Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle Open Up About Being Black in Hollywood

The actors also talk about activism and playing a role in improving the world.

Posted: 06/06/2013 10:35 AM EDT
Variety interview with Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle

Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle recently sat down with Variety magazine to chat about race in Hollywood and how celebrities can use their influence to make the world better. The Scandal star explained that race is relevant in her career and that being a Black woman adds an important dimension to the characters she plays.

"I think it's relevant," Washington said. "I think gender is relevant. I bring something to the table as a woman; I bring something to the table as a woman of color. So I feel like, if it's the only thing you focus on, then it's a danger, and if you never talk about it then it's a danger."

Cheadle says that he uses his background to bring something personal to the role, but acknowledges there's a scarcity in opportunities for Black actors.

"There's not enough work for anybody, so whenever there's not enough for anybody, the people who are somewhat already marginalized, the margin is going to be even smaller. … That being said though, where we are is sort of antithetical to that: [Kerry] is the lead of a hit TV show, and she's not the only Black actor on network TV in the lead of a show. That's amazing," he said.

When the pair isn't making magic on screen, they're going above and beyond off screen to improve the lives of others. As activists, both Cheadle and Washington understand how their celebrity can shine a light on worthy causes, but find that sometimes the public's interest dies out when the A-lister is no longer involved with an organization. Washington says she hopes that fans will see them as role models and want to emulate their passion for helping others.

"It's one of the reasons I feel like it's so important when we do this kind of work to shine the light on the organization but to also encourage our fans to become involved, because that's what it requires: the ongoing momentum of people being involved," she says. "For me I remember a point when — I come from a family that is pretty politically active and politically engaged — and for me there was a point in my career where I thought, am I going to have to stand back and not be involved because I'm in the public eye?"

"But I said, 'No, I participate because I'm an American, and I live in a democracy that needs me to participate,' she continued. "So I can't stand back and let go of my responsibility because I'm an actor, but the hope is that other people will know it's their responsibility to also participate, because if they want to be like us in these other ways — in terms of what shoes are they wearing and where are they going on vacation, what are they eating, what all the weekly magazines are telling you — then they should also want to be engaged with their friends and want to do something more meaningful. So you hope that example is part of what comes out of it."


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(Photo: Courtesy of Variety Magazine)

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