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Old 19th March 2017, 10:06 AM   #1
Information Analyst
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British historical TV dramas be racist

BBC News: Historical dramas 'limit UK black actors'

"Actress Thandie Newton has said she "can't work" in the UK because there are no roles for black and minority ethnic actors in historical dramas.

London-born Newton said the number of costume dramas had led to "slim pickings for people of colour".

Her criticism comes after British Film Institute research found that 59% of UK films since 2006 had no black actors in any role.

Newton's next UK TV role will see her appear in BBC One's Line of Duty.

Speaking to the Sunday Times Magazine, the mother-of-three said: "I love being here, but I can't work, because I can't do Downton Abbey, can't be in Victoria, can't be in Call The Midwife - well, I could, but I don't want to play someone who's being racially abused." "

Currently around 87% of the UK population is white, but even as recently as 2001 it was over 92%. Go back to the years of what would count as "historical," and it was even higher. It's a bit of a no-brainer that in programmes like Downton there could be few if any non-white faces, although while I stopped watching Midwife a few series back, being set in London's East End they were far from rare.

All that notwithstanding, I'm tempted to question Newton's perception, given that she been working predominantly in the US for so long. British TV drama is absolutely awash with non-white actors, but the vast majority of it doesn't get shown in the US.

I'm also very dubious about the BFI's 59% claim, and it seems it comes from this Guardian article, which actually states that it is films that have "no named black characters" which is obviously somewhat different from "no black actors in any role."

This bit also prompts reference back to the actual demographics:

"The BFI study, which will form part of a comprehensive examination of UK films from 1911 to the present day, found that only four black British actors featured in a list of the 100 most prolific actors in British films. The figures showed little improvement in diverse casting over the past decade, even in years in which more films were released. "

Even in 2011 only 3% of the UK population was black, so 4% representation amongst
"100 most prolific actors in British films" doesn't actually jar.

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Old 19th March 2017, 10:25 AM   #2
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Or, very mediocre actress blames her lack of perceived success on nasty white racists.
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:13 AM   #3
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Would have to quibble a good bit on that Mediocre Actress thing above.....

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0628601/?ref_=nv_sr_1
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:31 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Information Analyst View Post
BBC News: Historical dramas 'limit UK black actors'

"Actress Thandie Newton has said she "can't work" in the UK because there are no roles for black and minority ethnic actors in historical dramas.

London-born Newton said the number of costume dramas had led to "slim pickings for people of colour".

Her criticism comes after British Film Institute research found that 59% of UK films since 2006 had no black actors in any role.

Newton's next UK TV role will see her appear in BBC One's Line of Duty.

Speaking to the Sunday Times Magazine, the mother-of-three said: "I love being here, but I can't work, because I can't do Downton Abbey, can't be in Victoria, can't be in Call The Midwife - well, I could, but I don't want to play someone who's being racially abused." "

Currently around 87% of the UK population is white, but even as recently as 2001 it was over 92%. Go back to the years of what would count as "historical," and it was even higher. It's a bit of a no-brainer that in programmes like Downton there could be few if any non-white faces, although while I stopped watching Midwife a few series back, being set in London's East End they were far from rare.

All that notwithstanding, I'm tempted to question Newton's perception, given that she been working predominantly in the US for so long. British TV drama is absolutely awash with non-white actors, but the vast majority of it doesn't get shown in the US.

I'm also very dubious about the BFI's 59% claim, and it seems it comes from this Guardian article, which actually states that it is films that have "no named black characters" which is obviously somewhat different from "no black actors in any role."

This bit also prompts reference back to the actual demographics:

"The BFI study, which will form part of a comprehensive examination of UK films from 1911 to the present day, found that only four black British actors featured in a list of the 100 most prolific actors in British films. The figures showed little improvement in diverse casting over the past decade, even in years in which more films were released. "

Even in 2011 only 3% of the UK population was black, so 4% representation amongst
"100 most prolific actors in British films" doesn't actually jar.
I think you fail to perceive the problem as perceived from a non-white view point. All my family are non-white, nearly all of the people attending our mosque where non white, nearly half of the families on our street were non white (the last is a lie we actually lived in a posh nearly all white cul-de-sac).

It is hard for most ethnic minorities to recognise just how small a minority they are, because your personal experience differs.

