Thandiwe Newton apologizes to ‘darker-skinned’ women for taking roles, men, truths

"My Mama looks like you," Newton said. "It's been very painful to have women who look like my mom feel like I’m not representing them."

Thandiwe Newton got emotional during a recent interview promoting her new film, God’s Country. The movie, adapted from a short story called Winter Light by James Lee Burke, is about a grieving professor who confronts two white hunters on her property. 

In the original story, the main character was an older white man, but the film version centers on a Black woman, who Newton portrays. 

Thandiwe Newton attends the 2021 Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in November in New York City. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

During the interview with Sky News, which was conducted on video, Newton said she hesitated in taking the part because she didn’t feel that she was a dark enough Black woman to play it. She also said that it helped her overcome many of her own prejudices. 

“My internalized prejudice was stopping me from feeling like I could play this role when it’s precisely that prejudice that I’ve received,” she said.

“I’ve wanted so desperately to apologize every day to darker-skinned actresses. To say, ‘I’m sorry that I’m the one chosen.’ My Mama looks like you,” Newton said, tearfully. “It’s been very painful to have women who look like my mom feel like I’m not representing them. That I’m taking from them. Taking their men, taking their work, taking their truth.”

Newton added that the woman in God’s Country was named Sandra after Sandra Bland — the 28-year-old Black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell days after her arrest for a minor traffic violation in 2015 — which further compelled her to want to play it. 

“For a good five (years) I’ve been supporting Kimberly Crenshaw’s work with the African American Policy Forum and movement ‘Say Her Name,’ which she coined,” Newton said. “And in this movie, right from the get-go, we are saying her name. I don’t mean just about Sandra Bland. I’m talking about all the ‘Sandra Blands.’ Now and in the past.”

She says God’s Country may be her last time before the cameras. 

“I’m 49, and I think I’ve been a successful Black actress for many, many years. And it’s been rare for me to have a movie where you follow me for the whole movie,” she told Indiewire of finally having a meaningful starring role. “I was sad that I finally got to do something I really f**king got my teeth into.”

“This,” the Westworld star said, “defines what I want to be as an actress.”

As previously reported, last year Newton began to use her full first name professionally versus simply Thandie. She said of her full Zimbabwean moniker: “That’s my name. It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.”

Thandiwe means “beloved” in Shona, which is one of the main languages in Zimbabwe, her mother’s native nation.

The MeToo advocate says her name change is a form of taking more control of her life and career. “Wherever I position myself now, I don’t want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution,” Newton told British Vogue last May. “I’m not for hire anymore. I’m not going to speak your story or say your words if I don’t feel they could’ve come from me.”

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