Have you ever wondered why so many Black women worship Marilyn Monroe? I always figure it’s because we don’t know enough about our own starlets of screen and music. Our Black female role models aren’t as prominently featured in today’s society. Their names ring bells, but most can’t even picture them to put a face to a name. Let’s put an end to that and acquaint you with 10 Black screen starlets who deserve your admiration more. Give your little girls real role models to look up to and inspire yourself in the process.
Ruby Dee – actress, poet, playwright, journalist and activist best known for her roles on stage and screen in A Raisin in the Sun. She has won a Grammy, Emmy, Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and other notable awards as well. During the 1960’s she appeared in many racially provocative movies. She and her husband were known worldwide as Civil Rights activists. She was a member of the NAACP, Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as other groups that fought for equal rights. Throughout her career she appeared in over 45 movies, almost 50 television shows and 34 stage plays according to Wikipedia. She died in 2014 at home of natural causes.
Cicely Tyson – actress best known for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. This star of the stage and screen has won multiple Emmy’s a Tony, Critics Choice award and so many more. Her acting career began in 1951 and she is still acting today at age 91, most recently appearing on the television show How To Get Away With Murder in 2015. Before she started acting she had been discovered by a photographer for Ebony Magazine and started modeling. In 2005 a school in New Jersey was renamed for her, The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts and she plays an active role in supporting the school.
Grace Jones – Singer, song writer and actress born in Jamaica and loved worldwide. Grace started modeling in her early teens after her family moved to New York. She was a darling of the fashion industry, going to Paris to model for brands like Yves St Laurent and appearring on the cover of Elle and Vogue. In 1977 she got her first record deal and started making dance music including the popular “ Pull Up To My Bumper, Baby.” She later expanded into reggae. Modeling, to music to movies and television, Grace now took her place on the silver and small screens. She appeared alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian and in the James Bond film A View to Kill as well as a dozen or so other movies and television shows.
Diahann Carroll – Singer and actress who dazzled America with her roles in some of the first Black Movies. She changed the face of television with her starring role in the show “Julia” the first to show a Black lead character in a non stereotypical role. She also starred on the Soap Opera Dynasty, breaking barriers as the first Black star on the show’s main cast. She always knew she was destined to be a star and attended a performing arts high school. Her formal career began at age 15 when she became a model for Ebony Magazine. Carroll first appeared as an actress in 1954 and is still working today. She is a star of the stage, screen and microphone and has won a Tony and Golden Globe. Though she didn’t win, she was one of the first African-American nominated for a Primetime Emmy. In 2011 she was inducted in the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
Eartha Kitt – Actress, singer, dancer and voice over artist best known for her role as Cat Woman in TVs Batman series. She began her acting career on stage in 1943 and by 1945 was on Broadway. That led to a singing career and in the 1950’s she had multiple hit songs. Kitt saw her career take a down turn in the 1960’s when she became an activist. Never one to be held down long, she returned to acting 10 years later on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony. Kitt spoke 4 languages fluently and sang in seven languages. During the span of her career she appeared in over 40 roles in television, films and on stage each. She won three Daytime Emmys for her voice over work on animated shows and movies, Kitt died at home in 2008 at the age of 81.
Lena Horne – Singer, dancer, actress and activist who had a 70 year career in television , movies and on stage. She began her career in her teens as a dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem before moving to Hollywood to become a nightclub performer. Horne became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio in 1942 when she inked a deal with MGM Studios. In the 1950’s she saw her career take a hit for her activist measures and affiliation with Communist associated groups. Ostracized from Hollywood she took her singing and dancing talents on the road and toured the world. Horne became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony for “Best Actress in a Musical” in 1958. She was VERY active and in anti war, Civil Rights and anti lynching laws and policies. She has been recognized by the NACCP and has spoken on their behalf as well. In 2006 she was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Lena Horne won four Grammy’s, a Tony and a slew of other awards. She died in 2010 of heart failure at age 93.
Dorothy Dandridge – Actress, singer and dancer best known for her starring role in the first movie to star an all Black cast, Carmen Jones. She was the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She also sang in such notable venues as the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater. She got her first acting role in 1935 and played bit parts until 1952 she was given her first starring role. Just two years later she would portray “Carmen” and changed the face of film starlets forever. She became Hollywood’s first Black sex symbol. In 1958 she recorded her first full solo album but but was not released until 1999. Dandridge was preparing for a night club performance when she injured her foot in September 2005, she was found 5 days later dead at home. Her death was initially ruled as an accidental overdose but the coroners officer later ruled that she died of a rare embolism as a result for her injured foot.
Ethel Water – Singer and actress known for her singing on Blues, Jazz and Gospel records. Her career spanned 59 years during which she performed on TV, the big screen and recorded multiple hits. She holds the title of being only the second Black person to be nominated for an Academy Award. She also was the first Black woman to be nominated for an Emmy. She married at age 13 and left her husband due to abuse by age 17. A chance meeting at a party where she wound up singing garnered her an offer for her first professional gig singing at the Lincoln Theater in Baltimore. After her Baltimore start she started touring the Vaudeville circuit making a name for herself. She eventually moved to New York during the Harlem Renaissance and became one of the most acclaimed Blues and Jazz singers around. In 1921 she was signed to her first record label and became a recording artist. She also became a Broadway star before 1933 found her entering the film world. Waters has had 3 songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. She was nominated for an Emmy and Academy Award. She died of Cancer and kidney failure at age 80.
