How Much Black Male Acting Talent Is There?


From the Hollywood Reporter:

Who Is the New Denzel? Hollywood Struggles to Launch Next Black Stars

6:00 AM PST 08/01/2014 by Rebecca Ford

Even before Chadwick Boseman finished shooting Universal’s James Brown biopic Get on Up, out Aug. 1, he was approached to star in new projects as Sam Cooke, Richard Pryor and, in Ang Lee’s planned boxing movie, Muhammad Ali. “I was like, ‘No. I can’t do that. Really?’ ” laughs Boseman, who last year fronted the Jackie Robinson baseball biopic 42. “That’s too much.”

That Boseman, 32, would be courted to anchor upcoming films about three African-American icons speaks to his talent and experience. But it also highlights a harsh reality in Hollywood: There aren’t many choices. As the first generation of global black movie stars ages out of leading-man roles, the heirs apparent to Will Smith, 45; Denzel Washington, 59; and Eddie Murphy, 53, have not established themselves at the box office. “When you look at the landscape of up-and-coming talent, besides Chadwick and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), there really aren’t a lot of names that come to mind, and that’s an area of concern for us,” says Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association. “We haven’t really done enough to cultivate the next generation. It’s one thing to appear in a movie here or there, but it’s another to really build a rich career.”

In the 1990s and well into the 2000s, Hollywood boasted a throng of bankable black stars, with Smith (Independence Day: $817.4 million worldwide gross), Washington (American Gangster: $266.5 million) and Murphy (The Nutty Professor: $274 million) able to get movies greenlighted and open them worldwide.

This reminds me of something a veteran character actor told me back in the late 1990s. I’d rewritten a spec script for a TV sitcom in which the episode’s main guest role would be of a star black quarterback. “Could be tough to cast,” he said. “Not a lot of black male acting talent.”

That surprised me at the time because there was certainly a lot of demand for black male acting talent in the later 20th Century. That the supply was more limited than you might imagine was not publicly discussed.