Can’t Knock The Hustle? Or Is He Hustling Backwards? (Revisiting U.K. Star Adrian Lester’s Casting Choices In Short Film Directorial Debut “Of Mary”)

Can't Knock The Hustle? Or Is He Hustling Backwards? (Revisiting U.K. Star Adrian Lester's Casting Choices In Short Film Directorial Debut "Of Mary")

British actor Adrian Lester has been very vocal in recent months about the lack of professional opportunities afforded to black thespians in the U.K.  Here at S&A, we’ve followed the story and have repeatedly reported on the sentiment expressed by Lester and several other actors from that region of the world.  However . . .

 . . . something is amiss with Lester’s latest project.  And in the bustle of everyday life– doing this and, and reading that; watching this, and posting that— I managed to miss it, even though it was staring me right in the face.

Despite Lester’s complaints about the entertainment industry, he’s managed to do well for himself, compared to others who have been at it as long as he has and longer.  He’s only recently wrapped up a very successful run as lead character Mickey Stone on the hugely popular BBC series Hustle, which ran for an impressive 8 seasons.

However, Lester made very clear his intentions to take his talents to America once Hustle was over, because, as he put it in a 2011 interview with Radio Times:

“As an actor you’re constantly trying to guess how valuable you are to the industry. If you’re a woman you’ll put certain negative things against that, be it age or weight.

“As a black actor you do the same – you’ll only see yourself travelling as far as people like you have travelled. And if no-one like you is doing what you’re doing it’s very hard for you to see yourself going further, and you get frustrated.”

I was extremely delighted, a few months ago, when I learned that Lester had co-written and directed a short film titled Of Mary, and even profiled it here on S&A before its screening at the 2012 London Short Film Festival.  It seemed like, with this project, Lester was taking control of his own destiny, creating his own projects; which, in turn, would lead to him being able to solve that problem of black actors in the U.K. not being considered for the prime roles they so coveted.

Of Mary tells the story of “Jason Lawrence, as he returns home to his estranged wife and son, and how bitter resentment means there is more distance between them than he thought.  Any black actor would surely appreciate the chance to work with someone as accomplished as Lester, bringing the lead role of Jason Lawrence to life on screen.  This was it, right?  Turning tides; shifts in power!

But, alas, it was not to be.

The lead role in the short film directed and co-written by a black man who said he was coming to America, because he couldn’t find work in his home country, would go to an actor named Tom Brooke, who is not a black actor.  To be fair, Brooke was cast opposite the lovely Kehinde Fadipe, a black actress.  But that elusive lead actor role– which, seemingly, could have prevented at least one black actor from having to cross the Atlantic ocean to fend off starvation– remained out of reach, on this project at least.

When I first told readers about Of Mary, I, admittedly, failed to make the connection.  But now that I have, I have to ask you, the S&A faithful, “what part of the game is this?”  Doing your own thing, and creating your own film projects, is a hell of a hustle-move for a black actor who desires more prominent and regular acting opportunities.  But aren’t you hustling backwards when you do create the prominent roles you covet, yet continue in the same practices of the industry you’ve accused of holding you back?

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Comments

JMAC

Put me in the he's hustling backwards camp. If he's trying to appease everybody he's not gonna make much impact here anyway. Got more than enough of those types.

Nadine

There is NO WAY McQueen could have cast a Black man in that role which exemplifies not only his awareness of race, but how his understanding transcends the complaints of some Blacks in the U.S. who think it is better that one Black male actor get a job (no matter the role). Why on earth would McQueen not understand that it would be a DISASTER to cast a Black man in that role? The same can said for Lester. The main character left his family estranged. Why cast a Black man? Can't you see what they're dong?

Cherish

Answer to your question – yes. But I wonder if there is something more insidious taking place.a I bet if he had cast a Black male actor, the co female lead would have been non-Black. When you look at this as well as McQueens movie SHAME with a white male, I wonder if these Black filmmakers can't see black people outside the stereotypes White society has limited us to that they now cast us within those boundaries and can't see ourselves outside of them.

Laura

Usually I am not the type to believe Black filmmakers should only do "Black" stories. But if his main argument is that Blacks in the UK don't enough roles isn't he somewhat perpetuating the very thing his is complaining about. However it was nice to give a sister a role.

moreno

for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

lil nut

indeed!

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