Actor Samuel L. Jackson recently criticized the casting of a black British actor to play an African-American in the horror film “Get Out.”
The outcry in Britain was swift and loud. Soon Jackson was walking his comments back, saying they were directed at the Hollywood system rather than British actors.
“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes,” Jackson said, according to the Associated Press.
Daniel Kaluuya, the acclaimed actor cast in the movie, said in an interview with GQ this week that he shouldn’t have to “prove that I’m black.”
In the movie, Kaluuya plays Chris Washington, the African-American boyfriend to Allison Williams’s Rose Armitage, who is white. The film follows the couple’s visit with Armitage’s parents, which leads to violence over their interracial relationship.
One critic called the film an “allegory on the horror of race in America.”
But Jackson, who said he had not seen the movie, initially told the New York radio station Hot 97: “I tend to wonder what would that movie have been with an American brother who really understands that. … Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. … What would a brother from America have made of that role?”
Added Jackson, “Some things are universal, but everything ain’t.”
Jackson’s comments drew this critique from Guardian columnist Gary Younge: “When it comes to the roles they are assigned in Hollywood, African-American actors have every right to be aggrieved. Once depicted only as nannies, pimps, prostitutes, thieves, simpletons and savages, the possibilities have grown in recent times but the opportunities are nowhere near where they could or should be. But to aim that grievance at black British actors, as Samuel Jackson did earlier this week, is perverse in the extreme.”
Jordan Peele, the writer and director of “Get Out,” told the Guardian that he initially didn’t want to go with a British actor “because the movie was so much about representation of the African-American experience.”
“Early on, Daniel and I had a Skype session where we talked about this and I was made to understand how universal this issue is,” Peele said. “Once I’d wrapped my head around how universal these themes were, it became easy for me to pick Daniel, because at the end of the day, he was the best person for the role.”
Kaluuya, 27, who landed critically lauded roles in “Sicario” and “Black Mirror,” told GQ that he drew from life experiences to play the role in “Get Out.”
“This is the frustrating thing, bro — in order to prove that I can play this role, I have to open up about the trauma that I’ve experienced as a black person,” he said. “I have to show off my struggle so that people accept that I’m black.”
He said the British and American experiences have not always been that different for people of color:
“[Black people in the UK], the people who are the reason I’m even about to have a career, had to live in a time where they went looking for housing and signs would say, ‘NO IRISH. NO DOGS. NO BLACKS.’ That’s reality. Police would round up all these black people, get them in the back of a van, and wrap them in blankets so their bruises wouldn’t show when they beat them. That’s the history that London has gone through. The Brixton riots, the Tottenham riots, the 2011 riots, because black people were being killed by police. That’s what’s happening in London. But it’s not in the mainstream media. Those stories aren’t out there like that. So people get an idea of what they might think the experience is.”
Added Kaluuya, “I resent that I have to prove that I’m black. I don’t know what that is. I’m still processing it.”
John Boyega, the black British actor who played Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with an American accent, also disagreed with Jackson. He tweeted:
“Black brits vs African American. A stupid ass conflict we don’t have time for.”
Jackson was correct in saying “there are a lot of black British actors” in movie roles about African-Americans. For instance, British actor Idris Elba’s big break came from playing a drug dealer in Baltimore in “The Wire,” while David Oyelowo garnered praise for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma.”
Still, Kaluuya doesn’t see the issue.
“I see black people as one man,” he told GQ. “When I see people beaten on the streets of America, that hurts me. I feel that.”