Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on Get Out, Black British actors and British race relations personifies how far too many Black Americans do not actually embody the spirit and shared unity of the African in African American. Jackson’s comments expose the myth that is so called Black unity or pan-Africanism. Sadly, Black people are only united when fighting(protesting) against attacks from other races or the police Outside of that too many of us will turn on each over demographic differences of nationality, area, skin shade, hair texture and sexual preference. It is in those moments we forget that at one time we would have all been in a field, enslaved, beaten, raped, lynched and our internal differences would have been meaningless to our historical external oppressor.
There is a growing and annoyingly vocal narrative within Black American social commendatory that is deeply divisive and anti- the rest of the African diaspora and community. This is all despite even more Black Americans happily claiming African culture, history, beliefs and when they need it, requesting global Black support for Black American struggles. Even though, those struggles used to be considered universally the same as those in Britain, Africa and anywhere else a Black person finds themselves a racial minority in a ‘white space’. However, Samuel Jackson and other Americans are attempting to propagate the myth that racism is a uniquely American phenomenon and everyone else is a racial utopia.
Jackson said this, during an interview for the promotional tour of Samuel L. Jackson’s latest film Kong: Skull Island:
“There are a lot of black British actors in these movies… I tend to wonder what that movie [Get Out] would have been with an American brother who really feels 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? Some things are universal, but [not everything.”
Briefly stated, Get Out is the visual representation of Black fear and Anxiety in White spaces. This fear can be felt in USA just as much in the UK.
Plenty of people have already mentioned how American actors are happy to take on the roles of African & non-American historical figures ie Will Smith[Dr. Bennet Omalu] in Concussion, Don Cheadle[Paul Ruseabagina] in Hotel Rwanda, Forest Whittaker[Idi Amin] in Last King of Scotland, Denzel Washington[Steve Biko] in Cry Freedom Morgan Freeman[Nelson Mandela] in Invictus and even the cast of Cool Runnings was full of American’s doing terrible Jamaican accents! We could go further and say only African’s should be able to complain about who plays roles in films set in Egypt if only people born in the particular country of the films origins can play roles now. So what about Marvel’s Black Panther Movie? Is Samuel Jackson going to protest Chadwick Boseman and the rest of the American cast? The last time I checked ‘Black Panther’ is from Wakanda, which is supposed to be in Africa. Boseman was born in South Carolina, United States of America… Yes, I know Wakanda is not a real place. I am just illustrating the hypocrisy of Jackson’s statements and just how petty the rest of the global Black community could become if we followed suit.
However, what I found most troubling about Jackson’s statements was just how indicative it is of some Black American’s lack of knowledge of the lives, history and experiences of Black people outside of the United States Of America. Sometimes, it feels like they think the rest of us are living in a racial utopia. Just as they sometimes insinuate every single Black American lives exactly the same experiences, no matter where they were born in USA. Both beliefs are founded on a false narrative. We have a shared history, we live individual lives but we have a united ability to emphasise with the plight of another person of colour in the knowledge of ‘that could have been me’. I do not have to be shot by the police to understand, ‘that could have been me’. I do not need to be followed by a security guard whilst shopping to realise ‘that could have been me’. I do not need to have been born in the civil rights era, attack with dogs and hoses whilst protesting for basic human rights, to realise ‘that could have been me!’. That shared knowledge and emphathy is what should keep Black people united; but Jackson’s statements essential speak against that.
In truth, Jackson’s social history of Britain is not exactly the most accurate. The majority Britain’s current black population arrived in 1950s onwards [The Windrush generation]. Predating that Britain was not a racial utopia for ‘100s of years’, where interracial couples skipped down cobbled British streets singing”
‘Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard’
No, Britain was very much the full verse of Paul McCartney and Stevie wonder song:
‘Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?
We all know that people are the same whereever you go
There is good and bad in ev’ryone
We learn to live, when we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive, together alive’
People eventually learned to live together, whilst trying to survive; but there were good and bad times. Just as America had good and bad examples of race relations and interracial dating support or lack of support depending on which state a couple was in.
For information on British interracial dating history, Jackson would have only needed to watch Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom. The true story, is set in the 1940s/50s and is one example of the struggles interracial couples faced in Britain; even when one of them was an African king! Britain’s interracial ‘dating’ history is not as enshrined in law as America. However, Jackson’s lack of knowledge is indicative of why any Black actor should be able to fulfill a role with some research. Why? Samuel’s comment on Britain’s supposed 100s of years interracial dating could be said about America as well. But he lacked the historical knowledge, research or accuracy to know this.
