SHOULD BRITISH ACTORS PLAY AFRICAN AMERICAN ROLES?

‘Judas And The Black Messiah’ became a highly anticipated movie for 2021 following the release of the trailer a few weeks ago. The upcoming American-biographical drama tells the story of Fred Hampton and The Black Panther Party in the 1960s, however, the decision to cast Black Brit, David Kaluuya has been subject to criticism. The “controversial” casting has left some upset and questioning why a British actor is playing an iconic American activist – despite the approval of his only son, Fred Hampton Junior.

Hampton was a prominent figure in the fight against freedom and police brutality during the 1960s. His outspoken and charismatic demeanour served as a powerful driving force for change but would tragically lead to his assassination as he came under fire from the government, police and FBI.

Idris in The Wire 2002 – Credit: Vulture

Director and Producer, Shaka King has since defended his decision to cast Kaluuya, calling it a “diasporic way of thinking”, making a point to highlight the fact that “kidnapped Africans ended up all around the world, we have a lot more in common than people think, in terms of our experience and trying to overthrow white supremacy.” The experiences of Black Brits and Americans may not be identical but in essence, they are the same. So why shouldn’t a British actor be able to play an American role, especially if they are able to execute the character so effectively? John Boyega and Idris Elba have taken America by storm, effortlessly embodying American characters which we see in films like ‘Detroit’ and crime drama ‘The Wire’.

Get Out 2017 – Credit: YouTube

It’s not the first time Kaluuya has been criticised, as we see history clearly repeating itself. Jordan Peele’s 2017 American horror film ‘Get Out’ featured Kaluuya as the lead. Samuel L. Jackson expressed his dismay and that the role should have been played by an “American brother.” The same can be said for Ava DuVernay’s ‘Selma’, where Nigerian-British actor David Oyelowo played the role of Martin Luther King Jr. and the film ‘Harriet’ played by Cynthia Erivo. Is it that some Americans think our British counterparts cannot convey the role in a way an American actor could, perhaps due to subconscious British mannerisms? Or it could be a long-debated case of the importance of roles to be played by actors who closely resemble the nationality/ethnicity of the character?

Viewers tend to look for authenticity and consistency between the actor and the character so it makes sense that some would be disappointed by the casting choices. Arguably, this also applies to black and white actors playing native African/ethnic characters, usually accompanied by a poor attempt at the accent; why not get actors from those countries to play such roles? But that’s a story for another day. 

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