However, just how realistic does a historical drama need to be? There have been rare ethnic minority professionals since nineteenth century, doctors, lawyers, politicians more characters could be written in. A recent Robin Hood series managed to include several ethnic minority roles via people returning from the crusades. I think the most recent English stats are 15% of population are non-white. So a rule of thumb should be 1:7 roles should be non white.
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:35 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
.........I think the most recent English stats are 15% of population are non-white. So a rule of thumb should be 1:7 roles should be non white.
You're going to have to explain the logic of that to me. Why should the ratio of white to non-white in the 21st century be reflected in the casting of a film set say 200 years ago when the ratios in Britain were very different indeed? Are you really suggesting that if Far from the Madding Crowd were to be remade, 1 in 7 of the be-smocked west-country farm labourers should be black, when it is highly likely that not a single Devon/ Dorset/ Somerset farm labourer in the 19th century was black?
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:46 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
You're going to have to explain the logic of that to me. Why should the ratio of white to non-white in the 21st century be reflected in the casting of a film set say 200 years ago when the ratios in Britain were very different indeed? Are you really suggesting that if Far from the Madding Crowd were to be remade, 1 in 7 of the be-smocked west-country farm labourers should be black, when it is highly likely that not a single Devon/ Dorset/ Somerset farm labourer in the 19th century was black?
How many of those 19th century white people had all their teeth? And orthodontics? And modern standards of body hair grooming? The people you're seeing in historical dramas are modern people pretending to be historical, they aren't aiming for complete realism to begin with. So why draw the line at skin color? "I can accept a Robin Hood with straight white teeth, waxed chest, eight-pack abs, an eighty dollar haircut, and a modern accent but by God! his melanin amounts must be historically accurate!"
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:48 AM   #7
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I for one will not be satisfied until Denzel Washington is cast as Winston Churchill.
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Old 19th March 2017, 11:57 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
How many of those 19th century white people had all their teeth? And orthodontics? And modern standards of body hair grooming?..........
I commend the wonderful "Taboo" to you. Look out for it, and when it reaches your shores, look out for the teeth, the hair care and the grooming. Then please come back to me and explain what other 21st century stuff made it unauthentic. Not all films are made in Hollywood, you know.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:00 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
.......why draw the line at skin color?........
Why weren't one in two of the slaves in Twelve Years a Slave Hispanic?
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:00 PM   #10
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What next. casting a black actor as Othello?

A man playing Dick Whittington or Aladdin, a women playing the Ugly Sisters or Widow Twanky?

Where will it end?
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:03 PM   #11
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:11 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
I commend the wonderful "Taboo" to you. Look out for it, and when it reaches your shores, look out for the teeth, the hair care and the grooming. Then please come back to me and explain what other 21st century stuff made it unauthentic. Not all films are made in Hollywood, you know.
Oh, well, then, I guess one example to the contrary invalidates all the rest. Just like Phineas Gage proved nobody needs helmets for anything.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:21 PM   #13
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It would take a lot of dedication from an actor to rot his teeth out for a role.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:28 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
It would take a lot of dedication from an actor to rot his teeth out for a role.
And it wouldn't be necessary (or desirable). If modern audiences can suspend disbelief about everything else about an actor's physical appearance, why can't they be trusted to do the same with skin color?
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:29 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
I think you fail to perceive the problem as perceived from a non-white view point. All my family are non-white, nearly all of the people attending our mosque where non white, nearly half of the families on our street were non white (the last is a lie we actually lived in a posh nearly all white cul-de-sac).

It is hard for most ethnic minorities to recognise just how small a minority they are, because your personal experience differs.

However, just how realistic does a historical drama need to be? There have been rare ethnic minority professionals since nineteenth century, doctors, lawyers, politicians more characters could be written in. A recent Robin Hood series managed to include several ethnic minority roles via people returning from the crusades. I think the most recent English stats are 15% of population are non-white. So a rule of thumb should be 1:7 roles should be non white.
So we should have rules for art?

I would literally die on that hill if it came to it.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:38 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
How many of those 19th century white people had all their teeth? And orthodontics? And modern standards of body hair grooming? The people you're seeing in historical dramas are modern people pretending to be historical, they aren't aiming for complete realism to begin with. So why draw the line at skin color? "I can accept a Robin Hood with straight white teeth, waxed chest, eight-pack abs, an eighty dollar haircut, and a modern accent but by God! his melanin amounts must be historically accurate!"
Sorry but I'd rather let artists make the art they want, instituting rules for creative expression is completely against my beliefs.

Is no different than if I were to complain about Good times not having enough white folks. Why were there not more white people in it? None of my *********** concern , if I don't like it I won't watch it. Strangely though I do watch it, and enjoy it, because as a fully functioning adult I understand that shows do not have to have characters that share my skin tone for me to enjoy.

