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Samuel L Jackson sparks heated debate about British actors taking on African-American roles

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Whilst promoting his latest film, Kong: Skull Island,  Samuel L Jackson has sparked heated debate amongst Hollywood elite with comments about British actors taking African-American roles.

Get Out, the satirical horror film examining racism in the suburbs of America, is at the centre of the discussion. Jackson criticised the casting of British actor Daniel Kaluuya in the lead role, suggesting “I tend to wonder what that movie would have been with an American brother who really feels that,” in a radio interview.

Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed film, which amassed a 100% positive rating on review website Rotten Tomatoes, was defended by John Boyega on Twitter. The Star Wars: The Force Awakens star suggested the UK v US furore is a “stupid ass conflict we don’t have time for.”


In recent years, Hollywood has seen a stream of British actors taking on roles exploring the black American experience. Chiwetel Ejiofor garnered an Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave, as did Naomi Harris for Moonlight, and David Oyelowo was the star of the Academy Award-winning Selma. 

In reference to Selma, Jackson said that “there are some brothers in America who could have been in that movie who would have had a different idea about how King thinks.” His comments raise important questions about the authenticity of British actors who don’t share the same experiences with the African-American characters they portray.  

Stacy Amma Osei-Kuffour, an LA-based actor and playwright, suggested that US actors already have this authenticity “innately in us… especially with things like police brutality, how blacks are treated in America, that’s something we have to live with every day”.

But why do so many British actors land these roles? Casting directors defend their choices by citing the prestigious training UK actors receive, with schools such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts offering classical training.

Jonathan Peele, the director of Get Out, suggested that “at the end of the day, [Kaluuya] was the best person for the role. He did the audition and it was a slam dunk.”

On the surface, at least, 2017 has been rather fruitful for black cinema. Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar, with Hidden Figures and Fences also being nominated. The 2017 Academy Awards also saw the highest number of black actors winning in ten years, with both Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali (the first ever Muslim to win) taking home awards.

Yet Jackson’s comments and the resulting debate raise important questions about discrimination within the film industry. Should casting directors make an effort to cast US actors for African-American roles? Or should actors be cast based upon skill, regardless of background?

Get Out is released in UK cinemas on March 17th.  

 

 

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