Inspirational Women in the Entertainment Industry: Yvette Nicole Brown
Yvette Nicole Brown got into the entertainment business to make people happy. More than getting famous or getting rich, her mission has always been to “uplift everyone,” regardless of gender, race, or physical type. Yet in an industry as focused on “types” as Hollywood, Brown has surely come up against stereotyping and attempted pigeonholing. What makes her such a unique, respectable artist, though, is her refusal to settle for what anyone else wanted her to be.
“I’ve been very careful about what I’ve chosen, but that being said, there’s not a lot of roles that allow portrayals of things to be positive.”
While many actors fall into the routine of just taking whatever work comes their way, Brown is strong enough to steadfastly stick to her morals and values. And this comes into play when choosing her representatives, as well. Agents and managers make money when their clients do, so many will just want them to work, regardless of the material. As important as Brown feels it is to choose projects as carefully as one can, she said it was just as important to choose one’s team the same way– and to be as upfront and honest about it to not waste anyone’s time and to weed through those who don’t share your interest in making the industry a little bit better.
“Even in the beginning, I always made it very clear the things I may or may not be able to do. And I’d let them know, ‘I know you guys are saying it’s okay now, but if we work together for six months, and I’m passing on more than you’re comfortable with, then I’m okay if you drop me.’ I literally have said that to every agent or manager I’ve had. I understand if they can’t do it; if it gets to the point where they can’t keep their lights on, let me know, and we’ll part ways, and I’ll go to an agent that understand what I’m trying to do here,” she was candid.
Brown, who has been with her theatrical agent for a decade and her commercial agent for just a few years past a decade, has proven success with this way of working, though it might not always be the easiest road. Brown acknowledged there is still quite a large gap between some of the roles she can play and the ones for which executives will see her in an audition.
Perhaps fittingly, then, it wasn’t until the role of Shirley on NBC’s comedy Community that Brown felt like she had truly pushed past a stereotypical barrier of playing ancillary characters– meter maids, store clerks, security agents. And the credit, she was humble enough to say, is all because the show’s creator, the studio, and the network was able to look past an assumption for the role and ultimately honor the best woman for the job.
“You don’t have to change a line to cast a black actor! [Shirley] wasn’t written for a black woman; it wasn’t written for a chubby woman or a curvy woman; it was written for a woman,” Brown shared.
Brown feels that until there are more people of color in the “upper echelon of entertainment,” chances like the one she was given with Shirley may unfortunately be the exception, rather than the rule, though.
In part this sobering mathematical discrepancy is because people are often more comfortable with, and therefore more subconsciously likely to gravitate towards, what they see and know best. But Brown is determined to make a difference and a dent in that line of thinking, starting with sharing her story, experiences, and reasoning for making the business decisions she does and hoping others will learn from them and be inspired to think a little bit more carefully about how they are representing themselves, rather than allowing themselves to be represented, in this business.
“I just feel like every actor has to make a decision as to what they want to embody and what they want to represent,” she said. “When I look back on the roles I’ve played, you can say ‘Yvette never took a role that she didn’t see a positive part of how it’d affect the people viewing [it].
“With every industry, you get very clear on the parameters of your industry, and you learn how to live within them,” she continued. “You have to find a way to not become bitter and live within the parameters of the situation and laugh your way through it…and you hope for a better day for the next generation.”