Actually the majority of what I watch is not from my country, and aa such does not contain overly many people that look like me. But seeing as I'm not 10 that isn't a big concern.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:39 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
And it wouldn't be necessary (or desirable). If modern audiences can suspend disbelief about everything else about an actor's physical appearance, why can't they be trusted to do the same with skin color?
If everyone can eat french fries why don't they want kale?

Who knows, who cares, it's personal taste.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:51 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by sadhatter View Post
Sorry but I'd rather let artists make the art they want, instituting rules for creative expression is completely against my beliefs.
Did I say anything about instituting rules? No, I didn't. I just said who gives a damn if the actor's skin is "the wrong color" if we're already making allowances for everything else about the actor. Hell, people these days are considerably taller than ancient people, but I don't see anyone complaining about how I, Claudius should have cast only short actors. I'm saying ignore skin color, it shouldn't be difficult for a modern audience. It's not like we're actually from 1200 AD and haven't seen anyone with more melanin before!

Quote:
Is no different than if I were to complain about Good times not having enough white folks. Why were there not more white people in it? None of my *********** concern , if I don't like it I won't watch it. Strangely though I do watch it, and enjoy it, because as a fully functioning adult I understand that shows do not have to have characters that share my skin tone for me to enjoy.

Actually the majority of what I watch is not from my country, and aa such does not contain overly many people that look like me. But seeing as I'm not 10 that isn't a big concern.
I don't know why you're aiming that at me, I'm arguing in favor of color blind casting, not color specific casting which is the exact opposite.
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Old 19th March 2017, 12:52 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by fuelair View Post
Would have to quibble a good bit on that Mediocre Actress thing above.....

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0628601/?ref_=nv_sr_1
True, I was being overly generous.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:10 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
How many of those 19th century white people had all their teeth? And orthodontics?
19th century white people did not typically retain all their teeth, but at the time it was common to have all your teeth removed and replaced by false teeth by your early 20s. Hence, a perfect set of teeth. Certainly the aristocracy didn't normally go around with missing or rotten teeth, although they do now.

Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
And modern standards of body hair grooming? The people you're seeing in historical dramas are modern people pretending to be historical, they aren't aiming for complete realism to begin with. So why draw the line at skin color? "I can accept a Robin Hood with straight white teeth, waxed chest, eight-pack abs, an eighty dollar haircut, and a modern accent but by God! his melanin amounts must be historically accurate!"
Because whilst the exact positioning of the line is debatable, its removal is not. There is suspension of disbelief and then there is silliness. What you are advocating is silliness. The character doesn't have to accord completely with historical evidence, it has, at minimum and depending on the nature of the film, only to resemble the concept a typical audience member has in their head. Therefore, a 5'5" Queen Victoria with freckled skin and a snub nose may not cause undue conflict between expectation and perception, but a bald 6'5" Samoan Queen Victoria might detract somewhat from the viewing experience.

Funny too that people who advocate white historical figures be played by ethnically non-white actors tend not to propose that a white man play Muhammad Ali, say, or a Swede play Ghandi.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:17 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
I for one will not be satisfied until Denzel Washington is cast as Winston Churchill.
What Denzel? With all his tall privilege? Good looks privilege? Established career privilege? And I probably missed a few.

No, a slightly retarded Chinese female is the way to go here.

Also, I love all films that were not only tightly controlled by greedy producers but where every detail was decided by a special interest commission.
It really adds to the authenticity and flow.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:23 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
How many of those 19th century white people had all their teeth? And orthodontics? And modern standards of body hair grooming? The people you're seeing in historical dramas are modern people pretending to be historical, they aren't aiming for complete realism to begin with. So why draw the line at skin color? "I can accept a Robin Hood with straight white teeth, waxed chest, eight-pack abs, an eighty dollar haircut, and a modern accent but by God! his melanin amounts must be historically accurate!"
I've seen plenty of movies where actors teeth were made to look horrendous. I've seen plenty of movies where the main actor was made to look as bad and as smelly as he/she should have been.

I saw recently that people were complaining about some white actor playing Michael Jackson in a (bad) movie.

I saw the old Charlie Chan played by a white guy with his eyes made to look narrow.

Someone is always offended.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:30 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
Oh, well, then, I guess one example to the contrary invalidates all the rest........
Did I claim that?

