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‘It Was Crushing’: Sheryl Lee Ralph Shares the Moment a Producer Fired Her from a TV Pilot for Not Being ‘Black Enough’

Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph was introduced to Hollywood more than 45 years ago. But the “Abbott Elementary” star is now dishing the unfair treatment she experienced back in the day.

The Emmy winner talked to Shondaland about her experience in Hollywood and revealed how one particular moment of rejection turned into a “blessing in disguise.” 

Sheryl Lee Ralph dishes on the treatment she experienced when she started in show business. (Photo: @thesheryleeralph/Instagram)

During the conversation, Ralph revealed that she was cast for a “Sanford and Son” spin-off but was later removed.

“There was a great pilot for Sanford and Son, and the show had all these great spinoffs. I was fired from a pilot they were doing named ‘Sanford Arms,'” she shared.

“They fired me, and I could not figure out why, so I called the producer and asked. He said to me it was because I was not Black enough.” 

The 66-year-old noted that those words shifted the way she saw herself “as a human being, as an artist, and as a person.” 

She said, “In some ways, it was crushing because I looked at myself, and I believed, ‘Wow, I’ve been Black my whole life, and you’re standing here telling me to my face that I am just not Black enough for you in this project.’”

Ralph ultimately didn’t land the job, but she reflected on her journey and how happy she was with how things happened.

“It has become an incredible story to tell,” she said. “I’m just thankful I didn’t let his lack of vision stop me, and I was able to carry on.”

The mother of two said she ran into the unnamed producer “years later,” and he showed remorse for his decision.

“He apologized for his ignorance and said, ‘I did not know what I know now. But you were an amazing actress then, and you’ve become even greater over the years.’ All I said was, ‘Thank you,’” the “Moesha” star remembered.

She added, “I’m just thankful I didn’t let his lack of vision stop me, and I was able to carry on. That wasn’t the only one, but that was one I’ll never forget.”

“Sanford Arms” premiered in 1977 and followed a widower and his two teenage children who took over the Los Angeles property previously run by Fred Sanford, portrayed by Redd Foxx, and his son Lamont Sanford, portrayed by Demond Wilson, after the two namesake characters moved to Arizona.

“Sanford and Son” was a huge success, but the one-season pinoff was canceled after eight episodes, though only four aired.

Ralph may have been denied a role on that show, but she has continued to make a name for herself on others as a trailblazer in the industry.

She currently stars as Baraba Howard in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” for which she won an Emmy Award as a first-time nominee in 2022. Ralph won in the category for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

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