Black Actors Reveal The Struggles with Portraying Black Trauma

Actors Aldis Hodge, Jay Pharoah, Algee Smith, Derek Luke and Chris Chalk discussing being a Black actor in Hollywood

Hollywood is facing a major change when it comes to racial representation both in front and behind the camera.

As part of Variety’s #Represent series, Aldis Hodge, Jay Pharoah, Algee Smith, Derek Luke and Chris Chalk got candid about their experiences in Hollywood in a revealing “Black Men in Hollywood” conversation.

One interesting part of the roundtable focused on the actors discussing Black pain as an actor. Whether if it’s portraying a slave or police brutality, the actors discussed the difficulties surrounding accepting those roles and being responsible for broadcasting Black suffering.

Algee Smith opened up about the pressure of portraying such roles in the movies ‘Detroit’ and ‘The Hate U Give’, each movie shows extreme violence against Black people.

“I was obviously in a very emotional place. However, it was a very honest place,” Smith recalled. “I feel like I’ve played so many roles where I’ve either died as a young black teenager or where it’s been something that hasn’t been edifying a black teenager or a black man at all. And so, I was like, for myself, I’m tired of playing those roles and I said ‘I’m done with it.’”

“I had to take Ambien while I was shooting Detroit because I couldn’t sleep,” he continued. “But you do it for a reason. That’s why we are actors, that’s why we put ourselves in that position, to feel for people.”

“My frustration with the industry was that what was normal and what was actually real was not being portrayed. A small percentage of what the Black culture experiences was being portrayed to the masses as the totality of our definition as a culture,” Hodge said. “It was really disheartening. So, I said, ‘Look, I’m not doing any of this anymore.’ Took a stance. Of course, you lose a couple of jobs, you sacrifice a little bit, [but] it’s all good, because it pushes your career, drives your career to a very specific point.”

“And then, as I got older, there are opportunities that came my way that were challenging,” he says. “When Underground came around, and I said, ‘How do we watch five or six seasons of our pain?’ But then, when I read it, and I saw how it was distributed and I said, “Oh, there’s a difference here,’” Hodge continued.

Luke admitted the idea of playing a slave was tough for him in the TV series ‘Underground’.

“I said I would never play a slave,” Luke said. “My instinct was that it was traumatic enough being in my skin. It was traumatic enough coming to Hollywood and having to come through playing a thug or a gangster role and my spiritual lens was always like, ‘How do I navigate in a space that may reject my race?’”

Meanwhile, Chaulk noted that if actors do not take these roles, we run the risk of Hollywood perpetuating the stereotypes without Black actors.

“I was doing some workshops in a school, and the [history] book never said ‘slavery,’ it said ‘indentured servitude.’ So, if we don’t tell our story, they’re going to change that story,” Chalk said. “I want the world to see what we have survived. I want the world to know the knees on our neck. And I’m grateful to take the weight of that.”

Check out the full interview, here.

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