Tika Sumpter On Being Dark-Skinned In Hollywood: “I Was Truly Unprepared”
Actress Tika Sumpter is one of those actresses who has taken Hollywood by storm on her terms. She’s been a star on Tyler Perry’s “Have And The Have Nots”, Ice Cube’s “Ride Along” and “Ride Along 2”, as well as playing the First Lady Michelle Obama in an upcoming feature film, “Southside.”
But Sumpter believes that her success is very rare. You don’t always see dark skinned Black actresses in lead roles in Hollywood that much. In her own words, she describes the ups and downs of her skin tone within her own people and outside of her race.
“It’s important to understand that I was born into a family with seven children, each of us equipped with varying personalities, dispositions, and, yes, skin tones as well,” explains Sumpter. “My mom has the most beautiful café au lait complexion, which she shares with my two older sisters and older brother. My three younger siblings have skin tones that range from caramel to a golden bronze.”
“And then there’s me.”
My mother says that when my father, a striking man with kind eyes, broad shoulders, and deep ebony-brown skin, first saw me in the hospital that day, his eyes lit up brightly as he promptly proclaimed, “’She has my color. She looks like me!’”
“Though I obviously have no recollection of that day at all, I’m quite certain that hearing that story heavily influenced the ways in which I’ve been able to navigate my journey as a woman, an African-American woman, and a woman of a darker hue.”
Both of my parents, and particularly my mother, worked very hard every day to make sure all their children had exactly what we needed to grow up with minds of our own, confidence to spare, and strength to endure. Even after my parents separated and later divorced, I always felt worthy, supported, and loved.
“I was recently reminded of my childhood as I watched the amazing documentary Dark Girls (OWN documentary),” explains Sumpter. “My heart broke just listening to the stories of so many young girls with brown skin traumatized by the cruel and hurtful views of those around them. I experienced that same emotion when I began my role as Raina Thorpe on the popular CW show Gossip Girl a few years back. I was truly unprepared for the tremendous impact I’d have while on that show. Each week I’d get the tons of letters from mothers, grandmothers, and young girls literally thanking me for simply existing. They wrote me saying they’d never seen a woman that looked like me on television before.”
“Which really meant they’d never seen anyone that looked like them before. And it got much deeper than that. Some fans even remarked that they’d never witnessed any woman with my skin color speak the way I spoke, have a successful career the way I had on that show, or carry themselves in such a ladylike manner. Translation: in the very make-believe land of television…