Vanessa Bell Calloway Says Colorism Played Role in ‘Coming to America’ Casting

Vanessa Bell Calloway at the HollyRod Presents 18th Annual DesignCare at the Sugar Ray Leonard's Estate on July 16, 2016 in Pacific Palisades, CA — Photo by Jean_Nelson/Deposit Photos

Vanessa Bell Calloway believes colorism prevented her from landing the lead female role in Coming to America.

The 67-year-old actress has revealed she initially auditioned for the part of Lisa, but was cast as Imani in the hit 1988 comedy.

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In a new interview, Calloway told Page Six she believes her darker skin tone was a factor in the decision by the film’s creative team to instead cast Shari Headley as Eddie Murphy’s love interest.

“When you have white people hiring Black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” Calloway said. “I just wasn’t light enough, even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa.”

Murphy’s character Prince Akeem ended up marrying Lisa, after he rejected an arranged union with Imani.

“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,” Calloway stated.

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Despite being disappointed, she said she made the most of the situation.

“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,” she explained. “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.”

Since then, Calloway has had a long list of roles in movies and television shows, including Hawthorne, Boston Public, The District, Rizzoli & Isles, and Shameless.

She will next appear in Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 film, which premieres March 5 on Amazon Prime.