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Sophie Okonedo Plans To Focus On Theater Thanks To The Lack Of Film Opportunities For Black Actors

Sophie Okonedo Plans To Focus On Theater Thanks To The Lack Of Film Opportunities For Black Actors

Well… you go where the work is (especially if it’s the kind of work you love). It might mean we’ll see a lot less of her on the big screen in the immediate future… but, then again, it’s been awhile since we last saw Sophie Okonedo in that format; 2008, when she had 2 films in circulation – The Secret Life Of Bees and the lesser-known Skin.

Since then, you’ll recall that in June I posted an entry alerting you to her casting in 2 projects: an upcoming epic UK TV mini-series based on Sinbad lore; and an Australian TV mini-series titled The Slap. She’s also set to star in a stage production called Haunted Child, which will begin its run at the Royal Court theater in London on December 2.

That’s really it for her; some might call that a travesty, given the talent; alas, so it goes in this biz for so many other strong performers – specifically those belonging to marginalized groups.

But she certainly isn’t letting the lack of on-screen opportunity disparage her from taking advantage of others.

I lifted the below paragraph from an interview she did with the UK’s Telegraph, posted today, as she does the press circuit, as a marketing effort for The Slap, which begins airing on BBC Four tonight.

She enjoys stage work for what she calls the “minutiae” of the performance. “It’s something about doing the same thing every night. The repetition of the theatre means you’ve got the time to get deeply inside the person you’re playing.” She likens this to “how I find my garden fascinating when I probably didn’t at 20. It’s the little things now that just give me complete delight.

Okonedo says she wants to focus on theatre for the immediate future. Her Hotel Rwanda Oscar nomination seems to have taken her away from the stage in the last few years, although, somewhat to her disappointment, to the small, rather than big, screen. She’s been Bafta-nominated (last year, which is when she was also awarded an OBE for services to drama) both for Mrs Mandela and for playing the ballsy lawyer Jack in the second series of BBC One’s Criminal Justice.

But it is in theatre, which is less wedded to realism than television and thus more colour blind, where she believes the best roles now lie for her. Theatre will offer her “Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov”, whereas British film-makers are obsessed with making period pieces that rarely include black or mixed-race actors. Okonedo made a touching, and entirely plausible, Nancy in the BBC’s most recent version of Oliver Twist, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Most British movies are costume dramas,” Okonedo says. “All the older actors are having quite a lot of fun doing their Dickens. I think I’d be quite good at those characters. I’d like to do more grand dames as I get older, but I don’t think I’ll be offered them.

So… nothing we haven’t heard from other black actors before, but still kind of sad when considered – this lack of variety and thus opportunity within what we could term the *establishment.* All the more reason to try and work outside it… easier said than done, I know.

But I certainly hope she continues to be offered work in theater. I can almost sense her disappointment in not having as much big screen success as she maybe hoped.

As an aside… interesting the idea that theater is less “wedded to realism” than cinema, and more risks seem to be taken in the former than the latter. I’ve actually never really given that much thought, but will. It’s maybe not the best example, but one that comes to me right away was that there was more uproar over Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in the Thor movie than there has (thus far) been about an all-black Broadway stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I guess it’s all about the differences in the form and structure of both.

Anyway, good luck to Ms Okonedo regardless of what path she chooses, and I’m sure we’ll see her on screen again eventually… maybe sooner than we think.

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I don’t know if it always comes back to him….not for me anyway…I simply used him because quite frankly he’s the most recent example I can think of to make my point.


there is always luck . . . so many people are working hard but will never achieve his level of success . . . I think Mr. Perry has had tons of luck . . . he wrote some really shitty plays . . . but made a fortune from them . . . most people need to write brilliant plays to . . . I won’t even say make a fortune . . but to just break even . . . or be deemed a success

Theatre Buff

Does every post come back to TP???

Damn no wonder the brother is so one could be hated so much by so few, and be broke and unhappy.

As for Sophie, I do feel what she’s saying. As someone who’s a huge fan of British period pieces (even cheesy ones like Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance), it’s sad when no one is black. Like they are whitewashing history in a way. However, it is a white writer’s perspective so I’m mindful of that. She should think about writing her own series.

Does anyone know of any black writers doing this genre, either in books, theatre or film?



“As an aside… interesting the idea that theater is less “wedded to realism” than cinema, and more risks seem to be taken in the former than the latter.”

I find this to be true in the way theater vs. cinema is practiced generally Mainstream cinema and even lots of independent cinema have moved towards Realism. But much of the early days of cinema was heavily influenced by theater, radio and literature because their were no cinematic influences to draw from that’s why much of the acting was more expressionistic and theatrical and just big. Many people now when they make a film are influenced by other films. But in theater there is more room for experimentation because it’s more accepted. Most auteurs tend to be much more theatrical and experimental in their work. to do this as a filmmaker though is to take a huge risk because realism is more bankable.


Don’t worry jdoe, I will continue to work hard and have just as much success and hire who I want and I will continue to have an opinion on him and whoever else I want when I am sucessful and unlike you, I will respect and understand the fact that others have an opinion that is different from mine on a particular person or subject.


Tyler Perry was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has paid the cost to be the boss and make these decisions. There was no luck involved anywhere at any level of his success. It was all work. Anyone else can do the same. Then hire whoever you want and quit hating on successful folks.


What she’s saying is just the kind of thing that brings more credibility to people’s outrage over Tyler Perry casting someone like Kim Kardashian. It’s already tough enough for black actors (or black anything in entertainment) out there. The stunt casting like Kardashian takes jobs away from people who are truly talented and quite frankly care more about it. Someone like her changes her mind more than she changes her underwear. One minute it’s this, one minute it’s that. Like him or not, people go to see Tyler Perry’s movies and there aren’t a lot of us in a position to be able to help black talent (yet!). He is. He is in a position to get them noticed, to even help them move on to things bigger and better.

So I completely understand her frustration. You just wish you could do something for these talented actors whenever you hear their stories of frustration. We’ll just keep on keeping on for the change I guess. It’s so sad though.

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