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Actress Dana Gourrier Fighting Hard Not to be Typecast

Actress Dana Gourrier speaks on an industry many worry only glorifies black roles that depict painful portraits of African-Americans.
Actress Dana Gourrier attends the Hateful Eight premiere in Hollywood, California, on December 7, 2015. (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)AFP/Getty Images

Dana Gourrier is many things. The rising-star of an actress is black; she’s curvy. And she is as comfortable serving fans with the National Anthem at the local Saints game as she is acting alongside Samuel Jackson or Jamie Foxx in dramatic blockbusters.

But despite her recent slate of film and television credits such as "The Hateful Eight," “DJango Unchained,” “American Horror Story” and Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” Gourrier has experienced her own share of the darker side to the film industry, from discrimination to typecasting.

“When anyone walks into a room there are certain identifiers that are pinned to that person that they will not ever be able to break away from,” said Gourrier. “They will always be put into certain categories and me being the woman that I am – a curvy black woman – there are already uphill battles that I have to face.”

But she's made up her mind to take a stand in the kinds of roles she chooses.

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“It’s my job to defend each and every character that comes my way,” Gourrier explained. “If I take on a role, it’s absolutely my responsibility to defend them as it relates to the sort of versatility and the roles that I’ve had.”

Take her work in “The Hateful Eight,” Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, released last December, in which Gourrier portrays the no-nonsense supporting character, Minnie. In what she refers to as one of her most challenging roles, Minnie served to be one of the more significant female characters in the film, which received accolades and criticism for the racial issues it addresses.

In the Oscar Award-winning “DJango Unchained,” too, Gourrier plays Cora, a supporting character who is an enslaved woman in yet another Tarantino film that received controversy for its portrayal of the systemic brutality of America's original sin - slavery.

Actor Lenny Kravitz as James Holloway and Actress Dana Gourrier in Lee Daniel's "The Butler" (2013).

And in "The Butler," Lee Daniels' 2013 Oscar-snubbed film that also received accolades for shining a light on the lessons of racial inequality in the past century, Gourrier plays Helen Holloway, the wife of butler James Holloway, who is portrayed by Lenny Kravitz.

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Though proud of the credentials she has gained thus far, Gourrier only hopes to further expand her resume, and she strongly believes that she will have to fight a lot harder than others to do so.

“No one wants to be typecast, no one wants to be put into a box or a lane,” she furthered. “People are always like, 'stay in your lane.'”

A minority in more ways than one, Gourrier still feels like she must work “a hundred times harder” than other actors when being considered for a role.

“When I go into an audition room, I know for a fact that I’ve put more work than any other woman in that room, or any other man, for that matter, because I’ve been in a ton of rooms where I’ve just been the only one,” she said.

But she remains hopeful for the industry, thanks in part to casting directors like Megan Lewis who operate by the simple philosophy, “the best actor wins.”

“She doesn’t doesn’t care what color you are, what size you are [...] what your economic status is - she doesn’t care about any of that stuff,” Gourrier said. "That's the type of opportunity that I’m looking for that’s the kind of part that I want to be in.”

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Frequently the only black woman on set, Gourrier was the only black actress to star alongside actors Michael Shannon, Kristen Dunst and Adam Driver in last month's release, "Midnight Special."

"There’s one other black man in the film," she adds.

Having a first hand experience of Hollywood's diversity problem, Gourrier urges the industry to talk more about "real people and real lives."

Though she is thankful to roles she has acquired in films like "The Butler" and "For Colored Girls," Gourrier begs the question, "Does the typical black story have to be an inspirational story?"

Despite working in an industry that many actors worry only glorifies black roles that depict painful and often stereotypical portraits of African-Americans, she is still hopeful.

"Things have to change from the root," Gourrier says.

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