And although actor Nia Long has massive respect for both, she once questioned certain decisions studios made regarding the actors. Because of these choices, Long felt that most film studios didn’t view Smith or Washington as black.
Nia Long once opened up about her experiences in Hollywood
Long has starred in a wide variety of projects that range from Boyz n the Hood to Alfie. But even with her veteran status, the actor once felt she experienced unfair treatment due to her race and gender.
As many know, Long feels she was turned down for a significant role in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels due to her skin color. After doubling down on the thought, Long was grateful she didn’t acquire the role in hindsight.
“I don’t want to be any part of a project where I feel like I’m the token black person. I’ve been there and done that and I’m not doing that anymore,” she once said in an interview with Insider. “Now it has to be about the material and the story that we’re telling and I want to elevate the material and stories that we’re telling.”
In a fairly recent interview with Essence (via Hello Beautiful), Long elaborated further on how sometimes her artistic voice was ignored. Long believed having a voice was essential especially when playing black characters.
“I was told what I was supposed to do, and that was very uncomfortable for me, because I’m not a robot,” she said. “I’m actually portraying a woman, a black woman, a character, a story—and if I can’t have the space to make wrong choices or correct choices in the process, then it’s not worth doing.”
Nia Long once felt studios didn’t view Will Smith and Denzel Washington as black actors
At one point in time, there were a few elements Long would’ve enjoyed to see in Hollywood that she thought were lacking. For instance, the superstar would’ve liked to see more black families portrayed in cinema in a positive light.
“It would certainly would be great to see more films featuring the black family and showing that we are capable of having that unit strong and present and beautiful, because that’s so much of who we really are. For me, that’s missing sometimes when I watch films,” Long once said in an interview with Houston Style.
This led to Long’s point about icons Denzel Washington and her former Bel-Air co-star Will Smith. The actor agreed with the perception that Hollywood often didn’t cast too many black female leads alongside Smith and Washington. Long thought this was evidence of how the studios viewed them.
“But since Denzel and Will are superstars, studio execs don’t necessarily see them as black. They see them as superstars. I suspect they pair them with a white or a Latina star because that takes the pressure off their having to market the movie as a black film, which in my opinion is completely ridiculous,” Long theorized.
Will Smith once shared studios didn’t want to cast a black actor alongside him for the movie ‘Hitch’
The casting situation surrounding Smith in the film Hitch might have slightly supported Long’s hypothesis. As many know, Eva Mendes starred alongside him in the 2005 hit romcom. But while the studio contemplated Smith’s love interest before Mendes was hired, they felt unsure about giving him a black female lead. Smith theorized they worried that a film with two black leads wouldn’t sell well globally.
“There’s sort of an accepted myth that if you have two black actors, a male and a female, in the lead of a romantic comedy, that people around the world don’t want to see it,” Smith once told The Birmingham Post (via Today). “We spend $50-something million making this movie and the studio would think that was tough on their investment. So the idea of a black actor and a white actress comes up — that’ll work around the world, but it’s a problem in the U.S.”