One of the most successful movies in 2017 has been Jordan Peele’s social horror flick, “Get Out.” For those not familiar with the plot, Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American male who is in an interracial relationship and is invited to visit his girlfriend’s parents’ home for the weekend. When Chris first meets the parents, he assumes that their over the top behavior of trying to fit in with him and his culture as nervousness to deal with their daughter’s relationship. Though as the weekend progresses, a series of disturbing events lead him to a truth he never would of imagined.
In his directorial debut, Peele’s film has grossed more than $100 million, turning it into a box-office smash and has even spawned its social media trend, #GetOutChallenge Though despite its recent blockbuster acclaim, there’s been one critique from a Hollywood A-lister because the lead actor is actually British, not American.
In a recent interview on HOT 97 radio, Samuel L. Jackson felt that the movie may have been different had the lead role with an American rather than Kaluuya, who is born British. Jackson said, “Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve have been interracial dating for 100 years. What would a Brother from America have made of that role? Some things are universal but not everything.” Kaluuya, in an interview with GQ Magazine, who spoke of his trials and tribulations growing up Black in the UK, responded to Jackson’s comments saying, “The frustrating thing 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.” Also added that he resents he has to prove that he is black. Jackson later specified in another interview with the Associated Press that his comment were not directed to the “Get Out” lead man or other Black Brit actors, but it was about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way.
Even with Jackson clarifying his remarks, did he spark the debate of whether or not Black British Actors “stealing” roles from Black – American actors? Simply, No. For the past three decades, to say the least, there have been many roles in cinema and TV of Black male actors who weren’t of the nationality of the characters they have portrayed. As the Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay points out, American actors such as Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington have portrayed British characters. Would anyone make a case for African characters with many portrayals of the South African hero, the late great Nelson Mandela by Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman, and recently, Laurence Fishburne in the BET miniseries, ”Madiba.” It should not be an issue for an actor or actress to tell a story someone of a different nationality rather an opportunity to learn of one’s culture while making their story “universal” and relatable. With the limited chances Hollywood gives to tell our stories of enlightenment, positivity, and great triumph when the opportunities arises, we should support the person while holding them and others involved in the story creating accountable and ensuring they have integrity.
So whether it is Fishburne playing Mandela, David Oyelowo playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma” or Chiwitel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave,” it should never matter who is depicting that character, but how the actor depicts the character. As Daniel Kaluuya puts it, I’m not trying to culture vulture the thing… I really respect African- Americans. I just want to tell black stories.”
by Jamal Clarke
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