The Deeper Issues Behind Why Some See Black British Actors Portraying African-Americans as Problematic

The Deeper Issues Behind Why Some See Black British Actors Portraying African-Americans as Problematic

Director/producer Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and actress/producer Oprah Winfrey accept the award for Outstanding Motion Picture for Selma onstage during the 46th NAACP Image Awards on February 6th, 2015, in Pasadena, California. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Director/producer Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and actress/producer Oprah Winfrey accept the award for Outstanding Motion Picture for Selma onstage during the 46th NAACP Image Awards on February 6th, 2015, in Pasadena, California. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

There are deeper questions than whether they’re taking jobs from black African Americans.

Last month, Samuel L. Jackson took part in a radio interview on Hot 97 to promote his latest film, Kong: Skull Island. In passing, he noted the increase in black British actors who have landed roles playing black Americans.

This, in itself, is not a new discussion, nor is the rise of British actors in American film productions exclusive to black Brits. When the interviewer asked Jackson about Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a horror-comedy about a black American man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time, Jackson confessed to not having seen the film yet. Nonetheless, he suggested that casting Daniel Kaluuya, a black Briton, might have been a missed opportunity on the director’s part. “I tend to wonder what Get Out would have been with an American brother who really understands that. I mean, Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years,” Jackson said. “What would a brother from America have made of that role? … Some things are universal, but everything ain’t.”

Jackson’s remark about interracial dating is, plainly, inaccurate. At best it’s a nod at the recency of Loving v. Virginia, or how roughly 60 years ago a black child in America could still be lynched because a white woman lied about him flirting with her. The backlash to Jackson’s commentary was swift. Some were mad because they thought Jackson was complaining about British actors taking jobs away from black Americans. Others objected to the notion that Kaluuya was unqualified for the role because black Brits had somehow been unaffected by racism. The real problem, they concluded, was unsupportive black Americans. Black Briton and fellow actor John Boyega tweeted definitively: “Black brits vs African American. A stupid ass conflict we don’t have time for.”

Meanwhile, various Americans on Twitter argued that non-American blacks have often, if not always, benefited from a form of “passing” in the United States — their otherness frequently recognized by their accents — and that a considerable amount of anti-blackness has often, if not always, been aimed by black immigrants at black Americans. Such people from the Caribbean, Africa, and elsewhere were black, yes, but at least they weren’t black Americans, whom they sometimes looked down on. Over the next couple of weeks, there ensued a series of back-and-forth accusations on social media concerning issues of black identity, referred to on Twitter as #diasporawars. Jackson has since clarified that his criticism was aimed at Hollywood and its lack of substantial roles for black Americans — not at Kaluuya or at British actors in general. He also commented on the dearth of British roles for black American actors — the door doesn’t swing both ways. “We don’t get to do that that often,” Jackson said. “They don’t ask us to come over and adapt to the British accent.”

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SOURCE: Rahawa Haile 
Pacific Standard

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