Black Americans are thought to be on the fringes of American society, so when they're auditioning for roles in mainstream films and TV shows, they're often asked to play the supporting role of the best friend or the sidekick. The roles are rarely substantive or meaty—just peripheral characters that come in and out of white people's lives.
Or, when they are asked to have a dominant presence in a film, they're asked to play a character that's a stereotype reflecting how the mainstream views black people: funny, ghetto, sassy or an overly opinionated talking head.
That's the experience Zoë Kravitz says she has time and time again whenever she wants to audition for a role. Except she's a "quirky black girl" in the filmmakers' eyes, so they want her to play those kinds of characters.
"People have tried to do that to me over and over again, and I've been fighting it and fighting it," Kravitz said during an interview with the Associated Press.
"I would get auditions and it would be like, 'They want you to play the best friend.' And it's like, 'Why can't I audition for the lead?' Then it'll be like, 'OK, now you're the quirky black girl,' or 'Now you're a hippie,' " she explained.
Kravitz is an actress. That means she can act, and she wishes Hollywood executives would get that: "I can play all kinds of people. I don't have to play myself."
She is loving all the talk about increasing diversity in the industry so that movies and TV reflect America's demographic.
"I love the fact that there's such an open dialogue right now about women in Hollywood and black women and black men in Hollywood and everything in between. Now it's about us bringing the change," she said.
She thinks that black people have to continue creating projects if we want to see the change we're advocating for.
"We started the dialogue, but I don't expect any man to write a script that speaks for me. I don't expect any man to write a script for me," she said. "If we want to be represented properly in Hollywood, let's represent ourselves properly in Hollywood.
"It's our responsibility to say, 'I'm not going to take the same role over and over again,' " she continued. She realizes that black actors take roles because they need to earn a living, but thinks "we have the power to break the stereotypes by a) writing our own things and b) saying no to the same thing over and over again."
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.