Benedict Cumberbatch criticised for using term 'coloured' to describe black actors

'He has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language,' a leading UK anti-racism charity said

Jenn Selby
Monday 26 January 2015 14:48 GMT

Benedict Cumberbatch shone a welcome light on the issue of diversity within the UK creative industry when he said that he had witnessed British actors finding more opportunities across the pond than they do at home.

Perhaps ironically, however, the actor also came under fire for using an “outdated” racial term to describe them.

“I think as far as coloured actors go, it gets really different in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK, and that's something that needs to change,” Cumberbatch said on PBS talk show Tavis Smiley.

“Something's gone wrong, we're not representative enough in our culture of different races and that really does need to step up a pace.”

Show Racism The Red Card, the UK’s leading anti-racism charity, said that while they applauded Cumberbatch’s message, they condemned the use of the phrase “coloured” as racially inappropriate.

“Benedict Cumberbatch has highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society,” a SRtRC spokesperson told The Independent.

“The lack of representation of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds within certain industries in the UK is an issue which needs addressing, and we are pleased that Benedict has spoken out in support of more appropriate representation and of the views of actors and campaigners like Lenny Henry.

“In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feel that the term ‘coloured’ is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage.

“Appropriate terminology differs from country to country; for example, we know that in some countries the term ‘coloured’ is still widely used, and that in the US the term ‘people of colour’ is quite common.

“During our work with young people in schools throughout England, we discuss appropriate language to use when describing people of different skin colours and backgrounds and explain why the term ‘coloured’ is no longer the best way to describe someone.”

Viewers watching the interview at home were also quick to point out the semantic error:

Cumberbatch attended the Screen Actor’s Guild awards over the weekend, where he was nominated in the Best Actor category for playing the role of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

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