Jessica Alba Talks to Elle Magazine about Race in Hollywood

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Really, I say, has your skin color hindered you that much?

Alba shoots me an exasperated look.

Yeah, I could let this be the beginning and the end of this post. Jessica Alba is being interviewed by Andrew Goldman in the February issue of Elle Magazine and he poses the question to launch a thousand eye rolls.

Hello – have you read the last 50 or so interviews with any woman of color in the film industry?

Everyone from Maggie Q to Nia Long has complained about the lack of good roles for non-white folks. More times out of not, you’re auditioning for a niche role in an indie film that targets xxx community, competing for a high profile role playing a stereotype, or trying to nail the audition and convince the director that you can add your own brown flavor to the film and still make it work.

Still, I must admit, the coverline did hook me a bit: “Jessica Alba on race in Hollywood, using sex to get ahead, and why actors make bad boyfriends.”

Considering Perez Hilton’s long term diatribe against her and the professional penalty actors may pay when they find themselves speaking out against domestic injustices, Alba was the last person I expected to go on the record about her feelings on race. I wondered if the text would be some watered down version of “It’s not about my race, it’s about talent.”

A page or so into the article, it becomes clear that Alba has not been drinking the Tiger Woods Kool-Aid:

As assimilated as Alba’s upbringing was, she never felt there was a well-defined place for her in Hollywood. “Nobody really knew what to do with me,” she says. “Everyone wants to categorize you and pigeonhole you. I’m half Latin, but I grew up in the States, and I can’t get roles playing a Latina because I don’t speak Spanish. And I didn’t want to be the best friend, or the promiscuous girl, or the maid, because those stereotypes still exist with Latin roles. I wanted to be a leading lady. And I thought that because I have brown skin shouldn’t make any difference. Why should only Aryan-looking girls be that girl?”

Really, I say, has your skin color hindered you that much?

Alba shoots me an exasperated look. “How many leading leadies are you aware of?” she says. “Lindsay Lohan, Kate Bosworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jessical Biel, Rachel McAdams. We have Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, me, and who else?”

Uh, Eva Mendes?

“Mendes,” she says flatly. “But is Mendes greenlighting movies?”

A good point.

So often in these kind of conversations, people only look at the superficial representation of the problem (As in, “But I know of at least three black characters on major shows! Why is this such a big deal?) rather than thinking about the power dynamics in the entertainment industry. The reporter in this piece implies that she is exagerating the problem by quickly naming another lead woman of color – without thinking about how representation without power or influence is kind of a hollow victory.

What is most telling about this piece – whether it was by whim of the reporter or whim of the editor – is that after Alba makes a critical point power and race, the piece jumps to her personal history.

Her question to the reporter is left hanging.

Seven paragraphs later, the piece ends. Race is never mentioned again.

  • anon

    shes ashamed of her race? not cool. :(