Jeffrey Wright is a brilliant American actor. At this point, it scarcely matters what he appears in: whatever play or film he lends his graceful frame and formidable imagination to yields levels of complexity, shades of light and dark, that sometimes go far beyond what is in the text. Wright finds his characters between the lines, in the pauses, silences, and white spaces of reflection that only the best actors—those who lock themselves into their characters’ heartbeats, their way of being—can deliver. Unfortunately, for an actor of Wright’s caliber who finds himself working (or not working) in today’s entertainment industry, talent does not always equal financial gain or broad appeal. In that world, thought and nuance and the idiosyncrasies of character are a hindrance—particularly for an actor of color. The sad truth is that, for the most part, black actors aren’t paid to act; they’re paid to act black. (“I don’t play black; I am black,” Morgan Freeman said in a recent interview, as if it needed to be mentioned. And it did.) How do you play black? You play a white person’s idea of it. Over and over—on MTV, on UPN, in the “Barbershop” movie franchise, and so on—we see one-dimensional coon shows in which an actor of color is invariably noble, “beat down,” or a thug (with or without a head rag); blacks onstage and onscreen must be or live through a nightmare in order for whiteness to seem like a dream.
-- Hilton Als, in The New Yorker