Black Maids in Hollywood
These actresses stepped into the often controversial role.
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Marla Gibbs: The Jeffersons - Playing the Jeffersons’ unfiltered, barb-tossing housekeeper Florence Johnston, Marla Gibbs became America’s most beloved TV maid. The diss-fest between her and boss George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) was a precursor to the feud’s on the show Martin between Martin Lawrence and Tichina Arnold.
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Nell Carter: Gimme a Break! - On the hit TV show Gimme a Break she was Nellie Ruth 'Nell' Harper, a singer who’d promised a dying white woman she’d be a housekeeper for her husband and three daughters after she dies. It's an unfortunate mammy premise, but Carter’s class, sass and singing talent made you forget the unbelievable backstory.
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Juanita Moore: Imitation of Life - We all know Juanita Moore as the mother of the pimp Goldie in the 1973 blaxploitation classic The Mack. But this long-time actress had her breakout role in the 1959 remake of Imitation of Life. Playing the maid Annie Johnson, Moore pulled double duty: taking care of her bosses home while also reminding her own daughter—who was passing for white—that she should accept her Blackness.
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Sanaa Lathan: By the Way, Meet Vera Stark - On the Broadway stage, Sanaa Lathan donned a maid uniform for the stage comedy By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. For this satire about African-American identity in the movies, Lathan played Vera Stark, who goes from being the maid of a movie star to becoming a semi-film star herself.
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Hattie McDaniel: Gone With The Wind - For her famous role as the sassy, tell-it-like-tis maid Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind, Hattie McDaniel made history by becoming the first Black actress to win an Oscar. To those criticizing her for constantly playing maid parts in film, she gave the famous reply: “I'd rather play a maid than be one.” Nuff said.Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images