Vanessa Bell Calloway — who played the role of Imani Izzi in 1988’s “Coming to America,” says she originally auditioned for the lead female role of Lisa, but that colorism ultimately led to her not nabbing the role.
Shari Headley went on to land the role.
“When you have white people hiring black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” Calloway, 67, told Page Six. She added that she felt the film’s decision-makers “wanted a light-skinned girl. I just wasn’t light enough, even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa.”
She continued, “That’s something that we’ve always dealt with within our race: A lot of men were indoctrinated by having a white woman or light-skinned woman on their arm — I didn’t want the part of Imani, I wanted to be Lisa — I had read the script and I wanted the bigger role.”
When she turned up to audition, she was asked to read for the part of Imani.
“At that point, I knew I was not going to get Lisa. So I went outside in the hallway, looked over the part with five minutes of preparation, went back in, and did the best I could.”
She added: “The real deal is, when you’re in a situation like that, you wanna be a part of an Eddie Murphy movie. I wasn’t gonna say no! I would’ve loved to have had the lead part, but I was very happy to be in the movie. I can’t lie about that. I said, ‘I’ll make the best out of this and I’ll be the best.’ It was a smaller role but it was a glamorous part to play. And Shari did a great job.”
Calloway does have a cameo in the film’s upcoming sequel, “Coming 2 America,” which will premiere on March 5 on Amazon Prime.