Black British actors portraying characters who are Black American has been subject to much dialogue in Hollywood. It is especially a topic of conversation when it comes to films about real-life Black American historical figures (Cynthia Erivo in Harriet, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave, or David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Selma. In the upcoming film Queen & Slim British actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are playing fictional Black Americans in Cleveland. Turner-Smith is of Jamaican heritage and Kaluuya’s parents are from Uganda.
Shadow And Act recently spoke with the stars on if this perceived tension in Black Hollywood factors into their decisions about which roles they take.
“For me, yeah. It does come into consideration because I don’t want to look disrespectful to a culture,” said Kaluuya. “I’m not really in the business of that. If I feel like I’m stepping over a line, I just won’t entertain it. It’s not for me. And then if something comes my way, and I’m given an opportunity, [I] interrogate why people want me to be a part of it, interrogate why I want to do it, and if those reasons align, I’ll step in. And if people project attitudes towards it, I’ve just got to hold it, and go, ‘That’s how you feel.’ But I feel I know why I’m doing this. And I just gotta keep in that space.”
“I think the objective [is] always to tell the truth…that is always the quest,” said Turner-Smith. “And in doing Queen & Slim, for me, I wanted to bring honor to this woman’s story and who this woman was and bring honor to the experience of being Black in America. And while I might not be born here, I am a Black person in America and I’ve been in America for a very long time. I felt like this was a conversation I wasn’t afraid to step in, but I was stepping into it with the utmost reverence for the story. I don’t really believe there is tension. I believe there is love and respect on both sides. And I think that as a community, we should all be able to play all of each other in the diaspora. We are having simultaneous experiences all over the world, that are so connected and so the same. My family is Jamaican. We were just the slaves that were dropped off over there. And at the end of the day when you live and exist as a Black person in America, at least to white society, to a certain extent, no one is asking where you’re from and where you were born.”
She continued, “When I walk into a room, my Blackness announces itself before I open my mouth. So people are already judging me and who I am as a Black American when I exist in spaces in Black America. And when I’m pulled over by the police, they’re not more interested in the fact that I’m not actually born here, because they’re not living in a conversation that has anything to do with a British privilege or anything like that. And while I do realize there are definitely moments and an ‘othering’ that happens….especially in America where this kind of Black is better or more acceptable than another…that is something that is projected on us by non-Black communities, it is not something that we are projecting onto each other. It is beautiful to be able to do a film like this to bring honor to that community, and I look forward to seeing more Black American actors playing roles where they play British.”
Queen & Slim hits theaters on November 27. Watch the clip from the interview below:
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