In a recent cover interview with Nylon, 26-year-old actress Zoë Kravitz had a lot to say about her prior issues with understanding the complexities of blackness and with Hollywood’s ongoing “race problem.” The young starlet and daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet shared how race has factored into her acting career thus far. The interview spotlights just how complex the industry’s casting choices really can be especially as it pertains to diversity and the portrayal of characters of color.
Because of her privileged background, Kravitz originally identified more with whiteness than with blackness. She had a limited idea of what it means to be Black and associated it mainly with liking “Tyler Perry movies” and “hip hop.” However, as she has matured, she said that “Black culture is so much deeper than that but unfortunately that is what’s fed through the media. That’s what people see. That’s what I saw.” She continued,”But then I got older and listened to A Tribe Called Quest and watched films with Sidney Poitier, and heard Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. I had to un-brainwash myself. It’s my mission, especially as an actress.” It was the act of unlearning issues of internalized racial animus or other stereotypical markers of blackness that helped Kravitz determine what being Black truly meant to her.
Similarly, Kravitz has consistently pushed back against roles in Hollywood which depict Black people in narrow ways. She has focused mainly on roles that aren’t about race. The one exception was the recent film Dope. According to Kravitz, the film about nerdy 90s teens growing up in Southern California was a perfect fit. She said “It hit all the points that I believe in. I know those people. I got the sense of humor.” For her, it wasn’t about her race per se but it was about her ability to connect with the characters.
When discussing some of the hardships she has faced due to racial discrimination in Hollywood, she noted that “In the last Batman movie [The Dark Knight Rises], they told me that I couldn’t get an audition for a small role they were casting because they weren’t ‘going urban.” She went on, “It was like, ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ I have to play the role like, ‘Yo, what’s up, Batman? What’s going on wit chu?” Apparently, there is still an issue with Hollywood casting directors who can’t see past racial differences and recognize the talents of actresses like Kravitz.
While it is unsurprising that Kravitz continues to struggle against a racist casting system in Hollywood, it is a relief to know that she is doing her best to carve out space of herself and other woman of color.
Read the full interview on Nylon.
Jenn M. Jackson is the Editor-at-Large for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.