Sheryl Lee Ralph Responds to Idea of Being a 'Blackfamous' Actress: It 'Can Be Very Much a Thing'

"There are certain people who have no idea who you are and what you've done after all these years," the famed actress said

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Photo: Leon Bennett/WireImage

Sheryl Lee Ralph is speaking candidly about the notion of being "Blackfamous."

While in conversation with The Hollywood Reporter for a roundtable, the actress, 65, spoke about being "Blackfamous," which is when an individual or piece of media is most popular among black people, while remaining relatively unknown among white individuals.

Speaking alongside Loretta DeVine, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Larenz Tate and Lynn Whitfield, Ralph recalled a past incident on the set of a television series where a higher-up member did not recognize the star, who has gained famed for roles among the likes of Broadway's Dreamgirls, as well as numerous film and television roles.

"About two, maybe three years ago, I did a series called Fam for CBS," she explained. "And one of the executive producers came up to me, because the network and somebody else had said, 'No, this is the person.' So he walked right up to me on that first day, and he said, 'So tell me, what have you done?'"

Noting that she was taken by surprise by the EP's question, Ralph continued, "I was quiet and he said, 'Do you sing?' And I said, 'Whoa.'"

"So then I just said, 'Excuse me for a minute. But maybe you should ask somebody because you might be very embarrassed that you asked me that question, and I want us to get off on the right foot together,'" the star added.

She then noted: "Even in unsuspecting places, that can be very much a thing where there are certain people who have no idea who you are and what you've done after all these years."

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Sheryl Lee Ralph

In the candid conversation, Ralph also spoke about the importance of marketing in reaching audiences.

Looking back to when she starred on Ray Donavan, and how she began to star on Abbott Elementary at the end of the series' conclusion, Ralph said, "It's like, boom, boom! Two very different audiences, but the way those shows are marketed once again goes back to 'Who gets to see you?' What kind of famous do you become? 'Blackfamous' or just famous-famous?"

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In response, Tate, 46, explained that he believes a lot of what Ralph was discussing had "to do with who's in the room, and the representation in making those decisions in those marketing rooms."

"Are they people who look like us, who understand, or as I would say, overstand our value, and the fact that we tell stories that are not monolithic?" he continued. "... It really comes down to Hollywood having some real inclusion with people that look like us who can make the decisions in those rooms, those marketing rooms and PR rooms and boardrooms, all the way down, and greenlighting projects that we know should be told."

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When asked about her relationship with the Black community, and the roles that have done the most for her career, Ralph pointed to works including Dreamgirls, Moesha, Sister Act 2, Ray Donovan, Motherland and Abbott Elementary.

"I thank my audiences for staying with me, hanging with me, and loving me from show to show to show," she told THR. "This has been probably one of the most amazing things that I have been able to be in an industry that I absolutely love, to do something that I would actually do for free."

"Thank God I don't have to, but I'm so happy to be an artist, to have started where I started, to now be where I am, knowing it's not the ending," Ralph continued.

She added: "And I thank my audience, and I thank my peers right here with me today. I am so grateful."

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