In the quirky horror film ”Get Out,” which dominated the US box office when it opened last month, a black American photographer meets his white girlfriend’s family for the first time and learns they’re a lot more menacing than meets the eye. It may surprise many to know that the actor who plays the photographer, Daniel Kaluuya, is British—you can hardly tell in the movie.
Samuel L. Jackson had an issue with the casting.
“I think it’s great that that movie is doing everything that it’s doing and people are loving it,” the American actor told New York radio station Hot 97. “The thing in my mind is, I know the young brother who’s in the movie, and he’s British… I tend to wonder what would that movie have been with an American brother who really feels that.”
A black American actor might’ve better understood what it’s like to be in an interracial couple in the US, Jackson suggested. “Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for 100 years,” Jackson said. “What would a brother from America have made of that role? I’m sure the director helped… Some things are universal but everything ain’t.”
Jackson said he had not yet seen Get Out—written and directed by American actor and comedian Jordan Peele—but planned to. Peele, for his part, reportedly wanted to go with a US actor, but spoke to Kaluuya and became convinced of how universal the themes were, the BBC reported. Peele said Kaluuya was the best person for the role.
Quite a few black British actors have made their careers playing American roles—and done phenomenal work doing so, especially in films and TV shows that handle the complex history of race relations in the US:
- Chiwetel Ejiofor starred as a free black man who was sold into slavery in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, which was also directed by a black Brit, Steve McQueen
- David Oyelowo portrayed US civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma
- Idris Elba made his name as a Baltimore drug dealer with a head for business in The Wire
- More recently, John Boyega donned an American accent in��The Force Awakens, a much less emotional role, though striking as he was the first black lead in a franchise of that size and scale
Jackson later clarified, in an interview with the Associated Press, that his remark was, “not a slam against [British actors], but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes… I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.”
Jackson noted that black British actors were often cast in US roles, but that it rarely worked the other way around—though that overlooks the fact that there are fewer parts for minorities in UK productions. For some British actors, the only opportunities for lead roles are in playing Americans.
Riz Ahmed, of the recent Star Wars film Rogue One, broke through playing an American in the US remake of the The Night Of. He talked about this when he addressed the UK Parliament about diversity in TV this month.
“It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me,” said Ahmed, who is a Briton of Pakistani heritage. “We end up going to America to find work. I meet with producers and directors here and they say, ‘We don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s’.”
That was part of Ahmed’s more tactful case for why British TV needs to become more representative.