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Sheryl Lee Ralph is a Hollywood legend, and she’s got the stories—and scars—to prove it.
The actress, who currently stars as kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard on ABC’s Abbott Elementary, is reflecting back on the 1980s, when she was trying to break into the industry
“I was fired from a pilot because the producer told me I was ‘not Black enough,'” she told People. “Those were his words. It was horrible. I can still remember the way I felt.”
Ralph, who went on to star on shows like Moesha and Ray Donovan, says the racism she experienced certainly wasn’t an isolated incident.
“People’s thinking was not very inclusive,” she explained. “You [had] directors who were still trying to tell you how to be Black.”
This isn’t the first time Ralph has spoken up about mistreatment—or erasure—within the industry, even after decades of accomplishments.
“About two, maybe three years ago, I did a series called Fam for CBS,” she told The Hollywood Reporter as part of its Blackfamous roundtable in February, which centered on “the duality of fame in Black Hollywood.” She says that one of the executive producers “walked right up to me on that first day, and he said, ‘So tell me, what have you done?'”
Fam lasted one season before being canceled.
In a March 4 appearance on The View, Ralph revealed that the racism she’s experienced has occurred in all different aspects of the industry.
“I had a memorable audition with a big casting director who looked at me and said, ‘Everybody knows you’re a beautiful, talented, Black girl. But what do I do with a beautiful, talented, Black girl?,'” she said. ‘”Do I put you in a movie with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss? Who goes to see that movie?'”
Abbott Elementary was recently renewed for season two, so there’s plenty more of the iconic actress to look forward to.
Watch Mrs. Howard and the rest of the staff when the show airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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