NAM/The North Start News, News Report, Frederick Lowe
The 2014 Academy Awards will be broadcast Sunday, and one of the world’s most-watched television shows also will feature a strong black British presence in American films.
“12 Years a Slave” was directed by Steven McQueen, a black British director. Black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, plays the lead character in the film, which has been nominated for nine Oscars.
McQueen has been nominated for best director. Ejiofor has been nominated for best actor and “12 Years a Slave” has been nominated for best picture.
The attention they are receiving has shined a spotlight on the growing number black British actors appearing in films that are of historic significance as well as having strong box office of appeal.
Clarence Springer, who writes about film, doesn’t believe that the growing number of black British actors appearing on the big screen can be accurately described as a British invasion similar to the time the Beatles arrived on U.S. shores 40 years ago this month. The Beatles changed the American music industry by playing music that was already here but performed by black artists who were generally ignored.
“The timing may or may not have something to do with our African-American president,” Springer wrote. “Also, the British have a habit of politely wanting to beat us at our own game. The presence of black British actors and actresses reflects the age of globalization. The British want to show us Americans that they appreciate talent and are beyond all the car chases, idiotic bantering and rap music.”
He noted that more black British actors are portraying American blacks. Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave,” which is based on Northup’s 1853 memoir “Twelve Years A Slave.” The memoir concerns the life of Northup, a free-black man from Minerva, N.Y., who was living in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Slave hunters posing as businessmen lured Northup to Washington, D.C., with a business proposition before kidnapping him and selling him into slavery. Northup worked on several plantations in Louisiana.
Another instance of a black British actor playing an American was Thandie Newton, who portrayed Condoleeza Rice in the 2008 film “W.” about President George W. Bush. Rice was Bush’s Secretary of State.
In addition to Newton and Ejiofor, one of the best known black British actors to play an American is Idris Elba.
Elba roles, however, have not been limited to the big screen.
Elba, who grew up in London, played Russell “Stringer” Bell, a Baltimore drug dealer, in the critically acclaimed and highly watched HBO series “The Wire.”
And Marianne Jean-Baptist, best known to American audiences for the 1996 British film “Secrets & Lies,” plays a detective in U.S. television series “Without A Trace.”
Even if “12 Years a Slave” does not end the night with an arm load of Oscars, it has already affected other areas of the culture.
The book “Twelve Years A Slave” was a bestseller in 1853 before it disappeared for 161 years. The movie, however, has put it on The New York Times bestseller list.
Now, the film is being shown in African-American museums and it is scheduled to be shown in schools.