing Mother Coretta? Faith Evans?).
It’s great that Betty Shabazz gets to be featured in another film (Angela Bassett played her twice, in X and in Panther), but is Mary that wonderful a dramatic actress that she’s coming out of the dramatic acting gate playing two icons back-to-back?
I can think of a few vets who really could’ve pulled her off–Viola Davis and CCH Pounder spring immediately to mind (and if we’re going a bit younger, Regina King would’ve put her foot in the role), but hey. Do you, Mary. Do you.
Since this Mary-as-Dr. Betty thing really has me thinking about other casting choices I’ve given the side-eye, here’s a list of other roles that’ve gone to actresses who may not have been able to meet the challenge:
1. Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela
Remember when that trailer for Winnie began circulating last year? Remember how JHud did that press junket where she talked about going Method for the role, staying five days in a prison cell and spending extended time away from her infant son for the sake of authenticity? While all that hard work is highly commendable, the trailer leads us to believe both she and Terrence Howard as the legendary Winnie and Nelson Mandela should probably have left those roles to someone else.
2. Fantasia as Mahalia Jackson
Though the American Idol winner wound up losing the role amid scandal concerning her affair with a married man, Fantasia was originally cast in a biopic about gospel luminary Mahalia Jackson. Never mind that the most substantial evidence we have of Fantasia’s acting ability is a TV movie in which she played herself (really badly). But presumably, Fantasia was hired for her singing ability–and she sounds nothing at all like Mahalia Jackson, who was a tenor.
3. Alfre Woodard in Beauty Shop/Holiday Heart
I never believe Alfre Woodard as crackheads or caricatures. She was the former in the oft-aired-on-BET flick, Holiday Heart, and the latter in Beauty Shop. She used a lot of the same ticks in both roles, and for whatever reason, they didn’t play convincingly for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m more used to her as suburban mom types a la Love & Basketball, Something New, The Family That Preys, and Crooklyn. But in both Beauty Shop, where she was supposed to play as comic relief, and in Holiday Heart, someone else would’ve been a better fit for the job.