Donnell Turner has loved the craft of acting since starring in church plays as a young boy in Chicago. Classically trained, he has honed his skills for decades, and as an African American, he is very tuned in to how they are represented onscreen and in the media.
Donnell Turner: Creating Awareness From Within
Turner surprised fans at a recent Zoom event hosted by Coastal Entertainment with some behind-the-scenes stories about how a meeting with the writers back in 2021 changed the trajectory of not only his character, Curtis Ashford, but the African-American families represented on General Hospital. He was concerned about being seen as a stereotype.
“Anybody can come in and yell and be a stereotype,” he explained. “One of the main points of interest that I had when I had an hour-long meeting with the writers and the producers was to be careful about how you write for the characters that you don’t have many of.”
He went on to describe how he pitched his case to the writers. “So, there were 42 actors, and, at the time, six were black. Well, you can’t make those six stereotypes. If we have a nuclear family first, then we can go from there.” Turner laid the landscape of the Ashford and Robinson storylines. “But at the time, there were no nuclear families, there was no black home ownership, and there was no leadership. Curtis was not considered smart or skilled — it was always wildly clever or visceral.”
Turner used the example of how the character of Stella Henry was written. “Vernee [Watson] is a fabulous actor, but she was winning awards for yelling.” The actor addressed the fans directly. “Remember all the yelling she was doing? She came in and berated me and Jordan for two years and got two Emmys.”
The actor, who recently received a degree in filmmaking, bravely challenged the powers that be to level the playing field. “I challenged the writers to think a little differently and write in a manner that can be comparable to the way they write for others,” Turner admitted. “In other words, maybe let’s do away with some of the stereotypes. We can handle problems civilly and articulately.”
While it can be scary to speak your truth at times, Turner couldn’t be happier with the results. “I’m grateful that the writers heard what I was saying. They’ve made changes.” He specified the positive adjustments that have been made. “They’ve given Curtis ownership. They’ve given us a house. They’ve given us a nuclear family. I told them there were no Black father figures. They’ve given me a father. So, there have been a lot of changes since February 2021 when I challenged the writers.”