Television and film in the U.S. may be severely lacking when it comes to the way people of color are represented and portrayed, but the UK has a problem all its own. For the last few years, more and more British actors of color have been shedding light on how hard it is for them to find good parts in their native country. In a recent interview, Thandie Newton addressed her own struggles with this issue.
With an uncanny and captivating performance on HBO’s Westworld and a spot in the upcoming Han Solo film, it seems like Newton is a successful, bankable international star, but it looks like she can’t even find solid work in the UK. She told the Sunday Times Magazine:
“I love being [in Britain], but I can’t work, because I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call the Midwife — well, I could, but I don’t want to play someone who’s being racially abused. I’m not interested in that, don’t want to do it … there just seems to be a desire for stuff about the royal family, stuff from the past, which is understandable, but it just makes it slim pickings for people of colour.” She adds: “I’m talented at what I do, but I’ve had to struggle against racism and sexism. But I’m glad of it, in a way, that I survived and overcame.”
Newton is far from the first to address this issue—one that has forced many British actors of color to seek Hollywood gigs. Just a couple weeks ago, Riz Ahmed gave a passionate speech on diversity to the UK’s House of Commons about the importance of representation and his inability to find work in the UK. Last year, Idris Elba gave essentially the same speech, identifying a glass ceiling for black actors that forces them to move to the U.S. Other actors like Selma’s David Oyelowo, Hotel Rwanda actress Sophie Okonedo, comedian and The Magicians star Lenny Henry, Homeland and Supergirl actor David Harewood and others have decried British film and television for refusing to include minority characters and stories.
The trend has been blamed on the popularity of British period dramas like Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, but seeing as how there are several rich histories of people of color in the UK (and not just in the colonial sense), it seems very strange that there is such a void. I mean, I love Chewing Gum, but let’s get some other POC in there.