This Scorpio season, we’re going to take a look at the chart of Dorothy Dandridge, a black actor, signer and entertainer born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Dandridge is a Scorpio sun, Cancer moon, and Leo rising. Her Lilith placement is also prominent—at 29 degrees of Aries, it sits in a relatively close conjunction to her midheaven in the ninth house.
Since Dandridge has a Leo ascendant, her chart ruler is the sun, which falls in her fourth house of home, family and foundations in the sign of Scorpio. Many folks with the ascendant ruler in the fourth house are more influenced by their parents than most people; specifically, their parents and upbringing influence the direction their life takes in a clear or public way.
In Dandridge’s case, her mother, Ruby Dandridge, and her mother’s lover had Dandridge and her sister performing in a kids ensemble from an early age. The sisters, Vivian and Dorothy, had a song-and-dance routine called The Wonder Children. This set Dorothy Dandridge up for a life as a performer, and soon after the Great Depression she got her first job playing on a comedy short in Hollywood.
Dandridge’s acting career was characterized by the tension that exists among race, gender and sexuality. The first black woman ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, Dandridge was a trailblazer in many ways, and had to navigate a performance culture environment even more hostile than it is today.
I think of the specific role of sexuality in Dandridge’s work as relating both to her Scorpio sun and her prominent Lilith placement. As a black woman, Dandridge was called on to portray women of color of various identities, whether or not these characters actually reflected her ancestry or not. In 1957, for instance, she played an Indian clerk on the film Island in the Sun, who had an interracial relationship with a white man. The film had to revise the plot several times because—get this—in the 50’s, there were strictly coded production rules about what could and could not be portrayed in interracial relationships.
This experience makes me think of Dandridge’s prominent Lilith placement. Lilith represents taboo, the type of sexuality that we might experience shame around, or that might provoke others to project their shame onto us. The ninth house is a very visible part of the chart, and it is also associated with long-distance travel, and “foreign” or “other” cultures. As a black woman working in the film industry in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Dandridge was often placed into roles where she fulfilled the white male gaze’s vision of the sexualized other woman. This vision didn’t reflect her own identity, but rather their projections onto her existence as a sexual object.
Even at the time, Dorothy Dandridge was able to resist this oppression. In the 1958 film Tamango, which was about a revolt on a slave ship. Originally, the script called for her to swim naked and wear a two piece swimsuit made of rags for most of the film. At Dandridge’s insistence, the script and wardrobe were revised to better meet Dandridge’s standards. The boundaries that Dandridge insisted on around her body, sexuality, and work reflect the strength of her Scorpio sun, which is supported by a conjunction with Jupiter and Mercury.
While Dandridge’s career fizzled out in her lifetime and she died an untimely, early death, in the 1980’s, stars such as Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett Smith began to recognize Dandridge’s groundbreaking career. She got the recognition that her Leo rising needed and deserved.