Benedict Cumberbatch racism accusations are 'ridiculous' says Selma star David Oyelowo

Cumberbatch was attacked for using the term 'coloured' in a diversity debate

Jess Denham
Wednesday 28 January 2015 12:46
British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and David Oyelowo
British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo has rushed to Benedict Cumberbatch’s defence after the Oscar-nominated actor was criticised for his use of the word “coloured” when addressing the issue of Hollywood diversity.

The British actor described the outrage at Cumberbatch’s choice of words as “ridiculous” when asked about the controversy at the UK premiere of Selma.

“When you look at what he was actually saying it’s clear that he’s a huge supporter of black performers,” Oyelowo told Newsbeat.

“To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance.”

Oyelowo added that he had spoken to Cumberbatch and offered his support.

Cumberbatch, up for Best Actor for The Imitation Game, apologised for his “outmoded terminology” earlier this week and insisted he was “devastated to have caused offence”.

“I feel the complete fool I am,” he said, after telling US talk show host Tavis Smiley that “as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult [to find acting roles] in the UK”.

David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King in Selma

Oyelowo chimed in to the diversity debate, arguing that there are not enough opportunities for black actors in the film industry.

“To get to the point whereby myself and Ryan Gosling are going up for the same role is going to be great,” he said. “That’s not to say that that doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen often.

“Excellence is the best weapon against prejudice. I intend to be part of the solution and not the problem. You’ve just got to keep on banging out good performances.”

The Academy was widely criticised after the Oscars announcement earlier this month when no black or Asian actors were nominated for awards. Oyelowo was snubbed in the Best Actor category at both the Oscars and the Baftas.

Show Racism The Red Card, the UK’s leading anti-racism charity, said that while they applauded Cumberbatch’s message to highlight Hollywood’s diversity problem, 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.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments