Retta Talks Race, Typecasting and Her Version of Loud & Obnoxious


Before the days of Parks and Recreation, most of us had little-to-no idea who Retta was (how deprived we all were!) Even when she signed on to do the show, there was little promise of her breaking out and becoming recognizable. She was only a background actor until one day Amy Poehler decided to engage her in a little improv and Retta ended up hitting the scene out of the fucking park.

Showrunners had to give her a real role then and thus Donna Meagle — the Treat Yo’ Self-ing, man-eating cousin of Ginuwine — was born. Of course the roles that she used to be offered weren’t so tailor-made for her delightful comedic timing and delivery. In fact, the roles she used to go up for were pretty much the exact same role every time — a tragically common experience for actors of color.

Retta was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation recently to talk about navigating stereotypes in Hollywood, saying:

“When I started, it was all meter maids or the sassy nurse, or the sassy receptionist in the hospital and I felt like: Are those the only jobs that large, black women have?”

Which wouldn’t have been so bad (it still would have been very, very bad) if she could have brought something different to what it means to be bold and — ugh, that loathed word — sassy, but no:

“I would often get called in to play a very loud, obnoxious — which, truth be told, I can be loud and obnoxious. My issue was when it was like a ghetto girl, I didn’t think I was good at it; I didn’t feel authentic. And so I had insecurities about going in on it.”

The one benefit, she says, is that she often ended up at auditions with the exact same small group of women and that they ended up becoming good friends. “You tend to get really familiar with your peers in your type group, because you see them over and over and over again. You’ll see me with the same girls having brunch because those are the girls I see all the time,” she said.

A group of lifelong friends is a decent silver lining, but Jesus H., let’s give these women some better options (role wise, I mean, because when it comes to friends, we should all be so lucky.)

To Avoid or to Embrace? How Actors Navigate Stereotypes [NPR]

Image via Getty.

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