I found this Buzzfeed piece quite reckless, to be frank! As someone who’s been running a black cinema blog for almost 6 years, with a stated mission to unify artists (specifically filmmakers) of the African diaspora, an article like this that ultimately divides – whether that’s the author’s intention or not – is maddening!
I initially planned to ignore it, seeing it as ultimately a marketing gambit for “Selma,” manufactured for a specific purpose – to stimulate further discussion about the film, as it expands nationwide this weekend. But enough of you have sent it to me, urging some kind of response, that I felt that I should at least mention it here. And, as I told one of my colleagues, I’m frankly spent! These conversations, which we’ve had ad naseam on this blog, just don’t interest me anymore. Unless there’s a genuine collective will to get underneath the surface of it all, instead of just bulletin board-style engagement. There’s so much to unpack here, and if a conversation about the so-called “rise in black British actors in America” is to be had, a rather one-sided, short-sighted Buzzfeed piece doesn’t do much to inspire. It only further progresses previous theories that ultimately cause division within the diaspora.
I’m not sold on this idea that there’s a black British takeover in Hollywood, if you will. A few high-profile projects (“12 years a Slave” and “Selma” to start) staring black British actors, an “invasion” does not make. The vast majority of roles for black actors in Hollywood are still going to African American actors. Just take a look at the top 10 grossing American-produced films in the USA starring black actors, over the past several years.
One problem here (amongst many), which the Buzzfeed piece doesn’t at all address, is the fact that, as I see it, regardless of skin color, there does seem to indeed be a reverence for British actors in general, not just specifically black British actors. There appears to be a sense of, dare I say, inferiority, when it comes to the perceptions of American artists compared to Europeans, for example, whose origins I can only speculate on. However, unlike white actors, the amount of work available for black actors, is severely limited, as a plethora of more than capable actors from of all ethnic groups of the diaspora, compete for a minuscule number of jobs. And thus the disparity is even more blatant – hence articles like this one.
But a black British invasion, there is not. I will take a look at this further, using actual data, after I complete my research of all roles given to black actors in American productions, over the last 5 years.
Something else to consider here is that, just as some black Americans fume over the casting of non-black american actors in distinctly black American roles, the other side of that coin happens elsewhere. Recall the backlash Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard faced when they played Nelson and Winnie Mandela in 2 different films? We repeatedly teased Sanaa Lathan when she played a Senegalese love interest to American Matthew Broderick, in the 2009 indie “Wonderful World.” And some Brits I know weren’t exactly tickled when Don Cheadle played a British con, in the “Ocean’s 11” movie franchise.
So the door swings both ways.
But the Buzzfeed piece is so bereft of essential data, that it’s tough to take it entirely seriously. If the attempt is to have a conversation about the central matter that the article seems to want to inform its readers on, it fails. There’s a far more comprehensive discussion to be had here.
The article has been passed around quite a bit, so I assume most of you have read it. If you haven’t, do so here.