September 12, 2012

Non-passing celebrities

Judging from the comments so far, not many post-Broyard celebrities have been revealed to have actively passed from black to white. 

I can think of a number of part-black actresses who switch back and forth between white and black roles:

Rashida Jones -- "Parks and Recreation" -- Her father is Quincey Jones
Maya Rudolph -- "Saturday Night Live" -- Her mother was the late singer Minnie Riperton and her father is an entertainment industry insider, friend of Spielberg, etc.
Rebecca Hall -- Ben Affleck's girlfriend in "The Town." Her mother is Maria Ewing, a part-black opera singer.
Jennifer Beals -- "Flashdance"

The first three are daughters of people in arts & entertainment. Quincey Jones, producer of "Thriller," may well have an entire trophy room for all the awards he's won. Rebecca Hall's father, Sir Peter Hall, was knighted for being one of the top British stage directors of his generation. So, their daughters have incentives to play up their ancestry.

There are more white roles for actresses, and nonwhites tend to jealously guard the nonwhite roles. So, the rule of thumb appears to be that you have to identify as part black to get the black roles, but that won't stop you from getting the white roles, especially if you are show biz royalty.

In the case of Vin Diesel ("Fast & Furious"), his Wikipedia article currently says he says he's part black, but I vaguely recall him not saying that a decade ago. His family background is complex (he's never met his biological father, his step-father who raised him is black), so if my recollection is right, I would guess he'd fall in the personal reasons category. (By the way, I'm always struck by how similar his facial expressions are to Jerry Seinfeld's.)

In contrast, sexual orientation works somewhat differently. Gay actors who want leading man roles are discouraged from coming out. One late-blooming action star, who used to make most of his money gentrifying homes, has been plagued for several years by an ambiguous article that appeared in the L.A. Times real estate section just before he hit it big describing the spectacular renovation he and his "partner," another male actor, did of a once-moldering mansion that they were now putting up for sale for millions. I'm sure he wishes now that the newspaper had put "business" before "partner."

Both straight and gay audiences seem to like having straight male actors play gay roles -- e.g., Tom Hanks winning an Oscar in "Philadelphia." Straights are reassured, and gays like that it Undermines Stereotypes, plus they get kind of a thrill out of the idea that a regular guy could be talked into it.

52 comments:

Le Sigh said...

and gays like that it Undermines Stereotypes, plus they get kind of a thrill out of the idea that a regular guy could be talked into it.

Oh, Steven, you're such a card.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons are fine with me. You white racialists in the South are the forefathers of black racialism in Black America. If they ever--more then not--disavow afrocentricism for Americanism; then we''ll be a united North.

socks said...

Diesel is known to be a gamer which makes me think that he may have ran in mostly geeky white circles.

Anonymous said...

"they get kind of a thrill out of the idea that a regular guy could be talked into it."

This is totally a hot idea- especially as a gay guy in engineering, because I'm mostly surrounded by straight guys, and lots of them are both cute and clever. Sigh.

I don't know if straight actors playing gay actors makes all that big of a difference, though. I spent most of Brokeback Mountain wishing the movie were faster, or at least had more male nakedness than female nakedness. Was it more exciting because the actors were straight? Not really, no. Maybe I should watch Philadelphia?

Matthew said...

I don't watch "How I Met Your Mother" much, but I've never had a problem accepting Neil Patrick Harris as straight in that show, nor did I find it difficult to accept that David Hyde Pierce from "Frasier" could be infatuated with Daphne.

Perhaps it's easier to accept in comedies. Any examples of openly gay stars playing straight romantic leads in chick flicks, or leads in action movies?

Given the enormous gay presence in theatre perhaps straight men need to start jealously guarding their roles as much as minorities do.

Anonymous said...

Brokeback mountain would have been in the running for the movie of the century if the audience somehow hadn't known about the gay thing going into it

FredR said...

Was that half-restored mansion in the new Bourne movie some kind of reference?

Anonymous said...

Vin Diesel is Italian and Black by many accounts.

He looks very Israeli for some reason.


Son of Brock Landers said...

