‘A Different World’ Star Dawnn Lewis Tackles Challenges Black Actresses Face In Hollywood

“What does a person have to do,” asks the star who played Jaleesa, who is now helping teenagers break into the field.

Dawnn Lewis, who played Jaleesa on the classic Black television series, A Different World, acknowledges the progress Black women have made in navigating through Hollywood, but believes there’s still a ceiling that exists.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Lewis says limitations always exist, but has managed to keep a busy schedule since A Different World ended in 1993.

RELATED: Danielle Deadwyler Cites Racism, Misogyny On Best Actress Oscar Snub

"I believe we've taken several steps forward, that cannot be denied, but I also recognize that there is a ceiling that only a handful of us are allowed to press through," Lewis, 61, said. "You can be the exception. We still feel limited. We're grateful for the variety of platforms now on which we can have opportunities. Because of the variety, one person can't be everywhere, so they've got to spread it out somewhat. But then, depending on the platform, you get either a nod or you don't from the industry."

Danielle Deadwyler who played Mamie Till-Mobley (Emmett Till’s mother) in the Chinoye Chukwu-directed film Till, spoke about the misogyny and racism that Black women are forced to navigate through while in Hollywood.

Many believed that Deadwyler was snubbed for the Oscars Best Actress nomination, as well as Viola Davis who delivered a stunning performance in Gina Prince-Bythewood-directed film The Woman King.

"You look at the Oscar nominations," she says. "It's like, 'Seriously? Seriously?' Lewis added. Really, what does a person have to do? What does a person have to do? Viola Davis — nothing for The Woman King? What does a person have to do? Do you know what I'm saying?"

RELATED: Viola Davis’ Most Badass Movie Performances 

Lewis’ A New Day Foundation is an organization for teenagers to be able to gain exposure to different career opportunists and culture views that they wouldn’t normally be able to witness. Mentorships, scholarships and trips to studios to teach the 13-19 year-old age group to produce animated and video game projects.

"I've learned that [phrase] 'pay it forward. I did not know what the term 'mentor' was or 'motivational speaker,' but ever since I was in elementary school … I was bullied as a young child. So my teachers and the people in my village really put a lot of effort and energy into me to help me see the light and the positivity of myself and my abilities."

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.