This is an exclusive blog pot by actor and presenter, Diipo Ayo-Adeusi. "...It just seems unfair that anyone but African actors plays the African characters..."
As I watched the trailer for the upcoming movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith, I couldn’t help but wonder; is it that we aren’t talented or are we just not good enough for them? Of course, the issue I refer to above is the use of an African-American actor, no matter how celebrated, in playing the role of a real life Nigerian man.
Concussion focuses on a forensic pathologist and neurologist who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of two NFL players, which later leads them both to suicide. The major motion picture is based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Smith) who discovered CTE while performing an autopsy on Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. Now, as much as I appreciate the message of the movie and the awareness that the movie may raise in ensuring the future safety of NFL players, I can’t but feel cheated at the casting choices for the movie.
Although there seems to be quite the controversy about how the NFL may react to the movie, I am more concerned about the portrayal of a Nigerian man by Will Smith, who is by no means a Nigerian and judging by the trailer of the movie, does not have a mastery of the Nigerian dialect.
There are so few African characters on the big screen in comparison to the amount of talented African actors living in L.A, for example. Thus, why is it that a single Nigerian or at least African actor was not cast in the role of Dr. Omalu? It just seems unfair that anyone but African actors plays the African characters when it is evident that the supply of African actors greatly outweighs the demand for African actors.
In addition, if the idea is to attract huge numbers for the movie, there should not be a problem, as there are quite a number of accomplished African actors to do these roles justice, while attracting huge crowds to the cinemas.
In my opinion, there are equally accomplished African actors, such as, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was nominated in 2013 for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Southern dialectal, Solomon Northup in 12 years a slave. As a matter of fact, Ejiofor also starred in the movie, Half of a Yellow Sun, where he convincingly played the role of a Nigerian Igbo man who just returned from overseas.
David Oyelowo, who is of Yoruba descent with a British dialect, also proved his acting prowess in the 2014 movie, Selma, as he eerily portrayed the late Martin Luther King, complete with a Southern dialect, showing his ability to take on any challenge.
Idris Elba, as well, could easily have portrayed the role of Dr.Omalu, as he has proven that he can take on any role with his multiple depictions of an American man and most recently, his role as a West African war commandant.
Therefore, why do we still have African characters played by African-Americans on the big screen? Honestly, what I find more upsetting is that it seems once an African is to be portrayed in a negative way (Captain Phillips), African actors conveniently seem to be sought after from all corners of the world. However, when Africans are to be portrayed in a positive way, like a Nigerian doctor discovering something that could potentially save lives, they have to find anyone but an African to play the part.
This seems to be an ongoing trend within the film industry in America, as Emma Stone was cast to play the part of a Hawaiian lady in Aloha. I’ll be the first to tell you that the craft shouldn’t suffer in place of aesthetic value. I believe that the best actor should be given the part over the actor who ‘may look right for the part’. Nonetheless, if there are actors who possess the required skills and looks for the part, then by all means let them portray the parts.
We have had so many years of being looked upon as the Dark Continent and we need to make a change, yet when we want to make that change we aren’t allowed to. We need to continue to draw attention to these issues, irrelevant, as they may seem. The truth is these African actors are some of our representatives outside of the continent and what they portray to the world is what the world thinks of us.
Diipo Ayo-Adeusi is an actor, presenter and fashion enthusiast. He has recently moved back to Nigeria from the US where he used to work on stage as a actor. He is Jollof rice and Jollof rice is him.