When has Rebecca Hall played a black character? I'd argue that she's the one passing for white right now.

Vin Diesel has always been secretive, but I have heard that he is like Lenny Kravitz (jewish + black). Diesel is smart to play it shaved with his hairstyle and get those Mediterranean roles that Anthony Quinn used to always get.

Rashida Jones is taking advantage of being the whitest woman in Hollywood that black men can still say to their mom is black? The concept of 'passing' when it comes to dating in the black community is an interesting concept right now. A blogger even notes how it is the look so many black men try so hard to find. Check it out here, comments are revealing... http://tinyurl.com/8jdjmy7

Geoff Matthews said...


Any examples of openly gay stars playing straight romantic leads in chick flicks, or leads in action movies?

Hugh Jackman?
/joke

The Game said...

Steve,

What "black" role has Rebecca Hall ever played??? You mentioned that she is one of those that go "back and forth"

I have seen Rashida Jones, Jennifer Beals and Maya Rudolph all play black roles.

(Heck, I have even seen Jessica Alba, who is not black at all, play a black role)

BTW, throw in Mariah Carey as one that has kinda gone "back and forth" in her career.

Marc B said...

"Hugh Jackman?
/joke"

Think Borne Identity, GMO Version

Anonymous said...

Vin Diesel (whose birth name was Mark Sinclair Vincent) strikes me as a good example of a completely white guy trying to pass as having some black ancestry, rather than of a partly black guy trying to pass as white.

Steve Sailer said...

Could be. Diesel says he was raised by a black stepfather, so by my definition of "ethnic," that would make him a little ethnically black.

Truth said...

Diesel's step-father is black, and his mother's sperm donor is/was also black. He claims to have never met him. He has admitted it, he just hasn't shouted it.

Anonymous said...

Diesel's step-father is black, and his mother's sperm donor is/was also black.


You have some evidence for that? Any?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Luke Lea said...

Maya Rudolph is too funny to care.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca Black is the only one of them that not only does not look remotely black, but could not pass for any ethnicity other than white. She doesn't even look exotic.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, even though Rebecca Black's mother was an extremely unusual looking combination of white, black, and American Indian.

TGGP said...

Why be ambiguous about the "late blooming action star" when you were explicit and linked to the story a while back at TakiMag?

Anonymous said...

"One late-blooming action star, who used to make most of his money gentrifying homes, has been plagued for several years by an ambiguous article that appeared in the L.A. Times real estate section just before he hit it big describing the spectacular renovation he and his "partner," another male actor, did ..."

Jeremy Renner?

Truth said...


"Yeah, I didn't think so."

"He has described himself as “definitely a person of colour” and stated that he is “of ambiguous ethnicity – Italian and a lot of stuff”.

http://www.whoabc.com/vin-diesel/

Anonymous said...

Young Vin Diesel with hair looks to have black ancestry:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okvRdTYWkDI

Stew said...

"So, the rule of thumb appears to be that you have to identify as part black to get the black roles, but that won't stop you from getting the white roles, especially if you are show biz royalty."

- Doesn't this actually suggest that blacks are in more of a position of power than whites these days, if they can play white parts but whites can't play black parts? If that and other points like it are true, shouldn't it give us pause about this whole 'give a helping hand to black' thing?


Also, you forgot one- Hailee Steinfeld.

Po Huan said...

"Yes, even though Rebecca Black's mother was an extremely unusual looking combination of white, black, and American Indian."

The mother looks Middle Eastern to me.

Tim Cantrilli said...

"Mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons are fine with me. You white racialists in the South are the forefathers of black racialism in Black America. If they ever--more then not--disavow afrocentricism for Americanism; then we''ll be a united North."

Steve's in California. And the racialism of the South was a wise response, as we get to see ever more clearly daily.

Anonymous said...

"He has described himself as “definitely a person of colour” and stated that he is “of ambiguous ethnicity – Italian and a lot of stuff”.


So the answer to the question "Do you have any evidence that Vin Diesel's biological father was a black man?" remains "No".

