Damson Idris weighs in on debate over black British actors playing black American characters


Damson Idris is one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars.

The black British actor’s role in the hit FX series ‘Snowfall’ made him an ‘it’ guy, wearing enough of the elite cachet to receive private piano lessons from the rap star Saweetie and hanging out with celebrities like Rihanna, LeBron James and Jay-Z at the 2022 Super Bowl. The influencer is so in love with Jay-Z that he shared that the RocNation founder gave him a reference when he asked for his green card – a document which people who are not US citizens must stay in the country for a long time. .

Damson Idris attends FX’s ‘Snowfall’ Season 5 premiere at Grandmaster Recorders on February 17, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Although he is so popular with fans and members of the entertainment cool club, the fact that he is an outsider who successfully performs in the competitive world of American film and television has ruffled some people’s feathers.

Many believe that Black Brits, born in Europe and not in the United States, should not have roles based on people of American descent. A-list actors like Oscar-nominated Idris Elba, Thandi Newton, John Boyega, Letitia Wright, Cynthia Erivo and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya seem to dominate on the big screen, and that has made some black people furious Americans.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson spoke out two years ago when Jordan Peele’s hit movie “Get Out” cast Kaluuya as the lead.

He said: “There are a lot of black British actors in these films. I tend to wonder what this movie [Get Out] would have been with an American brother who really feels that way. Daniel grew up in a country where they had interracial encounters for a hundred years. What would an American brother have thought of this role? Some things are universal, but [not everything].”

In an interview with GQ Magazine, Idris gives an answer to the whiplash that critics forget… he and others like him are actors.

While detailing all the work it takes to master the role of Franklin Saint, a character whose very essence is seven time zones from where he grew up, Idris says he’s good at it because he pays attention to the notes of others who understand the story authentically.

“I sincerely believe it’s about listening,” says Idris. “To make a movie, a TV show, play a character, there’s so much to do. It’s not just put on the person playing it. We have advisers, just like when I did “Snowfall” the first season, and the second season, I had Dub-C with me every day, who’s from there, I had John Singleton, who’s from there… and that’s how it is that good actors approach the characters they play.

He also thinks people don’t have to watch British actors play American characters.

“If you have a problem with people playing characters that aren’t them, one, watch something else. Two, watch a documentary,” he submits.

Regina King agrees it’s all about choosing who’s best for the role, regardless of nationality.

During a conversation in London last month at a BAFTA event on “One Night in Miami,” a film she directed, she explained why she had booked a Black Brit for one of the lead roles.

She said the film was “just a love letter to the black male experience in America. But then to step back and really welcome marginalized people around the world. There are feelings and experiences that black people in the UK, Brazil feel that are the same as in America.While the story of a country’s birth may be different, the marginalization of a black man is the same, the colorism is the same in all these places.

“Kingsley [Ben-Adir] was the best actor for this role [as Malcolm X]and Eli [Goree] was the best actor for this role [as Muhammad Ali],” she continued. “Of course, none of them are American. But can they relate to the experience and pain a black person feels of being ignored simply because of the color of their skin? Absolutely they can. Can they take it upon themselves to make sure they educate themselves on how it is specific to America in the history of how black Americans built this country; it was built on the bodies of black Americans? They can certainly find out about it, and they have.

The late John Singleton had the same philosophy when casting. When first promoting the series in 2017 and when faced with the same question about casting Idris in ‘Snowfall’ for such a black American role, he simply told the Redding News Review, “He was the best actor for work.”

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