Black British actors are taking Hollywood by storm. In recent years more and more have been cast in on-screen roles, not just in big budget U.S. films but also on American television.
In fact, nowadays it is highly likely a Brit will be found starring in a major Hollywood movie or hit TV series. Currently, U.S. television boasts several black British actors who are regular cast members in popular shows like Homeland and Game of Thrones.
“I love British actors,” says Brooks Jackson Colyar, a Los Angeles-based agent who represents actors and comedians. “I am fascinated they can take that accent and turn it into everyday American English,” she adds.
Black British actor David Oyelowo, 36, is a classic example. Born in the Oxford to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo was best known in the UK for playing an intelligence officer in the television drama series Spooks.
He decided to quit London for Los Angeles in 2008 and hasn’t looked back since. For the past five years Oyelowo has worked back-to-back. Last year he broke out in big roles such as the villainous Steven Jacobs in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and then the preacher in The Help.
This year the ambitious actor has been in heaven. Oyelowo has starred in George Lucas’ Red Tails and Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy. He’s received rave reviews for his performance in the indie flick, Middle of Nowhere, and has ended the year with a sterling performance in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln ahead of the release of Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise.
Oyelowo is not alone. Other notable examples include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Adrian Lester, Colin Salmon, Eamonn Walker and Naomie Harris — who have all starred in box office hits. Others, such as Idris Elba, Marsha Thomason and Marianne Jean-Baptiste have achieved considerable success on American television.
Despite some reservations these roles could have gone to homegrown talent, most in the industry welcome actors from across the pond. “It’s great when any black actor works and they are all phenomenal talents,” says Sheryl Gripper, founding executive director of Atlanta’s annual BronzeLens Film Festival.
Screen and stage actress Sheryl Lee Ralph agrees. “I welcome the kind of black talent we see coming across the pond,” she said. “I only wish we could go over there and work but the door doesn’t seem to be open to us.”
This begs the question why are so many black actors quitting the UK to re-launch and reinvigorate their careers in America.