by Marsha B.
February 18, 2021
Actress Vanessa Bell Calloway recently opened up about the colorism she experienced while auditioning for the cult classic film Coming to America. According to Page Six, Calloway believes her complexion kept her from landing the lead role of Lisa McDowell in the 1988 film. Instead, the actress played a smaller role, Imani Izzi, the woman who Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) was arranged to marry.
However, when Prince Akeem left Imani at the alter, his quest to find true love led him to Queens, NY, where he met and fell in love with Lisa McDowell. The role was played by Shari Headley, an actress of a lighter complexion.
Calloway auditioned for the role of Lisa but was encouraged to play Imani instead. “When you have white people hiring Black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” Calloway said in an interview with Page Six. The actress believed that executives “wanted a light-skinned girl. I just wasn’t light enough, even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa.”
“I didn’t want the part of Imani, I wanted to be Lisa — I had read the script, and I wanted the bigger role,” Calloway continued. “At that point, I knew I was not going to get Lisa. So I went outside in the hallway, looked over the part with five minutes of preparation, went back in, and did the best I could.”
Despite knowing her worth, Calloway settled for the role of Imani. “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,” she said.
What do you think? Are you surprised by Vanessa Calloway’s claims of colorism?