For instance, Pennsylvania, repealed its anti-miscegenation law in 1780. In 1908, Jack Johnson, Black Heavy Weight Champion of the world married a white woman in America. So, Jackson’s argument is founded upon a false narrative that every single state in America adopted the same laws against interracial dating. So by Jackson’s logic surely only actors born in southern states should be able to play roles that reflect Jim Crow like laws or sentiments? Or is the Black experience more universal than laws and location. Racist attitudes exist far beyond the boarders of state lines in America. Just as racist attitudes and Black fear in white spaces is a sentiment that can be experienced throughout the world.
I am sure Jackson has never heard of Stephen Lawrence or Anthony Walker; both Black British victims of racist attacks in the British racial utopia that Jackson’s misguidedly describes in his interview. Herein lies another issue with our so-called Black unity. Black British people know the names of Walter Scott, Freddie Grey, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and many others. Black Britain’s know and support the racial issues that Black American’s face but it is hard to see reciprocity. Maybe, if American’s did more research, comments like Jackson’s would be qualified with the knowledge of the deep racial history, struggle and continued battle for equality within Britain for people of colour.
The Guardian included comments from a range of different actors:
When it comes to telling very specific American stories, it can sometimes feel like a slap in the face to the black community,” said Devere Rogers, a 29-year-old actor who has appeared in television shows Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Grey’s Anatomy. “It’s like, we as Americans can’t tell our own stories?”
On David Oyelowo’s role as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma “there are some brothers in America who could have been in that movie who would have had a different idea about how King thinks.”
“There’s a very different shade of racism that exists in America,” said Amkpa, 29. “If it was an African American actor, I think it would’ve translated a bit more on the screen.”
Rogers said it can be frustrating to watch British actors give interviews about the extensive research and character work they did to prepare for a US role.
“For American actors, that’s already innately in us,” he said. “Especially with things like police brutality, how blacks are treated in America, that’s something we have to live with everyday.”
At 29, Devere Rogers, would not have experienced the same ‘shade’ of racism as Martin Luther King Jr. So is he saying that an actor can only embody a character by living the exact same life as them previously? Surely, the literal definition of acting is a person acting as another- putting their mind and body into another person’s shoes and life. Yes, actors draw on personal experiences for inspiration but few people live identical lives. Therefore, any good actor is going to have to embark on some research to be able to give a true representation to any role. Maybe, this is where American actors are struggling. Some of them seem to think simply being American is enough to be able to act as any Black person in any time, from any state, living any life. Much like Chris Rock’s joke about taking Black Studies at school and thinking by simply being Black he could turn up and get at least a B.
There is a universality to the black experience when it comes to living in majority white countries. However, any actor should still be undertaking full preparation and research for any role they are casting for. The only difference between Black American and British is a British actor would have the additional task of taking on an American accent. However, let us know pretend that all Americans sound the same. Can you really envisage Samuel Jackson playing Martin Luther King Jr?
The truth is there are very little roles in British cinema for Black actors young or old. An even bigger truth is Hollywood does not just make films about American stories, people or fiction. For want of a better phrase Hollywood cultural appropriates stories from across the globe and brings them to not just an American audience but a global audience. Therefore, casting of characters should reflect whomever is best for the role. We are not talking about a white person cast to play black historical figures or vice versa. But simply the shared experiences and history of race relations that Black people in the African diaspora universally have. That universal experience when combined with research should create great cinema and the phenomenal acting we’ve seen from British and American actors.
Therefore, rather than complaining Jackson should question how some British actors can seem ‘better’ at playing American figures than actual Americans? Surely, his complain should be at casting directors, movie directors and most importantly American film schools. This casting trend is not unique to Black roles. At one stage, British or Australian actors played the some of the most iconic American fictional heroes, such as Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and Harley Quinn. However, there are still plenty of roles being cast by Americans. Surely, global audience just want to see the best actor, with the best ability and likeness bring a character or person to life.
I will end with Star War actor, John Boyega’s thoughts:
Black brits vs African American. A stupid ass conflict we don’t have time for.
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) 8 March 2017
Therefore, in a time when Black people are still pushing for better representation in the media we do not need to support a crabs in a barrel mentality of xenophobic black on black bickering by qualifying people’s knowledge black experiences simply based on their birth place. So, American brothers and sisters, just as Jackson says he wasn’t ‘slamming’ Black British people, I am not slamming you, merely requesting you broaden your knowledge black experiences outside of your own borders.
Remember, in the eyes of everyone else we are all Black first long before people care about our nationality, creed, religion, gender or sexual preference. If our talk of Black unity is to be action and not just words, we must move beyond these petty comments and squabbles.
On a more serious note, the lack of Black unity can be shown in the attacks of Nigerians by South Africa’s as they follow this Jackson like mentality that outside are taking their jobs…
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