“These women have pushed the racial boundaries for audiences, setting new standards for beauty and body type,” said author Dr. Mia Mask.
She took on the book because, while Black male stars are now enjoying huge success, little has been written about their female counterparts as performers who can headline a film, said Mask, who teaches film and drama at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie , N.Y.
Dandridge was nominated for her lead role as the hedonistic factory worker in the 1954 classic “Carmen Jones,” alongside Harry Belafonte.
Berry won an Oscar in 2002 for playing the wife of an executed murderer in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.” She also had portrayed Dandridge as a stunning femme fatale in the 1999 HBO biopic “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.”
When Dandridge became a star, “she was working in an environment in which there were almost no women of color (in leading roles),” said Mask, and Dandridge “had to fit into the mold of shapely and svelte.”
By the time the statuesque Grier arrived on the Hollywood scene, she could break that mold with her forceful but hip physical presence as an action heroine.
As for Winfrey, Mask said she chose her because the talk-show host’s television presence catapulted her film appearances to the level of global stardom, transcending any category.
“We’ve gone from the trope of the tragic mulatta to biracial beauty,” said Mask, who is taping a five-part series for National Public Radio to air in late October each on one of the women in the book.