When people reference your race when describing your career, is that a point of pride, or is it something that you think is overplayed in the media as part of your story?
DC: I think I'm somewhat defined by my race for sure, and I'm good with that and I actually want that to be a part. â¦ I think that should be fodder for our work -- we should use all aspects of ourselves. I'm always trying to find a place where that's actually an impact on what I'm doing as opposed to going, "Well, we're all just people and we're the same."
KW: I agree. I think it's relevant. I think gender is relevant. I bring something to the table as a woman; I bring something to the table as a woman of color. So I feel like, if it's the only thing you focus on, then it's a danger, and if you never talk about it then it's a danger.
How would you compare racism to sexism, for example?
KW: It's difficult to say, to be honest. Probably the most sexist decisions that get made about my career are decisions I don't even know about, because -- and I think it's the same issue with race -- we don't even know when decisions are made that are discriminating, because we don't even have access to hear when that happens. But I also feel like I've been able to do things as a woman in this business that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do as a man, just like with race, like be able to play Ray Charles' wife if I wasn't a black woman. So it sometimes makes things more challenging, but has also allowed for unique experiences like Hotel Rwanda and Ray and The Last King (of Scotland), roles that really use our gender and our race.
DC: I think it's sort of like a sine wave -- it depends on when you ask the question. If this was 1971, we'd say, "Oh, there's tons of opportunity for black people in movies -- I don't know if you want to be in all of them" but you'd be like, "Yeah, I had five auditions today."
DC: There's not enough work for anybody, so whenever there's not enough for anybody, the people who are somewhat already marginalized, the margin is going to be even smaller. â¦ That being said though, where we are is sort of antithetical to that: She's the lead of a hit TV show, and she's not the only black actor on network TV in the lead of a show. That's amazing.
KW: That's huge right now, and different. I think you're really right. I think there's that curve, but I do have a sense that it's curving upwards and that I have more opportunities than Josephine Baker and Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll had. ... This is a business where, if you're looking for consistency and dependability in your work, this is not the career for you. But I think as more women are in positions of power, more people in color are in positions of power, the stories become more inclusive, the casts become more inclusive.
Looking back on your own careers, what was the ebb and flow like and what was it like trying to get started?
DC: It's so funny: Kerry and I did a movie a long time ago called The United States of Leland, and I was looking at the cast list of that movie.
KW: It's nuts.
KW: Wow, yeah!
DC: You know, all people that are still working, which is pretty fascinating. But I came out of school -- I graduated in 1986 -- in a time when those great TV shows, L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues and all the comedies that were on TV, and (for) all of those roles and guests spots you could get as a no-name actor that had no track record, no resume. If you were good, you could get that shot. Those shots are all being filled now with people who have name recognition. And that's tough. People come up to me now and ask me, "What can I do to start?" and I have no idea. When I started acting, I walked into a room with a casting director; I met the producer, the director. Now they go in a room and there's a camera in a corner or they're taping themselves at home (and) emailing them in, and that's just antithetical to the way I -- I don't even know how to start now. I count myself very fortunate. I don't think I'm "there," quote unquote. I always feel like it's a grind.
KW: I actually think that attitude is what keeps the actors that are consistently working actors, that's what keeps you in the game. â¦ If you look at someone like Diahann Carroll, if you ask someone who Diahann Carroll is, it depends on how old they are. People of my generation or younger are like, "Isn't that Whitley's mother from A Different World?" Or people from my mother's generation will give you Julia. In between, there's Agnes of God and Dynasty. â¦ People like Rita Moreno and Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand keep reinventing themselves. They directed, they produced film and television and theater. We are constantly willing to work in all different mediums because you just want to work. People want to work. It's about the work â¦ it's about continuing to grow as an artist and as a craftsperson.