Ashley Walters has hit out at black British actors who complain about the lack of opportunities in the UK, suggesting that they should "stay here and try to change things" rather than "run away to the States".
High profile stars such as David Harewood and Lenny Henry have voiced their concerns in recent months about the issue. In January, Harewood, an MBE and one of the stars of hit US show Homeland said, "Unfortunately there really aren't that many roles for authoritative, strong, black characters in this country. We just don't write those characters, that's a fact."
Lenny Henry, a CBE, meanwhile voiced his concerns for the ethnic make-up of the talent at the TV BAFTA awards. "There weren't any black people at the BAFTAs; there was no black talent,” he said. “What's the matter with those people? What were the judges doing? There's just not enough programmes with black people in them.”
But Walters, who stars in Channel 4 drama Top Boy, told Time Out London that he believes leading actors like Harewood and Henry could do more to create opportunities.
“Here’s my theory: I looked up to people like Lenny Henry and David Harewood. They were the kind of people who made me want to get into this. But they don’t write enough, they don’t produce enough and they don’t direct enough,” he says.
“Lenny’s production company put a film out called Alive and Kicking, where he played a guy coming off drugs. And it was one of the most cutting-edge UK films I’ve seen. And since then, he’s put out nothing much. They should be the pioneers. I’d like to direct and produce and try and push things forward. It’s obvious that it’s more difficult for black actors than it is for white actors over here. So you can run away to the States or you can stay here and try to change things.”
Walters, 31, who received an 18 months sentence in a young offenders centre for firearms offences, has plans to direct, partly to be able to work on different projects.
“When I start to direct, I don’t want my first film to be like Bullet Boy or Top Boy or something you’d expect,” he said. “I don’t even read a lot of the stuff I get sent because it’ll be AK-47 or The Gun or whatever!”
The actor, who is also a member of south London rap collective So Solid Crew, also believes that the multicultural nature of the capital is something to be proud of.
“I go away to places in Europe or America and I feel uncomfortable; I can’t wait to get home. We are so multicultural and mixed up. Give it 20 years and there won’t be any people of one race any more. Everyone will have something else in them. I think that’s a beautiful thing.”