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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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