ROW: Star Wars actor John Boyega, left, has hit out at Samuel L. Jackson’s (right) comments
SAMMY, WHAT’S this I hear about you taking a pop at black British actors going over there and taking the roles you reckon would be better played by African-American actors?
Did you really say that because we’ve been inter-marrying with white people over here for a hundred years, that we can’t really feel what it’s like to be a member of a community who have only been interracial for a minute or two? What? Did you really say that we cannot empathise?
Okay – if that’s the way you feel, let the war begin.
I didn’t want to have a pop at black Americans. Because, let’s face it, you lot have done more than any other members of the diaspora to make us feel black – and proud to be
black at that. Where would we be if it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Little Richard, James Brown, Chuck Berry, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte... The list goes on and on.
So, it wouldn’t be right to have a pop at you lot. And yet, black America has also done more than any other community to make us feel ashamed to be black: Uncle Tom, Stepin Fetchit and dare I say Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential candidate, whose knowledge of self deludes him into thinking that black people were brought to America, like everybody else, on a cruise liner.
VISIT: Martin Luther King arrives at London's Heathrow airport in 1961
You know what I’m talking about, Samuel L; because you rightly criticised Carson for that foolishness just a few days before you turned both barrels of your guns at your bruvvas and sistas in the UK.
What on earth possessed you to open your big mouth up to divide and rule African-American actors from their British counterparts, when it’s all love?
Are you really saying that David Oyelowo could not really feel his role as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie Selma, because David Oyelowo is married to a white woman? Was there someone stateside better able to play the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in that movie? Because if there was, I imagine they would have had first dibs – being African-American and unfamiliar with what you lot used to call miscegenation.
And what about the Homeland star David Harewood, who I made a star through his role in the BBC TV series of the book I published, Baby Father? Sammy, are you saying that he cannot feel what a black American feels because he is married to a white woman?
Come, come, Sammy, you’re better than that.
MIXED BLESSINGS: Left to right - Jessica Oyelowo and multiple award-winning actor husband David Oyelowo MBE
And so what if Chiwitel Ejiofor comes from a country where people have been dating across the colour lines since time immemorial when African-Americans were being lynched for (apparently) whistling at a white woman. Does that mean that he didn’t capture the essence of what it meant to be 12 years a slave in that incredible movie? Or that there were any better actors in America to have been able to play the role of Stringer in The Wire than Idris Elba?
Come on now Sammy L; what are you saying? I know you must have got so much heat from your fellow actors about you being ‘off message’ that now you’re backtracking and saying that what you ‘woz’ sayin’ woz a criticism of Hollywood and not a criticism of your fellow Africans (via the UK) going over there, over-paid and over-sexed and over-qualified for the roles that native Africans (via America) are not as good in performing.
Sammy, let me give it to you straight (let’s be real now), I love your acting, man, you’re a great actor, an’ I love the fact that you shoot from the hip with your mouth, even though when I interviewed you a couple years back, right round the corner from Trafalgar Square, you seemed more interested in eating a hamburger than shooting the messenger, but really, man, you shouldn’t have started this nonsense, because it’s the same old divide and rule bullsh*t that has kept our people down for millennia.
AMBASSADOR: Chiwetel Ejiofor
For your information, we stood side by side with you (black Americans as you lot were known then when people were not disrespectfully still describing you as American negroes, like your knees were swollen) and identified with your struggle throughout the ’50s and the ’60s and gave the likes of Paul Robeson and Malcolm X a platform here when America and many black Americans shunned them. Why do you think Professor Angela Davis is here right now?
But this divide and rule is nothing new. We also fell for it when that great black American actor Forest Whitaker came over here to play the role of a British soldier in The Crying Game at the beginning of the ’90s. Loads of black British actors were up in arms and complaining that the film company had dissed them. At the time, I thought they had a point, I won’t even lie to you. Because it was all about star power and Forest Whitaker had more star powers than any black British actor. In fact, no black British actors had the kind of star power that could make a film commercially successful. Not one.
But for all our huffing and puffing and crying about The Crying Game, we didn’t get anywhere, until our black British actors started learning how to play the game stateside.
The truth is, Sammy, that there has been a long history of black American actors coming over here to take on roles that you would have thought that black British actors could have done just as well.
CLASSIC: African-American actor Paul Robeson in England's historic Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as Othello in 1959
Going back to the great Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge in the 19th century, who came over from his native New York. Then, of course, Paul Robeson came over from the States and starred in a Welsh celluloid classic, as well as drawing in the crowds to Drury Lane in London’s West End to see him perform in Show Boat back in the 1920s.
And let’s not forget Sir Sidney Poitier, who turned 90 the other day and whose health I understand from sources close to him is not too great. I know technically speaking he is from the Bahamas, but he is to all respects and purposes a Yank having lived there since the age for 15. He came over here to star in the movie To Sir, With Love opposite our very-own Lulu.
And then, of course, you had a plethora of black American actors flood our stages in the ’60s and ’70s with flower power musicals such as Hair - Marsha Hunt, Mick Jagger’s baby mother, being one of them and Miquel Brown, Sinitta’s mother, being another. The list goes on and on and on.
You get the picture, Sammy. There is a long list of our cultural exchange. It’s something we should be celebrating not knocking. We are one people. One love, my bruvva.
Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents 'Up All Night’ on BBC Radio 5 live, Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW and ‘The Sunday Night Special’ on BBC 94.9FM as well as ‘Reggae Time’ on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!
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