Vanessa Bell Calloway reveals colorism in ‘Coming to America’ casting: ‘I just wasn’t light enough’

The highly accomplished actress originally auditioned for the lead role of Lisa in the 1988 film

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‘Coming To America’ is a cult classic, and audiences are ecstatic that a sequel is on the horizon. But now Vanessa Bell Calloway, who starred in the 1988 film, is making a stunning revelation that she believes colorism played a part in her not landing the lead female role.

Monday, while speaking with Page Six, the Hollywood veteran shared her longheld belief that colorism played a heavy hand in why she auditioned for the role of Eddie Murphy‘s love interest but instead was tasked with barking like a dog while hopping on one knee.

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“When you have white people hiring Black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” said Calloway, pointing out that she got the impression that when it came to a leading lady, executives “wanted a light-skinned girl.”

“I just wasn’t light enough,” she opined. “Even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa.”

To Calloway’s credit, her scene-stealing performance still made her stand out in the film and has arguably made her just as much of a fan favorite as Shari Headley – the actress who ultimately landed the role. But that still didn’t stop the actress from recognizing what was at play.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 29: Vanessa Bell Calloway attends the Los Angeles premiere of Focus Features’ “Harriet” held at The Orpheum Theatre on October 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/WireImage)

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“That’s something that we’ve always dealt with within our race: A lot of men were indoctrinated by having a white woman or light-skinned woman on their arm,” she continued. “I didn’t want the part of Imani, I wanted to be Lisa — I had read the script and I wanted the bigger role.”

In the end, she says she weighed her options and realized that a small role in an Eddie Murphy film was better than no role at all, and decided to take part in the movie despite her initial doubts.

“The real deal is, when you’re in a situation like that, you wanna be a part of an Eddie Murphy movie. I wasn’t gonna say no! I would’ve loved to have had the lead part, but I was very happy to be in the movie. I can’t lie about that. I said, ‘I’ll make the best out of this and I’ll be the best.’ It was a smaller role but it was a glamorous part to play. And Shari did a great job.”

Calloway is set to make a cameo in the film’s sequel, Coming 2 America, which premieres on March 5 on Amazon Prime.

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