After the Screen Actors Guild awards show on Sunday, January 25, Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, called black actors ‘colored,’ during an interview with PBS talk show host, Tavis Smiley. He has since issued an apology and labeled himself as being a “complete fool,” and an “idiot,” for having effectively undermined a point he was trying to make that black actors have more opportunities in the United States than they do in the UK.
Benedict Cumberbatch, 38, the voice of the dragon Smaug in the Hobbit flicks, was discussing with Smiley the problems that black British actors face in getting acting jobs when he made the gaffe. He was talking about, “as far as colored actors go,” how some of his friends have “had more opportunities here than in the UK.”
The Sherlock actor said that he was “devastated,” that he had caused offense, and he said that he offered his “sincere apologies.” He added that there was “no excuse for my being an idiot.”
While it was admirable that Benedict Cumberbatch was discussing “racial inequality in the performing arts in the UK,” his use of the outdated term “colored,” was offensive to many people. Thousands of them took to social media sites to express their anger over the actor’s inappropriate and offensive choice of words.
Cumberbatch stated that he apologized “to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.”
Once a careless word or sentence gets out of one’s mouth, the damage has been done, despite any number of apologies that someone makes. However, to his credit, Benedict Cumberbatch “owned,” his inappropriate terminology, and admitted he was an “idiot,” for having used the word.
Two examples Benedict Cumberbatch gave of British black actors who have done better in the United States than in the UK at landing acting jobs were David Oyelowo and Idris Elba. He called the playing field more level in America, and said that these two actors had “paid their dues for years by just doing beautiful performances.”
David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Carmen Ejogo, also from England, plays his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Among the points that Cumberbatch tried to make was that, even though there are sometimes more opportunities for black actors in the United States, there are still not very many black actors who get nominated for awards like the Golden Globes and Oscars, and fewer of the ones who are nominated, generally speaking, end up winning the awards. He definitely made some valid points, but most of them were likely lost when he used the outmoded term “colored,” to refer to black actors.
Benedict Cumberbatch is a very experienced and talented actor, and he will, no doubt, eventually bounce back from his inappropriate word choice. The apology he issued seems to be a genuine, heartfelt one, and he has said he was sorry for having used the offensive language. The argument he was trying to make that racial inequality still exists in both the UK and the United States in the acting profession is a valid one. Cumberbatch has, perhaps deservedly, been roundly criticized for using the word. Hopefully some of the racial inequalities that still exist will be addressed as a result of this controversy.
Opinion By Douglas Cobb