Josephine Baker – dancer, singer, and actress who often was called the “Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess” Fluent in English and French she became a French citizen in 1937. Baker was the first Black woman to star in a major movie as well as the first to be a world famous entertainer. She was active during the Civil Rights and though she was loved by all she refused to perform for segregated crowds in America. Josephine started her career dancing on the streets or money to eat where she was noticed and given a role in a vaudeville show, then it was off to New York where she danced at the Plantation Club and sand and danced in the chorus line for Broadway reviews. In 1925 she sailed to Paris to star in her own revue. She became very popular for her nearly nude, erotic dancing. In 1952 she was named NAACP’s “Woman of the Year.” She last performed live in 1975, Prince Ranier, Princess Grace and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were in attendance. Four days later she slipped into a coma at home in bed from a brain hemorrhage and died.
Lola Falana – singer, dancer, and actress Discovered by Sammy Davis Jr in 1964 when he gave her a role in his Broadway musical Golden Boy. Her first single wsa recorded in 1965. She starred in her first film, alongside Ozzie Davie and Cicely Tyson, in 1966. In 1967 she became a star in Italian film and learned to speak Italian fluently. In 1970 she took America by storm when she debuted in her first American film and appeared in Playboy. Lola Falana was revolutionary, she was the first Black woman to be the face of a cosmetic company that was not marketed only to Black women. She also started to appear on American television variety shows. She continued to make music as well. By the late 1970’s she was known as the “Queen of Las Vegas” and played to sold out crowds at the cities biggest and most popular hotels and casinos. She even briefly appeared on a CBS soap opera, but the show didn’t last long. After a severe relapse of her multiple sclerosis she stopped touring. Today Falana travels the world spreading the gospel after converting to Roman Catholicism in 1987. When not on tour she lives in Las Vegas spreading the ministry.
Not only did each of these women rise to the very top of their industries but each of these women also were active in their communities and fought for the rights and advancement of others. Each woman above leaves a legacy worth admiring. While young Black girls each and every year discover and fall in love with Marilyn Monroe the achievements of these women are ignored and down played. Marilyn was beautiful, and troubled. If not for her untimely death and association with President Kennedy, she would not be such a prominent figure in today’s society. She lives on because she died to so and under mysterious conditions. Marilyn Monroe was today’s troubled Disney star all grown up, party girl, pill popping , spontaneous and reportedly promiscuous. Why do women worship her again? I’d think that every woman above deserves your admiration more.
Who are little girls taught to idolize? Marilyn Monroe of all people. Let’s take a look at the screen starlet everyone loves so much.
Marilyn Monroe – Actress and model known for betraying the “dumb blonde” character. Her career spanned 17 years beginning as a pin up model in 1944 which led to her getting small contracts with two studios. These small roles led to her signing a more lucrative contract two years later with Fox. By 1953 she was starring in movies and gaining world wide acclaim for her sensuality and “dumb blonde” behavior. While her career was taking off she publicly struggled with addiction, depression and reported promiscuity. She died at the age of 36 after two divorces and a rumored illicit affair with President John F. Kennedy. The legacy she left on Hollywood? She was the first mainstream actress to ever be photographed nude at the height of their popularity. The photos were shot for Life magazine during the filming of “Something’s Got To Give” The movie was never completed, however. Just weeks later Marilyn was found dead in her bed. Her death was officially ruled as “acute barbiturate poisoning” and classified as a probable suicide.
According to Wikipedia “Monroe’s star image centered on her blond hair, and the stereotypes associated with it, especially dumbness, sexual availability and artificiality.” She often drew attention by wearing revealing outfits that showed off her figure. Her publicity stunts often revolved around her clothing exposing large amounts of her body or even malfunctioning, such as when one of the shoulder straps of her dress suddenly snapped during a press conference. Her roles were almost always chorus girls, secretaries, or models; occupations where “the woman is on show, there for the pleasure of men.
Oh now I get it, Marilyn Monroe is pushed on every generation because she embodies everything men want women to be. Sexy, useless, vapid, entertaining and in their place. The women I described above didn’t fit into any of the stereotypes of what a woman should be and act like. They were women who broke barriers, women who fought to succeed with their talents instead of their looks. Women who lived full active lives without scandals clouding their every movement and a string of men behind them. Each woman above helped change the face of society, the entertainment business and some, the world. Each woman above, with the exception of one lived to old age. They are role models And you idolize drug abusing, bed hopping, troubled soul Marilyn Monroe. Why?
Thinker, Avid Reader, Couch Potato. Sapphire Hill is a writer from Baltimore Maryland who loves to delve deeper into the whys of everything. Staff writer for 86 Blvd and Badd Magazine. Blogger and talent promoter for Sapphire Spotlight On Talent.