British historical dramas are fastidious about authenticity. Hollywood isn't. You may have watched too much of the latter and confused it's crap standards with that of the former.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:40 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
You're going to have to explain the logic of that to me. Why should the ratio of white to non-white in the 21st century be reflected in the casting of a film set say 200 years ago when the ratios in Britain were very different indeed? Are you really suggesting that if Far from the Madding Crowd were to be remade, 1 in 7 of the be-smocked west-country farm labourers should be black, when it is highly likely that not a single Devon/ Dorset/ Somerset farm labourer in the 19th century was black?
Far from the Madding Crowd is fiction. Any version of it is a fictional portrayal of the time. Why worry about ethnic exactitude? No I would not have a law, but out of the US a lot of films have some form of public subsidy. As part of this I would have colour blind casting.
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:42 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Information Analyst View Post
BBC News: Historical dramas 'limit UK black actors'

"Actress Thandie Newton has said she "can't work" in the UK because there are no roles for black and minority ethnic actors in historical dramas.

London-born Newton said the number of costume dramas had led to "slim pickings for people of colour".

Her criticism comes after British Film Institute research found that 59% of UK films since 2006 had no black actors in any role.

Newton's next UK TV role will see her appear in BBC One's Line of Duty.

Speaking to the Sunday Times Magazine, the mother-of-three said: "I love being here, but I can't work, because I can't do Downton Abbey, can't be in Victoria, can't be in Call The Midwife - well, I could, but I don't want to play someone who's being racially abused." "

Currently around 87% of the UK population is white, but even as recently as 2001 it was over 92%. Go back to the years of what would count as "historical," and it was even higher. It's a bit of a no-brainer that in programmes like Downton there could be few if any non-white faces, although while I stopped watching Midwife a few series back, being set in London's East End they were far from rare.

All that notwithstanding, I'm tempted to question Newton's perception, given that she been working predominantly in the US for so long. British TV drama is absolutely awash with non-white actors, but the vast majority of it doesn't get shown in the US.

I'm also very dubious about the BFI's 59% claim, and it seems it comes from this Guardian article, which actually states that it is films that have "no named black characters" which is obviously somewhat different from "no black actors in any role."

This bit also prompts reference back to the actual demographics:

"The BFI study, which will form part of a comprehensive examination of UK films from 1911 to the present day, found that only four black British actors featured in a list of the 100 most prolific actors in British films. The figures showed little improvement in diverse casting over the past decade, even in years in which more films were released. "

Even in 2011 only 3% of the UK population was black, so 4% representation amongst
"100 most prolific actors in British films" doesn't actually jar.
Originally Posted by baron View Post
Or, very mediocre actress blames her lack of perceived success on nasty white racists.
A few points:

Did Thandie Newton actually make the claim of racism?
Did she make the claim whilst speaking in Ebonics as the title suggests?
Or was she merely stating a fact that there are few roles for black women when compared with white actresses?
In the article you quoted she actually said that there *were* roles for black actresses but as portraying someone being racially abused, so why point out something that she is not denying?

She's not mediocre. She is great in Westworld for example.

This is not a new complaint. In the TV comedy Extras a black character is complaining to Maggie that there aren't many roles for black actors. Her reply: "There's always Crimewatch."
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Old 19th March 2017, 01:52 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
Far from the Madding Crowd is fiction. Any version of it is a fictional portrayal of the time. Why worry about ethnic exactitude? No I would not have a law, but out of the US a lot of films have some form of public subsidy. As part of this I would have colour blind casting.
FFTMC may be fiction, but Victorian Britain wasn't fiction, and specifically, west country peasants weren't fiction. Are you really suggesting that one should try for authenticity in everything except the colour of the actor's skin?

And I ask again............why weren't half of the slaves in Twelve Years a Slave Hispanic, and most of the rest white?
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:03 PM   #27
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What I find interesting OTOH is Samuel L Jackson's complaint that black British actors are "tekkin muh jerb" (and yes, he surely did say it in a parody of a Southern redneck's voice as portrayed by South Park).

Samuel L Jackson had a part in the very comedy show I referenced above (albeit he played Samuel L Jackson for which he is uniquely well suited).

I dislike his insinuation that black actors from the UK are stealing jobs from Americans. For the most part they seem to do such a great job that I am surprised to later find out they are British (in Oz, for example, or Morgan in Walking Dead, Twelve Years a Slave and now the main role of Get Out).

But of course, there are also white British actors and actresses who seem to seemlessly play American roles as well such as the lead cop in The Wire, Rick in Walking Dead, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, and Emily Blunt in All You Need is Kill and the movie about the American cop who goes to Mexico with the great scene in the traffic jam at the border.

My rule of thumb is that if they can convincingly play the role it shouldn't matter where they're from.

