Posted on April 10, 2024

Billy Dee Williams Approves Actors Using Blackface for Work

Alexandra Del Rosario, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2024

Billy Dee Williams gave fellow actors the green light to “do anything you want to do” for their work — including using blackface.

Williams, who is the first Black actor to be prominently featured in the sprawling “Star Wars” franchise, shared his opinions on non-Black actors playing Black characters on Sunday. An hour into an episode of Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast, the 87-year-old star reflected on British actor Laurence Olivier‘s controversial turn as “Othello” in 1965.

In the film adaptation of the Shakespeare classic, Olivier — who was white — used dark makeup to resemble the titular Moor of Venice. The practice of blackface traces back to racist minstrel shows in the early 19th century where non-Black actors darkened their skin with makeup to portray caricatures of Black people — who were widely shut out from mainstream entertainment spaces.

Williams revealed to Maher that Olivier’s inspiration for his take on “Othello” was the late singer Paul Robeson, who was Black. Olivier wanted to channel “Robeson’s stature and Robeson’s voice,” Williams said. {snip}


In response, Maher told Williams that blackface couldn’t be used in this generation of entertainment, not without backlash.

“Why? Why not? You should do it,” Williams said. “If you’re an actor, you should do anything you want to do.”