Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph Opens Up About Getting Fired From A TV Pilot After Being Told She Was ‘Not Black Enough’

Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph has been successful in film and television for decades, despite having faced some uphill battles while making a name for herself. Amid the recent success of the ABC sitcom, Ralph has been open about her journey as an actress working in Hollywood. She knows bagging a decent role can be hard, especially as a Black woman. Just recently, the veteran performer opened up about the time she was fired from a TV pilot for not being “Black enough.”

Riding high off of the success of the Tony-winning musical Dreamgirls, the multi-hyphenate was ready to take on the film and television industry in the 1980s. But she faced plenty of challenges, a number of them due to the color of her skin. At one point, her Blackness (or alleged lack thereof) became an issue while filming a TV pilot. The Abbott Elementary actress recalled to People how she was sacked after her Blackness was questioned:

People's thinking was not very inclusive. You [had] directors who were still trying to tell you how to be Black. I was fired from a pilot because the producer told me I was 'not Black enough.’ Those were his words. It was horrible. I can still remember the way I felt.

Nothing like working on a job and having someone question your identity, right? It's fair to say that the producer's assumption stemmed from their vision of what a Black woman should sound or act like. Statements like the one made by this creative have sadly been common over the years, as some entertainment entities seek to place actors of color into certain boxes. And while many seem to be understanding that African Americans are not a monolith, there are likely still some who hold similar views. It's unfortunate that Sheryl Lee Ralph had to experience such a thing, but it luckily didn't spell the end of her career. 

In typical Sheryl Lee Ralph fashion, the TV mom used that as motivation for her later success in television. She was disappointed by the episode but chose to see the unseen benefit by reminding herself it wasn’t about her but about the producer. And in the 1980s, she ultimately found success by appearing on small-screen staples like Search for Tomorrow and It’s a Living.  Of course, her biggest television success came in the 1990s through her roles on noted sitcoms like Designing Women and Moesha.

It's been interesting to hear her discuss her experiences as a Black actress in La La Land. She's also recalled another instance in which a producer downplayed her viability, as he didn’t see her being a romantic interest in a Tom Cruise movie. She also revealed that she once received some frank advice from Oscar winner Robert De Niro. While acknowledging that the the entertainment industry wasn’t looking for an actress like her, De Niro encouraged her to make her talents known.

Now, with the teacher-centric ABC comedy, Sheryl Lee Ralph has found found a new audience. Viewers will can see Ralph's Mrs. Howard and her colleagues when Abbott Elementary airs its season finale (one of many) on Apr. 12 at 9 pm EST on ABC. To see what other finales are coming up soon, you can check out CinemaBlend's 2022 TV schedule. Those who'd like to catch up on the show can also stream episodes with a Hulu subscription.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).