Adrian Lester Joins The Growing List Of Black U.K. Actors Fed Up With The Current Opportunities Offered Them

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by Emmanuel Akitobi
December 27, 2011 11:24 AM
8 Comments
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Adrian Lester, star of BBC One's popular Hustle series, is the latest black British actor to decide that-- with regard to acting opportunities in the U.K.-- he's reached the end of the line.

Here on S&A, this is an issue that has been highlighted on several different occasions; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

According to the several media outlets, Lester recently gave an interview to Radio Times magazine, wherein he expressed his displeasure with the past and current state of the black actor in his home country.

It's reported that Lester told Radio Times:

“As an actor you’re constantly trying to guess how valuable you are to the industry. If you’re a woman you’ll put certain negative things against that, be it age or weight.

“As a black actor you do the same – you’ll only see yourself travelling as far as people like you have travelled. And if no-one like you is doing what you’re doing it’s very hard for you to see yourself going further, and you get frustrated.”

“I left Rada in ’89. Apartheid was still going, it was a very different world. When people leave drama school now saying, ‘It’s frustrating, I want to change things,’ I think, ‘Yeah – but, mate, we’ve done a hell of a lot of work!’

Things have changed. There are kids who, when they speak in whatever accent, you can’t tell what colour – even gender – they are until you actually look. That’s what Britain is. It’s impossible to move backwards.

And anybody who is intent on not moving forwards is moving backwards, and that’s an exercise in futility. At the moment a lot of dramas with non-white actors in them feel as though they have to justify that presence. Fine – but the presence is there, justified or not. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s getting better.”

Anyone looking at Lester's resume, however, might argue that he's had a pretty successful career, despite his grievances.  In 1998, Lester prominently starred opposite John Travolta and Emma Thompson in the film Primary Colors.  In 2003, Lester briefly joined the cast of the popular U.S. sitcom Girlfriends.  And it goes without saying that Lester leading the cast of the long-running Hustle was a major achievement for him.

“The iron (in the fire) is quite warm after Hustle," Lester added.

“It’s been nice knowing that for the past nine years, every summer there’s this great job....

This is the first time the slate is completely clear. I know I’m definitely going over to America. I’ll spend time doing three meetings a day. There’s lots of talk and stories flying around. We’ll see what lands.”

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8 Comments

  • dl | February 29, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    Watch he'll be begging steve mqueen for work soon like cuba gooding jr is right now ha ha yeah good luck it ht that mate lol!

  • anon | February 29, 2012 4:19 PMReply

    He went over to america for primary colors a while back and flopped so hes just bitter that he never made it in hollywood now that idris and two davids et al are over there flourishing. He is under the impression that the world owes him a living it DOES NOT! I'm sick of black british actors complaining about racism and yet doing NOTHING to improve the situation- its embarassing. Nollywoood is RIPE for exploration and to be fair many black brits have gone over but i have a feeling actors like him think that it's "beneath" them. African cinema is extremely lucritive now nollyowood being the 3rd largest film industry in the WORLD they're even investing in british films would you belive? Imagine how amazing the films would be if western blacks went over with their knowledge and expertise and helped develop it further they wouldnt even NEED HOLLYWOOD/u.k tv film anymore but they are just happy with what ever scraps whites give them I suppose. When are they gonna get some pride stop begging and realise when they are not wanted?

  • Afrobrit | December 28, 2011 8:49 AMReply

    I completely agree with MulletLove's comments. Black British actors are more often than not used as window dressing in shows in the UK. The film/Television industry does not provide black actors with roles which show their talents and provide a deeper history of the Black presence in Britain which I must add goes back hundreds of years!
    I also understand the annoyance of some African- Americans who see Black British actors coming to their country to take opportunities away from their own actors. There has been a void since the 90's in terms of seeing all Black sitcoms, dramas from the US - This is a big problem!
    I also think Black British actors need to work together and create films with other Black filmmakers in this country instead of running way from the issue. I think a lot of them are waiting from the White mainstream to give them work and this is not a forward thinking attitude to have.

  • JS | December 27, 2011 8:52 PMReply

    I'm amiture and new to the business but I've been seeing more and more complains about this from the UK. Its to bad it's changing the UK used to be a place for minorities like Josaphine Baker once said. I see a problem here instead of asking to be an actor its time minorites come together invest and produce their own stuff. Stop running around to others you know won't help you begging for a role...make your own.

  • EC Forde | December 27, 2011 5:03 PMReply

    I guess the good thing about this is Adrain's at least recognises the problem and is doing a little something about it. His Short film, Of Mary premiere's at 2012 London Short film Festival on January 8th at Ritzy amongst other Black & asian Films. For more see:
    http://shortfilms.org.uk/events/2012-01-08-new-shorts-10-not-the-skin-i-live-in-black-asian-stories

  • Mark | December 27, 2011 12:09 PMReply

    The irony is that for a while it looked like Black Brits had more opportunity in the UK than Black American actors in regards to being cast in diverse roles. In general, I think things in U.S. television and film have gotten both better and worse for black actors since the 1970s & 1980s. Network television might have diverse ensemble shows, but there are no Cosby, Jeffersons, Good Times, What's Happening, Amen, etc. Even ensemble shows seem to be using Latinos or South Asians more so than African-Americans.

    As for film, African-Americans still seem relegated to playing token roles largely with a few exceptions given to Denzel, Will, and Idris. Halle Berry hasn't had a decent role in years. Zoe Saldana does well but Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, and Sanaa Latham seem to have faded.

    Isn't it odd that there is no Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy of this generation (20 to 45)? Angela Bassett never got the roles she deserved.

    Yes, Tyler Perry is very successful but he hasn't been a great actor to date.

  • MulletLove | December 27, 2011 12:07 PMReply

    I'm not completely sure on this because I am not a black Briton nor a part of the business, but could there be a dearth of stuff for the black British actor because the rich history and culture of Black Britain still has yet to be tapped for dramatic purposes? I mean, whenever I've seen blacks on British TV over here, they're usually on cop shows or comedies (think Lenny Henry) and they don't seem to have much personality beyond what's immediately in front of them, i.e. working alongside some white drawn-mugged police inspector (I mean, I love Helen Mirren, but still, lol!), or being the sentimental friend of the perky Bridget Jones-type in the secretary pool (on the cop show). Either that, or they aren't acting at all; it's a variety or dance show that's happening, and the black folks are there to provide the "soul," the riddims to get the folks--black and white--off their feet. But seldom is there any backstory or any history to how the folks came to be there in the first place, what the perspectives on being black and British are, how the black Briton overall tells the story of Britain overall, especially in the last 150 years or so, which would have to include colonialism and all the drama that could bring. I don't see that. They just get used as dull window dressing and I know there's more to be uncovered in that mix. There have been a few things done here and there that veer in the right directions, but they're still woefully few and far in between. The saying has always been here in the States when black actors and other artists have been faced with invisibility in the film and TV worlds that we need to tell our own stories. I put that challenge to black Britons in the visual and dramatic arts as well--because I think the African diaspora needs all its voices and stories to be shared amongst its people and others. No more window dressing. And ixnay also on the need for black British actors, writers, directors, etc., to mine their talents on the other side of the pond in order to get recognized (or to eat everyday). They can do it in their own backgardens. The time is now.

  • Darkan | December 27, 2011 12:07 PMReply

    Good for you Lester. You can come here and take three meetings a day but where do my black American acting brothers and sisters go to make that happen for them? Smh & *rolling my eyes.*

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