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Sheryl Lee Ralph says she was once fired for not being “Black enough”

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Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Tyler Perry Studios

Celebrated actress Sheryl Lee Ralph has played and starred in roles that have cemented her as one of the most beloved actresses in Black film and TV. 

Her current portrayal as the hard yet warmhearted veteran teacher Barbara Howard on the hit series Abbott Elementary, shows why the 65-year-old actress is loved by many. But according to Ralph, she wasn’t always shown appreciation. In a recent interview with People, she opens up about a time she was fired from a project after being told she wasn’t “Black enough.”

The exclusive interview details the highs and lows of Ralph’s decades-long career, including the hurtful memory of the star’s early years.  

“People’s thinking was not very inclusive. You [had] directors who were still trying to tell you how to be Black,” Ralph said. “I was fired from a pilot because the producer told me I was ‘not Black enough.’ Those were his words. It was horrible. I can still remember the way I felt.”

Ralph recalled a similar incident in a March interview with the hosts of The View: “[I] had a memorable audition with a big casting director who looked at me and said, ‘Everybody knows you’re a beautiful, talented, Black girl. But what do I do with a beautiful, talented, Black girl? Do I put you in a movie with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss? Who goes to see that movie?'”

She told the co-hosts she left that audition “with some of the best ammunition.”

“Everybody knew I was a beautiful, talented, Black girl and I should be in the movies with the likes of a Tom Cruise, and he should kiss me,” she said.

Despite feeling hurt by the comments, Ralph remains positive, saying, “Look at me now.”

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