On Nov. 9, 1922, God blessed the world with actress history making Dorothy Dandridge. She was one of the first major African-American movie stars, a singer, and an activist, and these are 10 reasons why you need to know who she is:
- Dorothy was born in Ohio to a family of performers. Her mother was an actress and singer and she, her sister, and a friend started a signing group called the Dandridge Sisters. They became very popular, and they performed at some of the most famous venues of their time, one of which being the Cotton Club, which was a huge deal for black people in the 50s. I may be over exaggerating but I would say performing at the Cotton Club is the equivalent to being invited to perform at the Superbowl….. except way less people….. and way more racism.
- Because our girl Dorothy was multitalented, her singing eventually led to acting which eventually led to her and her family leaving Ohio and moving to Los Angeles.
- During this time, the roles for African Americans in movies were limited to slaves, maids, butlers, and mammies. Dorothy’s mom had played roles like this, and there was shame in taking these jobs because for black actors they paid the bills, but they were also Hollywood’s way of keeping us in slavery. The big screen showcased no black girl magic during this time, and if you didn’t know any better you might be led to believe that it didn’t exist. Fortunately, for us, Dorothy did not go into show business to fall into this lane. She decided to create her own and thank God she did.
- Dorothy broke the mold by deciding that she would not take any stereotypical roles in Hollywood. This was a bold decision because there weren’t many options for people of color with this mindset. Black people couldn’t even vote in the 50’s y’all and sis decided she was willing to miss a check to prove our worth. (screams yasss queen)
- It worked. She and her sister did several cameo appearances as themselves, and then she started booking acting roles in some great films. However, her big break came is 1951 when she was cast as Carmen Jones in the movie Carmen which is role she is most known for.
- You have got to see Carmen! It made history in so many was including being an all black ensemble cast with some phenomenal actors that we all know and love today. Carmen made Dorothy Dandridge the first African American to be nominated for Academy Award for best actress.
- When you see the movie you will think that Dorothy was the obvious pick for this role, but when they were casting for the movie, no one else thought that but her. The director of the movie did not think she was a fit at all, and he actually thought she would be better for a smaller role in the movie. Dorothy changed his mind by showing up to his office dressed like Carmen, and he could not deny that she was the perfect person. Also, her role in Carmen established her as an “It Girl” in the industry, and in 1954, she became the first black woman to be featured on Life Magazine. (An Oscar nomination and a history making magazine cover for a role she supposedly wasn’t even right for!! *Alexa play, When Jesus say yes, nobody can say no* )
- Dorothy Dandridge used her career to fight against racial injustice in a time where it could have cost her everything. As amazing as she was, the realities of being a black actress were hard on her career. She performed at segregated hotels that would not even allow her out of her room except to perform, if she played the love interest of a white man in a movie, she could not kiss him because of studio rules against interracial relationships, and she faced the daily struggles of what it meant to be a black entertainer in Jim Crow America. She worked with the National Urban League and the NAACP because she had an understanding that her purpose was bigger than herself.
- Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Dandridge were friends, and everyone knows Marilyn but few people know Dorothy. They were similar in many ways. They were beautiful, and talented, and strong, but what differentiated them was race and opportunity. Dorothy Dandridge used her career to fight against racial injustice in a time where it could have cost her everything. She once said, “If I were white, I could capture the world”. She was right. Dorothy did not live in an America that could truly value her gifts because it could not get past her race.
Halle Berry is the first African American woman to win the Oscar for best actress, which was the same award Dorothy was nominated for. She dedicated her win to Dorothy and and in 1999 she produced and started in a biopic called Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. I highly recommend you see it! Halle’s historic win was proof that Dorothy’s fight was not in vain, and the world and Hollywood is a more inclusive place because of people like Dorothy Dandridge.
The Resilient Lesson I learned from researching
Dorothy was beautiful, she was confident, she was talented and she was bold in the face of a world that tried to tell her she was none of these things. From Dorothy’s life, we learn the power of valuing our gifts and how that power cannot only change our lives but inspire the lives around us.