Black British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir is playing two different Black American leaders, which means it’s time to discuss the acting divide within the diaspora once again.
Ben-Adir recently sat down with the LA Times to talk about his roles as Malcolm X in Regina King’s upcoming film, One Night in Miami and Barack Obama in the upcoming Showtime miniseries The Comey Rule. He said he’s prepared to have conversations about the potential backlash he could face for playing two different American legends.
“I know about the conversation,” he said. “Look, no disrespect to Americans, but America is the center of its own universe–culturally. It’s understandable that Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t have a clue what it’s like growing up as a man in inner-city London; he probably thinks we’re all sitting around drinking tea with the Queen, and it’s not the truth.”
“The accent can be quite deceiving,” he continued. “It comes with a feeling of privilege and an air of everything’s rosy. I can tell you for a fact that standing up in a court of law here, in front of a white judge, as a Black man, you are nine times more likely than your white counterparts to get a stiffer sentence.”
Ben-Adir brought up James Baldwin and other Black American intellectuals who, in his opinion, showcased Europe in a false light.
“Here’s the thing: [James] Baldwin and all these Black people, coming over to Europe in the ’60s and going back to America and talking about how wonderful it was, were coming over as famous people,” he said. “They weren’t experiencing what it was like for my grandparents coming off those boats from the West Indies in the ’50s, being spat on every day. They both worked as nurses in this country for 50 years. My grandma would talk about people bugging out because they thought she was the devil, and they’d have breakdowns because they didn’t want Black skin touching them.”
“Our histories are more similar than we know,” he said. “The enlightening thing about how the George Floyd murder went worldwide was watching the Māori community in New Zealand talking about people who died in custody over there, the Aboriginal community in Australia, the Black community in France, all saying the same thing.”
Ben-Adir also mentioned that he spoke with King about the Black British vs. Black American discourse, saying that he “always [tries] to go in with the maximum amount of sensitivity.”
“Regina and I had a big discussion about this before she cast me, because it was a big decision for her,” he said. “I had to explain to her that I get it, I understand what this means, and I get what Malcolm stood for.”
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