I too complain about the number of corset dramas on British TV - or I did when I lived there. Not because of the lack of diversity of the cast but lack of diversity of the entertainment. They are often either dull or resort to ridiculous plotlines. I think Downton Abbey's one of the worst for the latter, but there are endless Jane Austen style dramas which seemed to make the TV listings a barren wasteland for me. I realize that's what people want to watch of course just as they want to watch endless soap operas of the Eastenders and Coronation Street and Emmerdale variety.
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:04 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
This is not a new complaint. In the TV comedy Extras a black character is complaining to Maggie that there aren't many roles for black actors. Her reply: "There's always Crimewatch."
The problem is that when you cast too many black actors you get

Samuel Jackson to Maggie: "No, I can assure you I was not in The Matrix but Laurence Fishburne was."...
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:04 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
A few points:

In the article you quoted she actually said that there *were* roles for black actresses but as portraying someone being racially abused, so why point out something that she is not denying?
Because it's also fatuously wrong. As the report Information Analyst quoted points out Thandie Newton paints a very distorted picture of British television, costume drama is not the only or even main output of British television.
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:13 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
Did I claim that?

British historical dramas are fastidious about authenticity. Hollywood isn't. You may have watched too much of the latter and confused it's crap standards with that of the former.
"its crap standards"

Lettuce not drop our punctuation standards in front of the colonials.
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:17 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Garrison View Post
Because it's also fatuously wrong. As the report Information Analyst quoted points out Thandie Newton paints a very distorted picture of British television, costume drama is not the only or even main output of British television.
Sorry, I left out "in Call the Midwife". My point was supposed to be specifically about that programme. She said she could have been in that one but playing a racially abused person and Information Analyst merely pointed out that there are roles for black actors in that series. The two things are not contradictory.
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:40 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Garrison View Post
Because it's also fatuously wrong. As the report Information Analyst quoted points out Thandie Newton paints a very distorted picture of British television, costume drama is not the only or even main output of British television.
It's a pretty big chunk of the stuff being commissioned by drama departments with decent budgets and production values. Mainly because that is what sells to overseas audiences.

Take out the reality TV sport etc and what's left?

Tonight's offerings are ss GB a period drama and Vera which appears not to be a period piece but set in a country setting with no major black characters.

I've also heard Scottish actors make the same complaint about not having opportunities unless they can fake an upper class English accent.
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:43 PM   #33
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The lack of roles for minority actors in British historical dramas is simply an accurate reflection of the historical times they portray... what does she expect, to have, say, Oscar Wilde cast as a black man, or Emily Davidson played by an Asian woman?

Get real lady!!
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Old 19th March 2017, 02:46 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Archie Gemmill Goal View Post
I've also heard Scottish actors make the same complaint about not having opportunities unless they can fake an upper class English accent.
What's the world coming to when an actor is expected to fake an accent?
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:00 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
The lack of roles for minority actors in British historical dramas is simply an accurate reflection of the historical times they portray... what does she expect, to have, say, Oscar Wilde cast as a black man, or Emily Davidson played by an Asian woman?

Get real lady!!
I can't read the original interview because being in the Sunday Times I presume it is paywalled, but from the BBC link I cannot find any examples of her blaming racism. Instead she is merely saying that there are few roles she is interested in and explaining why she doesn't work much in the UK. Why are people from the OP on down losing their **** about this and hurling their toys from the pram?
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:09 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
The lack of roles for minority actors in British historical dramas is simply an accurate reflection of the historical times they portray... what does she expect, to have, say, Oscar Wilde cast as a black man, or Emily Davidson played by an Asian woman?

Get real lady!!
A convenient strawman there.

She is rightly pointing out that the commercial choices being made to produce such material are limiting the roles available.
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:10 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by baron View Post
What's the world coming to when an actor is expected to fake an accent?
Way to miss the point Batman.
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:13 PM   #38
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Fine, let them all pull a Rita Hayworth if they expect to work.
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:13 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
The lack of roles for minority actors in British historical dramas is simply an accurate reflection of the historical times they portray... what does she expect, to have, say, Oscar Wilde cast as a black man, or Emily Davidson played by an Asian woman?

Get real lady!!
I want Hitler played by a Samoan.

Not because Hitler was Samoan, but do you have any idea how hard it is to land a decent part if you're Samoan?
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Old 19th March 2017, 03:14 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
British historical dramas are fastidious about authenticity. Hollywood isn't. You may have watched too much of the latter and confused it's crap standards with that of the former.
Lady, you don't know me at all.
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