Maya Rudolph defies racial types in 'Bridesmaids'

theGRIO REPORT - Viewers of Rudolph's work might suggest that the actress serves as a catalyst to redefine roles that women of color take on...

Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph is starring in the summer comedy Bridesmaids which opens this Friday. Fans of Rudolph’s work on SNL are familiar with the actress’s abilities to take on roles that defy her racial ethnicity, and her performance is no exception.

Bridesmaids is produced by Judd Apatow who was the brains behind comedy smashes like Superbad, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. This film revels in the hilarity that ensues between dueling bridesmaids. Rudolph plays the role of the blushing bride soon to wed her adoring fiance. The actress break ground as the first woman of color to star in an Apatow film.

Rudolph is no stranger to fame. She is the daughter of African-American soul singer Minnie Riperton (“Lovin’ You”), who died in 1979 from cancer at the age of 31 when Rudolph was only 6 years old. She was raised by her father of Jewish heritage, Richard Rudolph.

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In 2000 Rudolph joined the cast of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, making her the third African-American female cast member in the show’s history, following in the steps of Danitra Vance and Ellen Cleghorne. Rudolph’s ability to deliver countless accents and change her looks with the switch of a wig, allowed her to play an unusually wide range of ethnicities on the show. During her seven years on the show she portrayed characters that were white, black, Asian, Latina as well as people of mixed cultural backgrounds. Some of her most memorable impressions include Oprah Winfrey, Paris Hilton, Donatella Versace, Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, and Liza Minnelli.

Rudolph’s fellow SNL cast member and author of Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much: A Brother’s Take on Dating and Mating for Sistas, Finesse Mitchell shared the stage with the actress for three seasons. Mitchell spoke with theGrio and shared some of his memories of Rudolph.

“I will never forget in 2003 during my first season when Halle Berry hosted the show. Maya was seated next to Halle Berry during our table read where the cast reviewed the script with Lorne Michaels. When it came time for Maya to read her part she suddenly went into this character where she was doing this crazy voice and was really funny, and I look over and I see Halle staring at Maya like ‘oh my God!, everyone here is very talented.’ I could tell she was a bit intimidated, and with it being my first year and all, I looked over at her with a look that said ‘It will be okay, I feel the same way too,’” said Mitchell.

Comedian and actress Marina Franklin says that as an African-American female comedian she found Rudolph’s work on SNL inspiring.

“Whenever you hear about a black woman doing Saturday Night Live it’s always exciting. It inspires you as a performer as a comedian, it makes you realize, hey I can do this.”In 2009 Rudolph starred in the film Away We Go, the story of an interracial couple struggling to meet their daily needs and determine how and where to raise their child. In an interview with Time Out Chicago Rudolph opened up about the factor race plays in the film scripts she chooses to take, saying “I certainly don’t spend my time going, ‘Hey, you’re white, and I’m not, and isn’t this crazy?’”

Franklin says, “The whole goal in comedy is to do things without always being labeled as the black act or the female act. You want to just be labeled as funny or good. Maya does that effortlessly and when someone like me sees that, I say ‘Thank you.’”

According the Franklin oftentimes black woman are asked to play strong motherly characters in films. Upon accepting the role it is up to the actress to define the truest essence of the character. “A black comedy actress’s task is to find the vulnerability in the strong character that they have stereotyped you to be.”

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Viewers of Rudolph’s work might suggest that the actress serves as a catalyst to redefine roles that women of color take on. None of the actress’s film roles have embodied any of the negative stereotypes associated with woman of color. ”[Maya] has a knack for taking on any role and finding a way to personify it as her own,” Said Michell.

“Maya really gets it when it comes to crossing back and forth between African-American and Caucasian roles, because I don’t think she sees her self as black or white, I think she just sees herself and talented and funny. Because of her pigmentation it’s easy for her to play white woman and then it’s easy for her to play black woman because she definitely has that background and that point of view.”

Maya Rudolph has been strategic is choosing her acting roles. From her characterizations on Saturday Night Live, to her barrier breaking roles in cinema she has proven you cannot just throw a label on her comedic abilities. Moviegoers are in for a treat with Bridesmaids and fans can rest assure with Rudolph, the best is yet to come.