David Harewood Denounces Blackface After Controversial Remarks

David Harewood explores diverse roles across stage and screen

by Zain ul Abedin
David Harewood Denounces Blackface After Controversial Remarks
© Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

David Harewood, the acclaimed English actor known for his roles as David Estes in "Homeland" and Martian Manhunter in "Supergirl," has recently made headlines not just for his performances but for his outspoken views on the sensitive issue of blackface in acting.

In a recent statement to Entertainment Weekly, Harewood firmly declared, "I don’t support or condone Blackface. My documentary on the subject, which explores its offensive distortions of race, is available on the BBC website." This clarification followed Harewood's comments in a discussion with The Guardian, which was part of his new role as president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in the United Kingdom.

The conversation broadly touched on race, prejudice, and the evolving norms of acting and casting. Harewood highlighted the professional dilemmas actors face today: "We’re at this strange point in the profession where debates swirl about who can play which roles based on their personal backgrounds." During the interview, Harewood provocatively addressed the issue of performing roles traditionally depicted with racial stereotypes, such as Othello.

"I say, if you want to black up, have at it, man. It’d better be exceptionally good, or else you’re gonna get laughed off the stage. But knock yourself out! Anybody should be able to do anything," he commented. This bold assertion has sparked many reactions, prompting him to articulate his opposition to blackface more clearly.

Challenging Racial Stereotypes

Besides his extensive career on screen, Harewood has ventured into theater, notably playing the white conservative intellectual William F. Buckley in the stage production of "Best of Enemies." Reflecting on this experience, he shared, "I knew the minute I walked on stage, 99% of the audience was thinking: ‘Why is he playing that?’ But by the end of it, everyone was convinced.

It demonstrates that what you bring onto the stage is your full self, not an attempt to mimic another race." Early in his career, Harewood faced criticism for his role as Romeo in an all-Black production of "Romeo and Juliet," with harsh reviews focusing unfairly on his race.

He recounted, "One reviewer questioned my RADA education and another compared my appearance to Mike Tyson rather than Romeo, which shows the racial stereotypes still prevalent in theater." Recently appointed as the director of RADA, Harewood has also been the target of racial prejudice, recounting a disturbing letter that disparaged his new position.

Despite these challenges, he remains committed to reforming the institution to be more inclusive and protective against bigotry. Through his career and activism, David Harewood continues to challenge the boundaries of traditional casting, advocating for a theater and cinema that embraces diversity while confronting the historical prejudices that still linger in the arts today.