‘Homeland’ Actor Defends Himself After Saying White Actors Can ‘Black Up’ for Roles if They Want

By: Alex | Published: Apr 25, 2024

In a recent interview, Homeland actor David Harewood made comments saying he thinks white actors can “black up” for roles and that “anyone should be able to do anything” in acting.

However, in a statement released after the interview, Harewood clarified that he does not support blackface after his comments received negative online attention.

Harewood’s Interview Comments

In an interview with The Guardian, Harewood, known for his role in the TV series ‘Homeland,’ talked about his concern regarding how roles in the entrainment industry are becoming more restrictive.

David Harewood photographed in 2015.

Source: Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV/Wikimedia

“We’re at this strange point in the progression where people go, ‘Oh you can’t play that role because you’re not disabled, or you can’t play that because you’re not really from there,” Harwood said.

Defending Othello

Harewood was interviewed on a wide range of different topics. At one point he defended the use of blackface in Othello, which generated discussion online.

An old-style film projector that is displaying a movie.

Source: Jeremy Yap/Unsplash

“Yes, we’ve got to be representative, but I do think we have to be careful … That even extends to Othello in blackface. I say, if you want to black up, have at it, man. It’d better be f-g good, or else you’re gonna get laughed off the stage. But knock yourself out! Anybody should be able to do anything,” said Harewood.

Othello Context

The “Othello” that Harewood was referring to is a 1965 movie adaptation of the original Shakespeare play. In that movie, Laurence Olivier dyed his skin darker to portray the movie’s titular character.

Laurence Oliver places Othello in a 1965 film adaptation.

Source: Warner Bros.

Olivier had naturally lighter skin and was of French Huguenot descent, with much of his ancestry also being English.

Disagreement Online

Many commenters online reacted with negativity to the interview Harewood did, citing his specific comments around blackface as a major reason. One X user complained that blackface takes away roles from black and brown actors who already face issues getting hired.

A post describing issues with sparsity for black roles.

Source: Suspiria451/X

“Authenticity and the sparsity of roles for black and brown actors are the issues at stake when it comes to “blackface.” Why hire a white guy in blackface when you can hire an actual black actor? Whatever happened to authenticity?,” X user Suspiria451 said.

Harewood’s Documentary

Some commenters found Harewood’s view particularly strange given that Harewood was part of a recent BBC documentary on the history of blackface.

A post detailing how Harwood made a documentary on blackface.

Source: Oliver Graves/X

“Surprising considering Harewood recently made an hour-long documentary about the history of blackface,” wrote X user Oliver Graves.


Support Online

While there were many people critical of Harewood’s comments, some users expressed support for them. One comment pointed out a double standard around actors playing different roles in the industry.

A blonde wig sitting on a stand.

Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

“Finally a man with sense and not just pandering to the woke lefties. Just remember, we can watch “White Chicks” the film as it’s constantly on TV. Where the Wayan brothers, use white face,” said one X user.


Walking it Back

In the wake of criticism for his comments, Harewood released a statement clarifying his position on blackface given the confusion people may have at him expressing seemingly contradictory views.

A series of footprints on the ground capture the size of people's feet.

Source: Jacob Campbell

“I don’t support or condone Blackface. My own documentary on the subject can be found on the BBC website. It is a grotesque distortion of race and should always be condemned,” said Harewood.


Harewood’s Past Roles

While Harewood is seemingly against the use of blackface for white actors in his recent statement, he has played the role of a white conservative in the production “Best of Enemies.”

A photograph of William F. Buckley from 1969

Source: Wikimedia

Harewood played William F Buckley, an American conservative responsible for founding the National Review in 1955. Buckley was a major influencer of the Republican party at that time.


Thoughts On Playing Buckley

Harewood asserted that the audience who saw him playing Buckley was skeptical at first, but that he was able to win them over.

William Buckley stares in a moment captured in 1985.

Source: Bert Goulait/Wikimedia

“I knew the minute I walked on stage, 99 per cent of the audience was thinking: ‘Why is he playing that?’ But by the end of it, everybody was going, F*** me, that worked really well!’” said Harewood.


Similar Comments

Just earlier this month, Billy Dee Williams, famous for his role as “Lando” in Star Wars, came out in support of blackface too. Williams also made reference to Othello in his comments.

Billy Dee Williams speaks at a Comic Con in 2016.

Source: Super Festivals/Wikimedia

When asked by Bill Maher about blackface, Williams answered “Why not? You should do it. If you’re an actor, you should do anything you want to do … As an actor, whatever you think you can do, you should be able to do it”.


Racial Division in British Drama

Harewood’s comments came during a background of ongoing racial issues and division in the British drama scene.

A shot of the entrance to the Noel Coward theater in London.

Source: Iridescent/Wikimedia

A London theater in February said it would be hosting “Black Out Nights” for a production about slavery where it would restrict audiences based on race. This would allow “all-black-identifying audiences” to attend without other racial groups present.