Jury Coordination and Notes

American Black or British Black: Why the Discussion? By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

 

Samuel L. Jackson recently spoke about how British black actors have recently been heavily cast in roles that he feels would have benefited more had they been filled by American black actors. He was referring to actors such as David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Daniel Kaluuya. Jackson stated that while these actors are doing fine jobs, the roles of Martin Luther King or Chris Washington could have been more judiciously played by American black actor. Let’s evaluate this.

As of late, yes, black Brits have been coming to the U.S. and taking roles in American films. They give stellar performances as Americans and create memorable cinema. Is that bad? Not necessarily so. After all, they’re still within a minority and represent an underrepresented community. Their country of origin shouldn’t matter. However, there is a reason behind their recent surge in Hollywood.

Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are noted thespians. They’ve been trained and have experience on the stage and that translates in their screen performances. The problem is that, they’re beginning to be a part of a minority. The likes of Ejiofor and Oyelowo are trained in England, a very theatrical country. Film is still secondary to theater there and so, actors in Britain get classical theatrical training. For the most part, thespians still garner more respect than film actors (excluding Jack Nicholson). Having theater experience is essential to be respected as an actor and Americans increasingly ignoring that. They start in film and never venture into theater until after they’re established such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Leonardo DiCaprio.

When these thespians come to the U.S., they’re cheaper than American black film actors, have more respected training and can speak with impeccable American accents. Why wouldn’t they be hired? And why does that create a rift within the entertainment community? It should inspire American black actors to seek more theatrical training. And while Sam Jackson meant no harm with his statement, there’s a rather large debate over whether or not Hollywood should keep hiring black actors from overseas and not support more American black actors. All I can say is: it’s a business. A very cutthroat business, that’s all about survival of the fittest. If a group of actors comes into Hollywood better trained, does that mean another group of actors should complain about their roles being taken away? No. It means they should sharpen their skills and advance their training.

So before this becomes a bigger issue than it should, let’s just acknowledge that, what matters in the end is good cinema. So whether Martin Luther King’s story is told by a Brit or American, as long as it’s told well, it doesn’t matter. Movies are about stories and the imagination. Those don’t see color or nationality.

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