Black History Month: Diahann Carroll in "Julia"

1BlessedNatural| Black History Month: Diahann Carroll in Julia

Award-winning actress and singer, Diahann Carroll starred in the 1968 NBC television show Julia. She was the first African-American actress to star in a show where she did not play a servant. The show was about a widowed mother who worked as a nurse to support herself and her son "Corey." The premise of the show was unheard of and Carroll received negative feedback about it. She was hospitalized for a short time due to stress.

In the beginning, Carroll faced much criticism because she was an African-American woman. In a 2009 interview by the "National Leadership Visionary Project", the actress says that African-American men were less likely to get roles (at that time) than African-American women, because they were seen as a threat. She said, "The objection was that the female was always given the opportunity. That the black male causes a kind of fear running through the working white hierarchy of television and film." Carroll went on to explain that this stereotypical idea gives birth to the one that he is more difficult to work with than an African-American woman. Her way of beating the stereotype and providing more opportunities for African-American men in the film industry was to give Julia a dating life on the show. The move was also a way to bridge the gap between the show and the African-American community.

Diahann Carroll (photo courtesy of Flickr- Leonard Bentley under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The presence of dating life for Julia was considered pushing the envelope on television. Romantic scenes were virtually unheard of at the time. If you rewind back to the 1950s, you will find that the I Love Lucy Show was criticized for having the characters sleep onstage, although in separate beds. You can only imagine the shock when Julia began dating. 

Nonetheless, Diahann Carroll went on to win a Golden Globe award for her role in Julia in 1968. She was also nominated for an Emmy in 1969. The show ran for 86 episodes before it ended in 1971.
Today, Julia is in syndication and airs on ASPIRE network.

 Diahann Carroll interview on Julia (video)

My Thoughts

Let me began by saying that this article does not do Diahann Carroll (1935-) any justice. Her career spans over more than 60 years. She is also a breast cancer survivor. One of my favorite movies of Ms. Carroll's career was the 1974 movie Claudine which starred herself and James Earl Jones. The movie was groundbreaking because it showed the struggles of a single mother on welfare trying to provide for her kids. Ms.Carroll also had to convince the creators of the show that she could play the role well, and she delivered on that promise! I was very excited when I first saw Julia on ASPIRE because I'd never seen a Black show that looked like it came from the Brady Bunch era. It's a positive and refreshing show to see on television.

When I was a kid, I struggled with low self-esteem. One of the things, I was teased about the most was the shape of my head. My grandmother would always tell me the story about Diahann Carroll and her forehead. On the set of the movie Claudine, Carroll attempted to make herself appear unattractive. This included wearing her hair back from her face. Although Carroll had a prominent forehead, it was one of the things that made her attractive. My grandmother used that story to help me see that I was beautiful too. Ms. Carroll was nominated for an Academy Award in 1974 for her role in Claudine.

Job well done, Ms. Carroll!

Have you seen the show Julia with Diahann Carroll?

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