Black British vs. African American Actors. Is this a thing? The newest form of division between black folks got me feeling meh to say the least but I understand both ends. The wave of black British (BB) actors is not new, however, in the last 10 years we are seeing more BB actors on the screen in the USA.

John Boyega's attempt to 'black-britsplain' this issue is surface level and not cognizant of the implications of Samuel L. Jackson's comments. But I'll get to that later.

We knew this would happen. Black folks have different types of divisions and all too many of them link to the Willie Lynch Syndrome.

Light vs. Dark.

House vs. Field (or mixed vs non-mixed),

Male vs. female, size, intelligence.

And now, country vs country (rather tribe vs tribe if you ask me) to name a few.

But whether or not the Willie Lynch Letter is real, we can see the fruit of this so-called letter of which has been a blueprint for maintaining division and distrust within the black community, worldwide.

Sooner or later someone was going to say something. That person just so happened to be Samuel L. Jackson in an interview with Hot 97. In the candid interview, Jackson criticizes the casting of black British actors in American films and takes what is deemed to be a "low blow" saying: “They’re cheaper than us, for one thing. They don’t cost as much… and casting directors think they're better "trained" than African-American actors."

With this, now more than ever, we see a need for a Pan-Africanism revival linked to the unification of black people worldwide, regardless of location.

But until we get there, let's unpack this tea and shade Mr. Jackson gave when discussing Get Out on Hot 97.

Let's get into these very real teas (realities) of blackness, location, and black British life.

As an African-American (AA) who lived in London, the United Kingdom for almost 3 years, I have a view on this. And basically I see both sides of the coin as: life in the UK as a black person having insight on black British (BB) people, and most obviously, being an African-American from Chicago in London, U.K.

Having known a person or two, why BB actors are more inclined to come to the USA to 'break out’ makes sense, but to me there are deeper issues at bay.

Now, before we chop this up I want to make it very clear that black people in the U.K. are oppressed by racism and a range of extreme micro-aggressions from white folks and non-black people of color (POC) regularly, which is similar to the USA. There is also this strange idea that racism in the U.K. doesn’t exist because "It isn't as bad" as some places. When people say this, they usually compare it to the USA. There is a misconception that the U.K. was the bearer of light when it came to ending slavery, hence meaning that racism in the U.K. ended in 1833 along with slavery. There is also this very strong misconception that because interracial — here I mean black and white people but more specifically black men and white female — relationships exist in higher proportion, this alone heavily reduces the fact that there is less racism in the UK.

I'm ready to bring receipts for you all proving that all these things are 100 percent false but that conversation must be postponed until further notice because this is my first blog post. Bare with me here.

Now, since you trust that what I'm saying is true concerning racism in the UK, you can understand why the black experience surrounding the struggle against racism is universal. Racism in western countries is especially prevalent and takes form in different ways.

We cannot say that the U.K. doesn’t have a racism problem simply because it isn’t as assumingly overt as the in U.S,  when, in fact, there are extreme conservative groups who are racist and insensitive to blacks and POC.

But I digress, as I said I would break this down later in another post.

Anyway, because covert and overt racism exists in the UK, I have found that people won't admit to it as straightforwardly as someone would in the US. This is mostly because BB folks have accepted micro-aggressions as the norm from white people in the UK, there has been a lower likelihood of calling out the BS treatment of BB folks and frankly, it is a trained way of life because of the culture in the UK. Many black people aren’t happy about it and the moment you call out racism on white folks you will usually be restraint at all costs. We see this first hand in Jane Elliot's infamous Blue Eye Brown Eye Test conducted on British adults. We see here how resistant and in denial, white Brits are when it comes to admitting they have a problem surrounding race relations with blacks and other POC.

Because racism is heavily protected in this classist society, you will find it increasingly difficult for black people to rise above the systemic racism so intricately linked in British society and culture. The denial of racism from both black and white people only hinders the success from black people reaching into highest ranks in the U.K. To date, black people in the U.K. literally hold zero high-ranking positions in top industries.

We see this in the latest BAFTA awards. There were few blacks in this award show similar to the Oscars. The protests and controversy surrounding this event was historical and made people aware of the inequality BB face in film, but it has yet to have a high turnover in this tightly controlled industry.

The call for protests against racism in the UK is very real. However, there are still significant amounts of blacks folks who have bought into the thinking of their oppressors. The rising tide of fighting racism is well on its way but until then, it's easier to flee into a better condition.

This is why we are seeing so many BB actors and actresses migrate to the USA. From Thandie Newton, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and our favorite: Idris Elba.

