David Harewood clarifies comments after saying white actors should be able to ‘Black up’ for roles

David Harewood has released a statement after comments he made about Blackface went viral.

The English Homeland actor, 58, spoke about his concerns regarding identity politics and acting in a new interview with The Guardian.

“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,’” he said.

“The name of the game is acting. Yes, we’ve got to be representative, but I do think we have to be careful… That even extends to Othello in Blackface.”

In a statement shared with media on Tuesday (23 April), Harewood clarified: “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.”

Historically, Othello would see white actors wear Blackface to portray the titular military leader. However, modern productions have widely cast Black actors in the role.

David Harewood (Getty Images)
David Harewood (Getty Images)

“I say, if you want to Black it up, have at it, man. It’d better be f***ing good, or else you’re gonna get laughed off the stage. But knock yourself out!” Harewood told The Guardian.

“Anybody should be able to do anything.”

Last year, Harewood played the notorious white conservative William F Buckley in a well-received production of Best of Enemies.

“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.

“Hearing his words coming out of my mouth, many people went, ‘Why am I liking William F Buckley?’”

Earlier this month, Billy Dee Williams similarly said that actors should be able to perform in Blackface.

The Star Wars star, 87, said: “If you’re an actor, you should be able to do anything you want to do.”

Williams went on to speak about Laurence Olivier’s controversial use of Blackface in the 1965 film adaptation of Othello directed by Stuart Bruage, and also starring Maggie Smith.

“When [Olivier] did Othello, I fell out laughing,” he said. “He stuck his ass out and walked around with his ass, you know, because Black people are supposed to have big asses.”

Williams said he found Olivier’s portrayal “hysterical”, adding: “I loved it. I love that kind of stuff.”