Hollywood actress reveals challenges facing black actors in Hollywood
You can be homeless, abandoned by the very people who should take care of you, but if you stay focused to identify your talents and do everything possible to develop and exploit them, nothing can stop you from achieving anything you set your eyes on. This is exactly what Karita Fleming, an award winning Hollywood actress, runway model, MTV2 personality, director and producer has done.
Those who now see this beautiful exotic woman can’t believe that she was once a homeless child. Her courage to stand up to the man beating her mother and threatening her little brother earned her ticket to street life when she was only 14 years old.
Karita’s journey is definitely one of trial, tribulations, recovery and redemption. She fought her way up from the streets to feature films and on to catwalks, in addition to gracing magazine covers.
Karita is a living example of a melting pot. She has African, Italian, Native American, Irish and Latino blood flowing in her veins. Her fierce exotic eyes give only a hint of the inner warrior that this young woman is.
She made history by becoming the first woman of colour to hold the lead starring role in a feature-length Science Fiction film. “Love(less)” directed by Tyler Timberlin, was released in the US in early 2010.
Karita is currently working on a film for Cox Cable and Comcast about being black/biracial women in the film industry, especially in Hollywood.
The challenges black/biracial women in the film industry face are just incredible.
One of the biggest obstacles black actresses face is lack of roles to play. Most of the time directors seem not to know what roles to give them. “It’s really hard for us to get those huge romantic lead roles, they don’t know really know where to put you,” Karita says.
Many decision makers in the film industry are very old and full of stereotypes. Karita says it’s not rare to hear director says: “She’s black, we can’t really sell her.”
There is a stereotype of Black women as undereducated, brassy, overly sexualized, etc.
Karita reveals that most of the time black people doubt their capabilities. “Even though America has got its first black president, we are having that problem here. To the rest of the world, it’s like we’ve really moved forward and I feel that we have, but there is still an argument whether he can do a good job because he is a black president. And that’s from other black people.”
Since there are few roles for black actors, Karita says that usually this leads to a fight amongst black actors, with some openly blocking the paths of others. “Many don’t want to see other people of colour succeed,” she says.
Other black actresses have been nasty to Karita because they think she is going to take their place.
Lack of self-esteem is also widespread amongst black actors. “Many think they can only play simple, sideline roles,” Karita says.
Karita reveals that actresses of colour who have made it seem to turn their back to the emerging ones. “They are not reaching out to women of colour who are trying to succeed.”
Karita would like them to reveal who they were before becoming celebrities. “Tell us more, let us know who you are, what you’ve been through. Don’t just give us that Hollywood image, we know it’s fake, that’s why it’s called fantasy. How did you get there, what did you do?”
Unlike many Hollywood stars who hide their past, Karita wants the whole world to know that her journey to success in Hollywood began at a ghetto. Karita says that growing in a dangerous situation may help one develop survival tactics.
Some of the films Karita has acted in include “Middle men” and “Value of the Gun”. The Bond girlesque spitfire known for her roles as assassins, killers, and superheroes doesn’t want to be favoured in any way. “I don’t want anybody to give me anything because I’m black. And I don’t want people to automatically decide who I am because I’m a black person.”
Karita stresses that acting is not an easy job. “If I were a person who would give up easily I wouldn’t be an actress, I wouldn’t have taken this job,” she says.
While she’d like to encourage many young people to become actors, she warns them not to do so simply because they want to get rich. “If you want a job to get richer, don’t do this job because you won’t get richer, go be a doctor, lawyer, rocket scientist, don’t be an actor because you are not going to get richer out of this” especially at the initial stages.
She reveals that there are actors who have acted in several movies and commercials, but still can’t afford to pay their rent and utility bills.
Narrating how hard it has been for her to make it in acting, Karita says: I’ve walked into offices and I’ve been told that I’m too black. I’ve been to offices and I’ve been told that I’m not black enough, I’ve been told that my hair is too kinky, or that my eyes are too green, I’ve been from too fat to too skinny.” All excuses for not giving her the roles she wanted to play.
“Many people only see you on screen and aspire to be there as well thinking it’s quite easy,” Karita says. “They don’t see the part where people reap you apart, tell you that you have no talent and send you home.”
She describes entertainment industry as “an industry where you have to get used to people telling you that you are never going to be anything.”
An industry full of people ready to exploit you. It’s quite common to be told: “You want to work, well, then I guess we gonna have sex,” Karita says.
She says that she has been to places where girls do all sorts of things to the directors in the bathrooms just for roles. Karita is quick to point out that doing those sorts of things is not the key to getting important roles. What matters most is talent.
Her talent has on many occasions made her get the same roles the other girls were doing all sorts of things with directors to get. “I get the roles because of being talented,” Karita says, adding that there are actors and actresses who have made it without having to do those things with directors. “If you are a talented actor or actress, you know that you don’t have to do that,” Karita says.
Karita confirms that there are many actresses without talent who have won big roles because they did something extra with directors. She explains how to identify such actresses: If you see a pretty girl playing a key role in an unconvincing manner and you start asking yourself “how did this girl have this role? That’s usually the girl who did something extra for her role,” she says.
Karita holds that while beauty is important, one should not only bank on it.
Asked how she managed to get where is now, Karita says: “I started doing this when I was six years old, that’s how I got here. I’ve been to two schools, I’ve been to a college, I’ve had acting coaches, acting teachers, I’ve performed on stage since I was eight years old, I’ve written my own plays since I was 12. To get here you must work for it for a very long time.”
Karita who was a motivational speaker and youth counsellor wonders why many girls and women starve themselves to death simply because they want to lose weight. “Why are you starving yourself? There are people in other parts of the world who would kill to have this life, who would kill to have this food.” She adds: “Those who have curves, glass bodies don’t like them, but isn’t that what being a woman is about, having those curves, glass bodies?”
Karita holds that a good actor should be able to play any role, and even play multiple roles in the same movie. She in fact loves acting in movies in which she plays multiple roles. “In one movie, I can laugh, cry, be the villain and be the hero.”
Asked what she likes most about herself, Karita says: “I always think of myself in terms of how hard I’m working, how harder I should work, I guess my will to survive. I appreciate being a strong person everyday because I couldn’t do this job if I wasn’t. I would be in tears every day.”
Karita’s biggest weakness is the urge to do so many things at the same time. And she never gives up. “At the point I feel I should give up I always try again, it may not work out but I always feel happy that I tried,” she says.
Apart from acting, Karita likes production and directing.Her decision to become a producer is motivated by the fact that women of colour don’t easily land key roles in movies. “We women of colour in the industry say we don’t have any key roles, so why don’t we just write them or make them?” She tells black actors and directors: “Make your own business, make your own movies, make your own TV Shows.”
Karita’s advice for those aspiring to become actors is: “Believe in yourself when no one else does,” but “don’t be too sensitive” because if you are, “then no one can tell you when you are being mediocre.”
And to all our readers, she says: “Just remember to fall in love,” because love is the greatest thing.
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a