Black folks here and abroad are starting to take notice, and eventually, this convo was bound to happen. As alongside the BAFTA protests, Idris Elba himself admits that the film industry in the U.K. is lacking. He reflects in an interview that: 

"There were hardly any black kids, because none of us could afford it [theater school and training]" and that "The Britain I come from is the most successful, diverse, multicultural country on the earth….but you wouldn't know it if you turned on the TV. So many of our creative decision-makers share the same background.'"

But the question remains: are black Britons taking roles made for African-Americans or is this simply another form of division?

What I would ask after that is do or don’t we want Black Britons to stay in British Films only?

The fact is, African-American life and culture permeates into every society and country. African-Americans hold influence and black people around the world take notice. We set the bar and standard for so many black people worldwide, our struggle as the leader for liberation is extraordinary. Sadly, often our culture and experiences overshadow other respective cultures and experiences of non-African-American black people, which is not right, 

African-American culture impacts and whether folks want to admit it or not, is copied, chopped and remixed into everything "trendy", "hot", or "cool". We see this in Asians rapping and their love for hip-hop, to the influence of jazz and blues leading to the creation of Reggae and the African-American, white women wearing 'mini-buns' formally known as Bantu knots to the AA Christian church culture that reached the White Southern Evangelicals and Baptists to the Pentecostal Aunties of Nigeria.

To white and non-black POC: imitation is the highest form of compliment. But give credit when it's due. We are long overdue To my non-AA Black folks worldwide: We have work to do when it comes to understanding each other better and more deeply.

The misunderstanding and miscommunication for that matter is mostly to be blamed on us. We all need to have these open discussions for growth and unity. This is why we have this confusion surrounding the influx of Non-AA black people who come to the USA. There are tensions between us that we haven't necessarily created but have accepted as truth. These negative mindsets about each other must be broken at all costs. 

I have been shown so much love from my black people in the UK. Black British Londoners I have met have a fascination with African–Americans (not in a weird way, but more so an interest). We are special and folks know it! That’s not to say black Brits aren’t dope because the connection was deep (I want to let y'all know that I represented US well, lol). It is so rare for a BB to come in contact with AA and vice versa for BB in the USA. Usually, white people are the main people who live in the U.K. for long periods of time. Whether it be for school or study abroad, AA's are underrepresented over there. 

If the only known thing people know about AA's are from movies, music, and ratchet reality shows, we sure as hell are in trouble. This is my biggest issue with media representation of AA's. 

We need to recognize how much media influences our perception and what people think of us. We are better than that and our entertainers need to be held accountable. For every ratchet on TV, there needs to be 20 Michelle Obama's to clean up the messy image folks have of black people in the USA.

There is a thin line between perception, reality, stereotypes, and entertainment. We need to get hip to these links and why certain images of us are bombarded on the international stage known as the T.V.

The views of Samuel L. Jackson are of those of quite a few AA who have taken notice to the alleged takeover of BB actors on the television and movies. BB actors are under-represented and they know it. BB actors are a minority within a minority within a minority. It gets deep and will take another 100 years to unpack. Until then, an easier route is to come to the USA to gain notoriety. I don’t want these BB actors to forget to put in that work when it comes to breaking their silence and a times allegiance to the bias in theater in the film industry in the U.K. like Idris did.

Black History in the U.K.

October is Black History Month in the U.K. and as such, the British Film Institute (BFI) held an event surrounding black films, however, most of the films available were overwhelmingly trumped by films on life as an AA, not the Black British experience. The voices and experiences of BB people are unheard and unrepresented and unfortunately blurred out by the not so parallel life of African-Americans.

As said before, the black experience is uniquely and unfortunately tied to colonialism, imperialism, and racism. The black diaspora speaks greatly to this as all can be linked to our connections to Africa. The struggle for black folks in the UK is real. Suppression and oppression are heavy. White folks being racist ain't new and the struggle is daily, so why is this actually such a big deal? 

It is a big deal because the history of the black British experience barely exists in such a society where black people have contributed a hell of a lot, even though they are less than 3 percent of the population. It is also a hell of a big deal because contrary to popular belief, the black British experience is not the same as the African-American experience.

I found it extremely disheartening to re-learn the generic black history we all know about surrounding African-American History. Even African-Americans (in the most respectful way) are tired of solely learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks as the main purveyors of civil rights and black history every year; there are numerous other amazing African-Americans to learn about along with so many other facets of our history outside and before slavery. 

However, it is our responsibility to teach our history. I plead to our BB brothers and sisters to push for these conversations with the world and each other. This is not to say people aren't voicing their history. Without the voicing of this history and struggle, it leads to the misconceptions and continued belief that racism doesn't exist in the U.K. or worse: that British white supremacy doesn't exist. It is disheartening to have lived in the U.K. so long and regularly learn about African-American History, knowing that blacks in the U.K. have such an amazing history! This was realized by plenty of people from the production of the book Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga of which went on to become a series on BBC, too.

