Emmy Award-winning actress Thandiwe Newton is facing backlash after she broke down while discussing the topic of colorism in Hollywood and dealing with how her fair-toned skin color has brought her both privilege and prejudice. During the conversation, The Westworld star apologized to darker-skinned actresses for taking “their roles, their men,” but her admission garnered mixed reactions.
Newton is currently out promoting her new film “God’s Country,” in which she plays a 40-something-year-old grieving professor who confronts two white hunters trespassing on her property. The movie is based on James Lee Burke’s short story “Winter Light,” in which the story’s protagonist is an older, weathered white man instead of a Black woman.
During an interview with Sky News, the English and Zimbabwean actress admitted that she almost didn’t take the job because she didn’t believe she was dark-skinned enough. However, she shared that taking on the part helped her overcome many of her own prejudices before apologizing to darker actresses for being “the one chosen.”
“I now realize that my internalized prejudice was stopping me from feeling like I could play this role when it’s precisely that prejudice that I’ve received. It doesn’t matter that it’s from African-American women more than anyone else,” she said. “I received prejudice. Anyone who’s received oppression and prejudice feels this character.”
Newton also acknowledged how darker women might perceive her opportunities and tearfully revealed, “I’ve wanted so desperately to apologize every day to darker-skinned actresses. To say, ‘I’m sorry that I’m the one chosen.’ My Mama looks like you.” She added, “It’s been very painful to have women who look like my mom feel like I’m not representing them. That I’m taking from them. Taking their men, taking their work, taking their truth.”
However, Newton’s comments garnered mixed reactions from critics who took to their social media platforms almost immediately, slamming the actress for her remark, including one Twitter user who stated, “Thandiwe Newton saying “taking their men” when she’s been married to a white man since 1998 is SENDING me.”
“Thing is we know about racism & colourism in TV/Hollywood, we know why lightskinned/mixed women get cast more,” noted another person. “No one actually blamed Thandiwe Newton personally nor expected her to take responsibility. So my question is why. Like it was so unnecessary and achieved nothing.”
Still, many people defended the actress, including one person who wrote, “Stop judging Thandi. She didn’t ask to be bi-racial, nor for the privileges that came with that disposition. The fact that the penny finally dropped for her is something to be celebrated, not mocked. We all learn at different times and paces.”
Elsewhere, Newton noted that the woman in “God’s Country” was named Sandra after Sandra Bland — the 28-year-old Black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell days after her arrest for a minor traffic violation in 2015 — which further motivated her to take on the role.
“For a good five (years), I’ve been supporting Kimberly Crenshaw’s work with the African American Policy Forum and movement ‘Say Her Name,’ which she coined,” Newton said. “And in this movie, right from the get-go, we are saying her name. I don’t mean just about Sandra Bland. I’m talking about all the ‘Sandra Blands.’ Now and in the past.”
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