Ethel [Waters] could have had her first starring role in MGM's Hallelujah!, which was released on August 20, 1929. She was the first choice of the film's director, King Vidor, but lost the part to a sixteen year old chorus girl named Nina Mae McKinney when "the talent man King Vidor went East to wave gold bags at me was stalled on the job by the colored theatrical people unfriendly, to me." Consequently, it was Nina, not Ethel, who was given the chance to be the first black actress to play a leading role in a Hollywood film. [From Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather, Stephen Bourne (2007)]
While Hollywood was casting dark-skinned black women in all of their "happy-to-be-serving" supporting (or uncredited) roles, they were also laying foundations for their (few) black Leading Ladies. Nina Mae McKinney would arguably (see page 181 for criticism of Oscar Micheaux's casting) set the blueprint for Hollywood's future black Leading ladies (Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, etc.)--and the character of "Chick" would lay the foundation for the "tragic" roles that these women were often offered (characters that would eventually fade away by the late 50's/early 60's, though).
However, I don't want to get into the intricacies of color-coded casting--that's another subject for another day. Instead, I would like to pose a question with the hope of encouraging a lot of discussion in the 'Comments' section. Before I ask this question, keep the following things in mind: The "look" of Chick (and Nina Mae McKinney) is believed to have set the standard for Hollywood's next black Leading Ladies, but while the black community has revered these women--Nina Mae, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, etc.--there has also been criticism of the roles that they've played (tragic mulattoes, "harlots"). With that in mind, I now pose this question:
In your opinion, how would the casting of Ethel Waters in Hallelujah! have changed the course of American history for black women (of all shades and complexions) in Film, Television, Music, and perhaps society in general?