Black history is buried in the U.K. Even still, is it valid for a black Brit to play in African-American roles?

To this, I would say yes and no. Yes because no one should be discriminated against.Yes because, if the talent is there then why not?  I would say no because that could be applied where other great non-black actors attain black roles, it doesn’t make sense and does a disservice to our stories, and we already see the whitewashing of Black roles. Our roles must be protected.

Most recently and notably Nina Simone was played (literally and figuratively) by a color-blind Latina, Zoe Saldana. I will use this example as a test of integrity in acting.

The fact is, we care about the personal lives of celebs who play the real people we adore. We all can agree on the foolery that took place when Zoe Saldana played our blackest queen ancestor Nina Simone. Her pain and dignity were not expressed and the whole situation was disrespectful and messy. Nina, rest her soul,      needed to be portrayed as a naturally dark-skinned, talented, singing, passionate, dignified up-and-coming actress. No blackface, no prosthetic noses, no actresses claiming to not see color or her own blackness. Nina needed someone to play that role with to the 'T' but instead, we got the train-wreak film that nobody saw. From the unhappy members of Nina’s family and the dragged out drama surrounding the film, it all led to an unequivocal, undeniable no, yet Zoe still took the role. All things considered, Zoe Saldana has led me to no longer respect her as an artist. Character and Integrity matters: this is why we adored Denzel Washington's portrayal as Malcolm X.

So it comes down to this: the casting directors need to give actors who love the person and have a passion for that person to play such roles, especially when it comes to biopics. We appreciate actors who actually look like the person they are playing; it allows us to really sink into the story of that person. How come for black folks there is so much drama grasping this concept?

If we compare, we see the exact opposite in the Oscar-winning movie Frida. I especially love that Frida Kahlo was played by Salma Hayek. Salma is Mexican like Frida, acts her ass off in this role and holds the passion of what I imagine Frida to have. I was taken on a historical and personal journey. We dove into life and passion Frida embodied. I appreciate Salma in this role and would not want someone less talented or too disconnected from Frida. Salma personified Frida.

This same "No" applies to why BB actors can't play biopics of African-American actors. Simply because it just isn't the best fit.

And I don’t want to hear any BS on how there aren’t any good African-American actors out there. That’s nonsense. People praised the New Edition series that came out on BET because the actors were phenomenal. In an interview on The Wendy Williams Show, the actors in the series praised the casting directors for genuinely searching for talent who embodied the roles of the artists of New Edition. The series was a success and for that matter brought black joy to folks watching, considering the agitation and unpredictable reality all of Trump being the new 45th president.

We see that it isn’t technically wrong to have black British actors in African-American centered and/or American films but more-so unfitting and can lead to offense for those who recognize it. Yeah, it's that deep. We shouldn't have to fight or fuss over roles. It isn't the best decision when it comes to starring in films and biopics on people from certain spaces and backgrounds. Storytelling by authentic voices matter. It becomes tricky when regulating blackness on who should or shouldn't get a role because blackness is so complex. The moment these things are ruptured it always stirs emotions and controversy.

However, for me, "outsiders" taking roles from groups is a thing. I sure as hell wouldn’t want a non-mixed-looking-no-dreadhead-no-singing-no-accent-having 'Jamaican’ playing Bob Marley and I know Jamaican folks wouldn't take too kindly to that if that movie was to ever take place. We like authentic movies just like our food, so yeah, I get it.

We all know that it’s hard being a trailblazer in this world of whiteness and systemic racism. To a degree, I agree with the tweet from Boyega, but he misses the point of recognizing the complexities surrounding race, blackness, and location. In this case, it does matter where you're from and where you're at. When it comes to some roles, it would be best to search for the BEST fit. 

When we start to tell our stories, we can then fit the right people into these roles. However, if we continue to have the wrong people tell our stories ranging from directing, producing, and casting, we are bound to these continued lackluster and usually historically incorrect movies.

Thing is, the fascination of black British people is a new trend in the States. Like a weird type of upper casting system of black folks from the powers that be. black Brits have work to put in and I understand why they need to leave the U.K. to 'break-out' all while not forgetting where you came from. They hardly go back and try to fix the mess at home, hence forwarding the influx of BB actors to the USA. The U.K. has so much to fix, but I can understand black Brits' comfort working and living the USA.

Things change and we all gotta work to eat. But the complexities and layers (mostly racism) surrounding opportunities for black roles in the U.S. and the U.K. leaves few plates or opportunities for BB and AA actors as explained earlier. It is not a call for division between us but rather a call to continue to expand the film and movie industry in our own way, like Bollywood and Nollywood industries have done. We need to tell our own stories in our own way, in our own voices. Black films matter. Black storytelling in a respectful and correct way matters. Blackness and our history are not binary, simple, or monolithic and the world deserves to know and accept our differences and truths.