Black British actors should take leading roles in the US

A response to Samuel L Jackson’s comments.


Samuel L Jackson recently criticised Black British actors for taking African American roles with reference to the casting of Daniel Kaluuya in Jordan Peeles’s ‘Get Out’.

This is a deeply depressing notion and, John Boyega commented, an unnecessary and ‘stupid-ass conflict’.

In a year where we have progressed from #Oscarssowhite to the recent black successes at this year’s awards shows, Jackson’s comments reflect a selfish view that does not recognise the limitations that Black British actors face when it comes to finding leading roles.

Jackson wondered ‘what would have an American brother made of the role?’. In this statement, there is the inference that Black Brits do not face racism and tension when it comes to interracial dating. If the film was only unique to the African American experience, then it would not have had as big of an appeal as it does.

The satirical narrative based on the complications and awkward conversations that follow interracial dating are more relevant in the UK now than ever.

The comments made by Jackson come at a time where black British actors go to America not because they necessarily want to, but simply there is a lack of opportunity in Britain and a limited number of leading roles. Therefore, out of necessity many black actors feel like they must cross the pond in order to progress in their careers.

Jordan Peele stated he interviewed many American actors but chose Daniel Kaluuya because he was “the best person for the role” and smashed the audition. Black British actors have been commended in the past by directors and casting agents because of their classical training, therefore are sought after for their talent rather than their low costs as Jackson alluded to.

Thandie Newton mentioned in a recent interview that British dramas often want to focus on historical narratives, looking at aristocratic and white upper middle class life. If we think about shows such as ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Poldark’ and recently and ‘The Halcyon’, such roles limit black British actors to playing the token American jazz singer visiting for a couple of episodes. Despite being in this country for centuries, black people are still not part of mainstream narratives on television.

There is nothing wrong with Black British actors aspiring to lead roles and going to America to seek that.

Personally, I would love to see more Black British experiences portrayed on TV but until that happens, we should celebrate black excellence wherever we find it.

However, that is not to say things are not slowly developing, with British shows such as ‘Chewing Gum’, ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Undercover’ all having black female leads.