Dorothy Dandridge is often described as “our Marilyn Monroe.” I’ve never agreed with that statement. Dorothy Dandridge was our Dorothy Dandridge.
Simple as that.
I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who have never heard of this amazingly beautiful and talented woman. You wouldn’t believe how many Black women have entire Twitter and Facebook pages dedicated to Marilyn Monroe but have never seen or heard of the classic, Carmen Jones. While I've been told that, as a 90s baby, this says more about my generation's disconnect from our history than it does about Dandridge, it still infuriates me.
If anyone is unsure as to why we should pay homage to the screen legend, here are a few crib notes:
Dandridge was the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Carmen Jones in 1954. she was also the first Black woman to grace the cover of Life Magazine. By breaking these barriers, she helped to pave the way for all Black actresses today in Hollywood.
She was a one-of-a-kind actress and human being. There was always a certain innocence and vulnerability about her that made her authentic. You could see in her eyes just how much she loved being in front of that camera. Without Dandridge, there wouldn’t be a Halle Berry. Period.
Dandridge was Hollywood’s first Black female movie star and sex symbol. And yet, sadly, she left this world feeling that everyone had forgotten about her, including her own people.
When Marilyn Monroe died, her popularity skyrocketed. Fifty one years have passed since her death in 1962, but she’s become ingrained in our pop culture and continues to live on through her merchandise, wax figures and movies, of course. Dandridge, however, is largely reduced to Black History Month remembrances. Many of us have even forgotten Halle's major star turn in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an early career production by none other than the ever-powerful Shonda Rhimes.
As Dandridge once said, “If I were White, I could capture the world” and frankly, she was right. The world wasn’t ready for all that she had to offer; she was the right woman at the wrong time. It’s heartbreaking to think of what could’ve been had she lived in a different era. Who knows what else she could’ve conquered?
I've always felt a deep connection to the tragic actress and I hope that more folks will come to understand that she was so much more than just a pretty face, or a "Black Marilyn." Get to Netflix and discover Island in the Sun, Porgy and Bess and Tamango. Check out historian Donald Bogle's definitive Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography. Let's give our icon the flowers she should have gotten when she was breathing and make sure that future generations know her name!
Princess Gabbara is a senior at Eastern Michigan University, where she’s studying journalism. You can read more of her work on her blog: princessgabbara.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @PrincessGabbara