Posted on April 23, 2024

Harewood Says Actors Should Be Allowed to Use Blackface

Steven McIntosh, BBC, April 23, 2024

Actor David Harewood has said actors “should be able to do anything” – including use blackface to portray black characters.

The 58-year-old made the comments following recent debate in the film and TV industry about casting and identity politics.

In an interview with the Guardian, Harewood said: “The name of the game is acting.

“Yes, we’ve got to be representative, but I do think we have to be careful… That even extends to Othello in Blackface.”

William Shakespeare’s Othello has historically seen white actors use make-up to appear black while playing the titular character.

However, societal shifts mean blackface is now considered unacceptable, while a debate has been taking place in Hollywood about whether actors should be cast based on their real-life characteristics.

Some have argued that characters who are gay, transgender, disabled or from a particular ethnic minority should be played by actors with the same background.

But many actors have said they feel this is too limiting and defeats the point of acting.

“We’re at this strange point in the progression where people go, ‘Oh you can’t play that role because you’re not disabled, or you can’t play that because you’re not really from there,'” Harewood said. “The name of the game is acting.”

Harewood agreed that casting should be “representative”, but added that “we have to be careful”.

Modern productions have mostly cast black actors in the role of military leader Othello.

Harewood said he would not have a problem with a white actor using blackface – but he also implied it would be unlikely to be successful or meet with today’s audience expectations.

“I say, if you want to black it up, have at it, man. It’d better be good, or else you’re gonna get laughed off the stage. But knock yourself out!” he said.

“Anybody should be able to do anything.”

Last year, Harewood played the notorious white conservative William F Buckley in a well-received production of Best of Enemies, written by James Graham.

“I knew the minute I walked on stage, 99% of the audience was thinking: ‘Why is he playing that?’ But by the end of it, everybody was going, ‘that worked really well!'” said Harewood.

Earlier this month, Star Wars actor Billy Dee Williams also suggested actors should be able to perform in Blackface.

The 87-year-old said: “If you’re an actor, you should be able to do anything you want to do.”

In recent years, several episodes of popular TV shows have been removed from streaming services over the use of blackface.

They included some episodes of comedy series 30 Rock and Little Britain.

The issue was put in the spotlight in 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests.

Harewood has previously narrated a BBC Two documentary about Blackface and is well known for appearing in TV series Homeland and Supergirl.

He was recently named the new president of drama school Rada.