But then, I knew that before I asked you the question, Thou Emptiest of Empty Vessels.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca Hall is essentially a white woman with trace black ancestry.

Lucius said...

Rashida Quinceysdatter, as I call her, is one of the most comical instances of nepotism I've seen. If her father were not bigger than God, she'd be doing dinner theater and nothing, but nothing, more.

She might be a nice person and all. She plays bubbly idiot transparently enough. Like Beyonce, she's like the goofiest of Goofy White Girls, cubed.

I have an elaborate theory that Tina Fey is a very wicked person, and Amy Poehler is privately horrified by her erstwhile friend. The unfocused but often very funny, and very genial in spirit "Parks and Recreation" is ultimately a greater pleasure for me, albeit a guilty one, than the stylish (usually-- but the exceptions are real and cringemaking) 30 Rock.

So maybe Rashida is a Very Good Friend. Still, without daddy, she'd be--absolutely--nobody.

As it is, she's damned irritating.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't find it online, but I thought I read Vin Diesel say once his bioloigcal father was Hispanic with ancestry from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.

Truth said...

I never said that I had evidence that Vinnie's father was a black man, I wrote that Vin Diesel admitted that he was "colored", as in the National Association for the advancement of COLORED people (I know, I know, that makes you think of Ichiro, right?)

And then, I posted a link. There are others with the same quote.

Truth said...

" If her father were not bigger than God..."

When, before the remote control?

Truth said...

Dang, Vin's pop-locking was really mediocre. It's a dubious comparison, but one could say that breakdancing has advanced as much in 30 years as automobiles. The Koreans win all of the international competitions nowadays (heavily subsidized by the Govt).

No only would Vin's routine not play on TV today, I doubt he'd make $20 on the subway.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiLK7S2fXqQ

James Kabala said...

Rashida Jones's character on the third season of The Office was addressed by Michael Scott (Steve Carell) on first meeting with, "You look very exotic. Was your father a GI?" As far as I know, at no other time was the character referred to as specifically white or black (let alone part Asian as the joke sort of implies). I had no idea she was part black until I learned who her father was.

Anonymous said...

I've met Vin Diesel's sister, who looks a lot like Vin Diesel, if he were an attractive, light-skinned black lady. Diesel keeps his head shaved because he has kinky hair like she does and wants to play up his ethnic ambiguity.

Mitch said...

Coby Bell played "black" on two TV shows, and is not particularly either on Burn Notice.

Anonymous said...

Young Vin Diesel with hair looks to have black ancestry.


Heck, if that's your standard then we all have "black ancestry".



Vin Diesel's sister, who looks a lot like Vin Diesel, if he were an attractive, light-skinned black lady.


Isn't that another way of saying "a lady who does not look especially black"?

Anonymous said...

I never said that I had evidence that Vinnie's father was a black man



What you said was "his mother's sperm donor is/was .. black".

And you have zero reason to believe that.

Hereward said...

Rashida Jones's character on the third season of The Office was addressed by Michael Scott (Steve Carell) on first meeting with, "You look very exotic. Was your father a GI?",
Funny, since the pictures I've found of Jones show a wholesome, pretty, rather generic-looking woman. Her African ancestry is visible if you know to look for it, but probably not otherwise.
I also found pictures of one of Jones' half-sisters,
Quincy's youngest and apparently a model, is rather more exotic looking. And her African blood is more obvious.

Anonymous said...

There is always some Internet scuttlebutt about whether Nicole Richie's biological mom (an unidentified "friend of Prince") is black. Richie definitely passes as non-black, unless she actually isn't anyway. But I'm not sure if we're talking about celebutantes as well as legitimate celebs

Anonymous said...

Steve are you sure about Rebecca Black? Wiki says she's half Mexican, half Polish, half Italian, and half English. Kind of the Man-Bear-Pig of semi-known pop singers. Okay I made up most the 'halves' but in all fairness, if she were half-half-half etc. It wouldn't make much difference she looks like generic southern Cali girl from the wiki pic. I am not bothering to look further as I really don't care about her.

What about J.Edgar Hoover? I read his family was passing from way back. Looking at him he sure looks some degree of mulatto.

