Twitter has been enflamed with reactions by black people along two major divides, African-Americans and other blacks over a movie role played by Daniel Kaluuya. The movie, Judas And The Black Messiah is produced by Warner Bros and set for 2021 release but which initial trailer has been released with Daniel Kaluuya to play the role of Fred Hampton, a former Black Panther Party Leader. African-Americans are expressing displeasure and criticizing the decision to cast the British Born Ugandan actor to play an African-American Hero.
For this misunderstanding to escalate only shortly after black people all over the world had come out in solidarity to demonstrate against racial discrimination under the Black Lives Matter protest triggered by the “murder” of George Floyd, is troubling. Blacks everywhere ought to see themselves as one and the same. But in the past, there have been incidents which had shown a fallout between American blacks and blacks from other countries, especially from Africa.
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in the trailer of the yet to be released movie "Judas And The Black Messiah" (Image: Warner Bros/Twitter)
The American blacks, who are mostly descendants of slaves largely bought from Africa hundreds of years ago considered their historical experience different other blacks across the world, in their own opinion their experience had been most unfortunate than that of other blacks outside the US, often citing episodes of slavery itself, racial discrimination and marginalization which had made their community the least developed in the United States. They expressed dissatisfaction with the increasing successes of migrant blacks in the US as against their own advancement – remember the previous report had shown that Nigerians are some of the most successful and intellectually achieving African groups in the US.
Fred Hampton, the African-American whose story would be told in the forthcoming biopic "Judas And The Black Messiah", Actor Daniel Kaluuya played the role of Fred (Image: Workers World)
The American blacks feel there are opportunities that they alone are entitled to, only American blacks and not all blacks. One of such is the role to play Fred Hampton, some of then express the sentiment that only a true African-American can capture and portray the role and soul of a true African-American Hero like Hampton. Not any other black man, no matter how talented. The criticized the choice of Daniel Kaluuya citing his accent as being off and unAfrican-American, that he doesn’t look like Fred Hampton at all, and does not embody the African American experience to convincingly interpret the role. But all that is bunkum!
Denzel Washington as Steve Biko in the 1987 movie "Cry Country" (Image: The South African)
African-American actors have played the roles of some African leaders and great men in movies before and they were hailed, not only by white viewers but by African-American alike. Denzel Washington had played the role of Steve Biko, the South African anti-Apartheid fighter in 1987 movie Cry Freedom; Don Cheadle played Rwandan hero hotel manager in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda with critical acclaimed. In 2007, Morgan Freeman who also doesn’t look like Mandela or had lived in South Africa played the role of Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Will Smith played a Nigerian Dr. Benneth Omalu in the 2015 movie Concussion. But these pieces of acting were not protested by African-Americans or Africans insisting that such role should have gone to Africans or Africans from the home countries of the heroes.
Will Smith played the role of Nigerian Dr. Bennett Omalu (left) in the 2015 movie "Concussion" (Image: NPR)
But when it comes to non-African-Americans playing roles of black American heroes some members of the indigenous black American communities will come out to protest. For example, many disapproved of the decision to cast David Oyelowo (of Nigerian descent) for portraying Martins Luther Kings in the 2017 movie Selma. The disapproved and heavily criticized Zoe Saldana for playing Nina Simone in the 2016 movie Nina, a backlash that made the actress who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent to revealed in a recent interview with Steven Canals on Instagram that she shouldn’t have played the role: I’m so sorry…I should have never played Nina”, she apologizes. The same bad energy is been applied to Daniel Kaluuya and Warner Bros for casting him, a very dark-skinned black man who is a British citizen with Ugandan parents, to play a very African-American hero as Fred Hampton.
Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina in the movie "Hotel Rwanda" (Image: Worth Point)
But this is acting, it means getting into a role which the actor might not necessarily or originally belong to. Many great American actors have played great iconic roles of people from different ethnic or racial backgrounds: Many Europeans have played the role of Jesus Christ in countless movies without using a Middle-Eastern Jewish man. In Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio played the role of an Afrikaans man from South Africa. Al Pacino played a Cuban man in Scarface. The fact that an “outsider” plays the role of a particular community doesn’t affect the art itself, not the business of acting.
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus (Image: The New York Times)
Black people are one and the same, United by their pigmentation which has been a subject of historical abuse and discrimination. As a racial community, divisions should not be encouraged and love should be shown and not only when violence is meted on the community that solidarity is demonstrated. As a black man, Daniel Kaluuya is very qualified to play any black hero, American or not, just as Denzel and Morgan Freeman had played any other African hero in movies. The accent might be off, just like Will Smith Nigerian accent in the Concussion. See reactions below:
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