Leah Daniels Butler on the Black Casting Directors Who Paved the Way (Guest Column)

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Being in the entertainment industry is challenging but comes with rewards, so when I was asked to talk about what Black history meant to me, I couldn’t start the conversation without mentioning the history of Black casting directors who made it possible for me to be in the position I am in now.

I am blessed to have been mentored by a casting legends Jaki Brown and Kimberly Hardin, two phenomenal women whose shoulders I stand on. They gave me an opportunity and platform to be a part of some of the greatest history in Black cinema.

There is also Monica Swan, Chemin Bernard and Robi Reed, who have all played a big part in the history of Hollywood, paving the way in championing diversity both on and off the screen.

Reuben Cannon, the first Black casting director in Hollywood, stated “African Americans don’t get the respect they deserve in Hollywood.” These words motivate me to do all within my power to change this reality.

Because of all of them, I am here now and able to help bring special events in Black history to life through film and television. Having the honor of casting films such as “Behind The Movement,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” gave me the opportunity to research and learn more about Black historic figures and culture than I was ever taught in school.

Cicely Tyson said, “I have learned not to let rejection move me.” A paramount statement understood by myself and women who look as I do. Segregation was outlawed in 1964; as a Black American woman in 2021, I exclaim the importance we as a people have contributed to modern-day society which so many times has gone unmentioned.

Leah Daniels Butler is casting director who has worked on “The Butler,” “The Paperboy,” “A Girl Like Grace” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” She also cast the upcoming “Coming 2 America” starring Eddie Murphy.