The discussion surrounding whether British actors should be allowed to play American characters has been bounced around for several years. Many critics have questioned just how well one could perform a role, especially about police brutality in America, if they have little to zero relatability to the subject matter. Others have argued, it’s just principle — like many who were opposed to British actress Cynthia Erivo taking on the role of the iconic former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
However, not everyone sees an issue, including actress Regina King. The “Watchmen” star recently shared her perspective during a BAFTA Masterclass in London, England, on Tuesday, January 13. Simply put, “If I was moved by a performance, I really don’t care where a person’s from,” the 49-year-old expressed.
King’s remarks were about British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, who portrays human rights activist Malcolm X and Canadian actor Eli Goree, who plays a young Muhammad Ali, in her feature directorial debut “One Night in Miami.”
She continued, “As an audience member, to me, they truly understood what they were doing, what they were embodying. After Kingsley’s first audition, I wanted to give him some notes. I wanted to just talk to him and get to know him and get to know what his relationship was to Malcolm. He said all the things that I needed to hear him say, and I think it’s unfortunate that this is where we are.”
Over the years, people have spoken out against having British actors take on particular roles. Hollywood veteran Samuel L. Jackson once criticized the decision. He even suggested that Jordan Peele’s satirical horror film “Get Out,” which starred British actor Daniel Kaluuya as a Black man falling victim to white liberal racism, could have benefited from having an American actor as its lead.
“There are a lot of black British actors in these movies,” Jackson said during an interview at New York radio station Hot 97. “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].”
However, King disagrees, saying that while creating “One Night in Miami,” she noticed that the Kemp Powers’ written screenplay was, what she described, “just a love letter to the Blacks man’s experience in America. But then taking that step back and really taking in marginalized people across the world. There are feelings and experiences that black people in the UK, in Brazil feel that are the same as in America. While the history of how a country came to be may be different, the marginalization of a black man is the same, colorism is the same in all of those places,” she said.
“Kingsley was the best actor for that role, and Eli was the best actor for that role. Sure, neither one of them are American. But can they relate to the experience and the pain felt by a black person for being disregarded just because of the color of your skin? Absolutely, they can. Can they take it upon themselves to make sure they educate themselves on the ways it’s specific to America in the history of how black Americans had built this country; it was built on the bodies of black Americans? They can definitely educate themselves on that, and they did.”
By those standards, the actress made it clear that she wouldn’t change her choices for anyone.