Sheryl Lee Ralph says she was once fired from TV gig for not being ‘Black enough’

Ralph said that directors and producers would 'tell you how to be Black' earlier in her career.

The star of the breakout hit comedy series, Abbott Elementary, Sheryl Lee Ralph, says that she was once fired from a TV show because she wasn’t “Black enough.”

Ralph recently spoke with People about an instance in the ’80s when she was removed from a television series after being cast in the pilot. Ralph says the show’s producer, whom she did not name, is the person who let her go.

“The producer told me I was ‘not Black enough. Those were his words. It was horrible. I can still remember the way I felt.” She went on to say that such attitudes around race and gender was more common during that decade in the TV industry. “People’s thinking was not very inclusive,” she explained. “You [had] directors who were still trying to tell you how to be Black.”

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph on April 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for FilmRise)

That wouldn’t be the last time Ralph encountered a racial issue when it came to casting. During a March interview on ABC’s The View, Ralph recalled a meeting with a casting director for a film. The casting director was doubtful that a Black actress like Ralph would be able to play opposite a white star in a romantic role.

Abbott Elementary
ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” stars Tyler James Williams as Gregory, Janelle James as Ava, Quinta Brunson as Janine, Sheryl Lee Ralph as Barbara, Chris Perfetti as Jacob, and Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa. (ABC/Pamela Littky)

“[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?'”

Despite these setbacks, Ralph’s career has flourished. The former Tony-nominated star of Broadway’s Dreamgirls has been in several television shows and films. She starred in the ’90s sitcom Moesha, opposite Brandy, she played recurring roles in MacGyver‘s reboot and Ray Donovan, all before landing her current gig on Abbott Elementary.

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