Anonymous said...

Wentworth Miller is a great example of a mostly White actor who plays up his marginal Black ancestry for roles (cf his role in the film version of THE HUMAN STAIN, where he played Coleman Silk as a young man).

Syon

Anonymous said...

Steve, are your trying to say that our actions in the Middle East have consequences?

Why . . . why . . . that's crazy talk! Stop the hate! They love us over there, because we brought them FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACRY (TM: G.Bush)

And soon we will bring them yet another dose of F&D delivered in 1000 lb packets from 40,000 ft.

With our modern military and drone technology, we can deliver F&D anywhere in the world in 45 min.

Anonymous said...

I can understand how gay guys would get a kick out of that.

As a straight guy, I get a thrill out of the idea that straight girls could be talked into some same-sex dabbling -- in spite of Steve's caveat that our online video downloads have been lying to us about the nature of lesbians.

Naomi Watts / Laura Harring ; Jennifer Tilly / Gina Gershon ; Katherine Moennig / Rosanna Arquette...

Anonymous said...

Rebecca Black is "black?" No way hozay. One-drop makes no sense.

unix said...

"Yes, even though Rebecca Black's mother was an extremely unusual looking combination of white, black, and American Indian."

Mom looks like a typical, wise latina. Sorry, couldn't resist it. I mean she looks sort of mestizo, with Spanish predominating. If there's any African, it's not obvious or definite. Very pleasant looking person, with none of the Julia Rodriquez nasty-factor that makes Puerto Ricans want to kill Republican candidates.
Young Rebecca looks like a typical cheerleader, white, of the brunette variety. There are millions more or less like her all over Europe; and I don't mean the immigrants.

Lucille said...

How did so many people on this thread go from Rebecca Hall to teenage pop star wannabe Rebecca Black?

Croce said...

Wentworth Miller gets his roles because he has relatively good looks (due to a high degree of white ancestry) but he clearly is not "white" by the conventional sense (either 100% white or appearing to be 100% white), which appeals to the Hollywood types trying to push miscegenation and minority dominance. I suspect for nearly all of the mixed people mentioned you could say the same thing.

Truth said...

"Wentworth Miller gets his roles because he has relatively good looks (due to a high degree of white ancestry) but he clearly is not "white" by the conventional sense (either 100% white or appearing to be 100% white), which appeals to the Hollywood types trying to push miscegenation and minority dominance."

Broads wanting to fuck him doesn't hurt either.

pat said...

I think we need to be a little more quantitative. Part black is insufficient.

For example After I heard Maria Ewing in Werther I wondered what she was. Kathleen Battle was also in the cast and she was recognizably black (this was before she flipped out - unlike Ewing a great singer). But Ewing didn't look like a mulatto. She just looked weird. Kinda Oriental?

BTW she was mostly famous for her acting not her singing. Aside from Carmen there aren't that many lead mezzo roles - and Ewing's Carmen was only so-so.

But her daughter, like most of these girls, looks totally white.

Some seem to be quadroons and others octaroons. I'm told that New Orleans houses of ill repute charged more for octaroons - more even than whites.

You could create a coffee table book with photos of women with half black, one quarter, etc. Ask your publisher.

Albertosaurus

Sieal said...

"Wentworth Miller gets his roles because he has relatively good looks (due to a high degree of white ancestry) but he clearly is not "white" by the conventional sense (either 100% white or appearing to be 100% white), which appeals to the Hollywood types trying to push miscegenation and minority dominance."

Broads wanting to fuck him doesn't hurt either."

- Your mama dressing in 'Prison Break' underoos again?

Hail said...

Wentworth Miller has probably put in effort to look White, as an adult, despite pretty eagerly promoting his own Nonwhite status.

Look at him now vs his school yearbook photos. He certainly looks a lot 'Whiter' now.

This could be the 21st century version of 'Passing': Try to look (generally on the Northern-European side), while loudly proclaiming your Nonwhiteness.

...Seen also in the affair in which Jessica Alba DNA testing affair a few years ago. I bet we could find pretty endless examples of the same.