Donald Bogle- 2009

Donald Bogle

American film historian and author of six books concerning black history in film and on television

Evolution of Black Actors

By Kyle Gold 

Donald Bogle, who was an author and a film historian, shows through his work how difficult life has been for Black actors. Bogle grew up in a family where his dad worked with a newspaper company and his mom was an activist. His parent's careers had an influence on his being able to tell a story of his own. In his first book Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: an interpretive history of Blacks in American films, he enlightens his readers with history and self-reflections on the relationship between African Americans and Hollywood. When observing Black actors and actresses he questions if diversity in the film industry is still going on. Bogle reveals that the images of these Black actors and actresses in movies have significantly changed and how some images have stayed the same. 

White actors would play Black characters in films when Hollywood first started back in the beginning of the 1900s. As stated in his first book, the first ever Black character in a movie was played by an overweight white person. Blacks were portrayed as “childlike lackey and had names given such as “coon, the tragic mulatto, the mammy, and the brutal black buck.” The characters had to fit the old racist stereotypes and the film creators would distort them even more. When Black actors got to play as Black characters, they fought against the types to create rich, stimulating, and diverse characters. 

For these Black actors and actresses, they faced many challenges in their careers to join this industry, as Bogle explains.  For example, he tells the story of how Dorothy Dandridge became the first Black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Dandridge had started her career as being a nightclub singer before being a part of the Hollywood scene. She would meet her manager and have her struggles dealing with racism. Her rise to popularity would lead her to the film director Otto Preminger, who she developed a complicated relationship with. Bogle had spent several years going around interviewing family, friends, and associates of Dorothy Dandridge, whose success was cut short and led to tragedy." Bogle recounts how Dandridge rose through the ranks of the entertainment industry, starting out as a child performer and singer in church, vaudeville, and on the "chitlin' circuit," small black nightclubs and "honky tonks" located primarily in the south." 

Through his work Bogle has shared stories of life as a black person back then and has written a story sharing about a famous black woman and how she has worked her way up to being a successful actress in Hollywood. 

Works Cited 

Bogle, Donald. “Donald Bogle's Biography.” The HistoryMakers, The HistoryMakers, 7 May 2014, 

PrabookPrabook. “Donald Bogle.” Prabook.comPrabook, 1 Jan. 1970, 

Als, Hilton, et al. “." Contemporary Authors. . 15 Jan. 2021 .” Edited by American Libraries and,, 25 Jan. 2020,