Thandie Newton Says Roles for Black Actors in the U.K. Are Scarce: 'I Can't Do Downton Abbey'

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Even if you’re Thandie Newton, it’s hard to find work in the U.K. as a black actor. She specifically cites the abundance of period dramas that inherently shut out people of color.


Newton—who’s reportedly been cast in the upcoming Han Solo Stars Wars film starring Donald Gloveris best known right now for Westworld, a series set in a droid fantasy world. In an interview, she told the U.K.’s Sunday Times about her casting frustrations:

“I love being [in the U.K.], but I can’t work, because I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call the Midwife — well, I could, but I don’t want to play someone who’s being racially abused. I’m not interested in that, don’t want to do it... There just seems to be a desire for stuff about the royal family, stuff from the past, which is understandable, but it just makes it slim pickings for people of colour. I’m talented at what I do, but I’ve had to struggle against racism and sexism. But I’m glad of it, in a way, that I survived and overcame.”


Though American film isn’t the best example of diversification, better opportunities seem to exist here for black British actors like Idris Elba, David Oyelowo (Selma), Naomie Harris (Moonlight) and more, recently, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).

The experience in the U.K. had Newton considering retirement. During New York Comic Con in 2016, while promoting Westworld, she said, “I almost got to the point where I kind of wanted to retire...and do something else but it’s hard to find something else like this that’s going to give you money for the rent and for the school fees.”

Vulture cited a similar grievance from Oyelowo last year, when the actor told The Guardian people of color were being “expunged from Britain’s history” in period dramas.

Culture Editor, Jezebel

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This is where good writing and creativity would come in, if that was a thing. We can have fucking westerns in space, but no one can imagine a period looking piece that’s NOT going to be black people as slaves or being abused?

No books to turn into screenplays from black fiction authors? LA Banks created a whole new world in her Vampire Huntress series. There are black writers out there ready and willing to transport you to their world.

How many Underworlds and Resident Evils have there been?

Doesn’t even have to be sci-fi, but can we at least come up with new worlds and new ideas that include a variety of people to live in it? Then again, who’s going to put them on screen?

Is it going to end up being Netflix, Oprah or whatever company Jay z creates? Or heavens forbid, Tyler Perry.

Anyone looking to create outside the box is welcomed by me at this point.