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Ethiopian-Irish Actress Ruth Negga Believes Her Heritage Is Negatively Affecting Her Career

by Emmanuel Akitobi
September 3, 2012 5:41 PM
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Touch Press

The Irish Sun is reporting that Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga (Misfits, Love/Hate) believes her heritage has prevented her from success in Hollywood.

Why does Negga feel this way?  Here's what The Irish Sun is reporting:

Ruth said: “I’ve never had actual feedback that this was the reason I didn’t get a part, no-one’s ever said to my face that was the reason. But I’m sure it’s been the case.

“I’ve gone into auditions and I think they have an assumption about me when they see my photo and then I open my mouth and they say, ‘Where exactly are you from? And you were born in Ethiopia? But you’re Irish, but you also kind of sound English. That’s really strange.’”

She added: “They want to put you in a box in LA, that’s how they tend to do it there, so if you don’t fit in that box, it makes it more difficult.”

I'll leave it to S&A readers to decipher that reasoning.

In addition to the film and TV roles she's already known for, Negga is scheduled to appear next in the Jimi Hendrix biopic, All Is By My Side, and the historical epic Twelve Years A Slave with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt.

So she's definitely working.  But I guess what Negga is saying is that opportunities here in the U.S. are not as common as they are back home.

Is this an argument which warrants further conversation?  Or is this Ruth Negga's wake-up call on being an actor-of-color in America?

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  • tyu | July 21, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    But she doesn't even look African! She looks like she's from Iran.

  • Alani | October 16, 2013 6:50 PM

    Strong Ethiopian features with a cute Irish chin. She looks cool, can't wait to see 12 years.

  • Curtis | July 21, 2013 7:12 PM

    And pray tell what does an African look like?

  • WOW | September 30, 2012 8:30 PMReply

    "what's really the dialogue here and what makes it news of any sort?" Hello! It's interesting to note that two of the most poignant comments were the shortest and received no replies. Here's the second-->ADAM SCOTT THOMPSON | SEPTEMBER 3, 2012 6:22 said: "As Kanye put it, even if you in a Benz you still a "Negga.". That's true! Hollywood does not need black folks and the white audience is indifferent to black affairs. Now throw that into the pot of why "Won't Back Down" was a total bust. This has little to nothing to do with talent, yet everything to do with the color of the actor's skin. As soon as we understand and accept those cold hard facts, is the day we'll have more productive conversations.

  • Katie G | September 30, 2012 7:13 PMReply

    As a casting producer, I completely disagree with this actress' belief that her heritage is negatively affecting her career. Maybe she's not getting certain roles because her range of talent is limited or her American accent doesn't pass as authentic. She needs to accept that she's not going to be hand-delivered Oscar-worthy roles here in The States just because she's a big fish in the Irish pond. There are PLENTY of incredibly talented African American actresses in Hollywood waiting for their big break and she needs to take a number and get in line.

  • davon | April 12, 2013 9:24 PM

    Sorry but i completely disagree, have you even looked up her roles she is amazing, also it is very hard for African american to find work in "dominately white roles" and there is no way to disagree with that.

  • KEDRA CURRY | September 21, 2012 11:48 PMReply


  • artbizzy | September 22, 2012 1:38 AM

    Is It Caps Lock Night on Shadow and Act or something?

  • joseph | September 17, 2012 2:29 AMReply

    There's a lot of truth to what she's saying but I am positive that saying it won't help her situation at all. Executives don't like to see actors (particularly unknown ones) complaining, and it will probably impact her negatively in the future. There's never been a case where an actress has complained about not getting parts because of her weight/age/race/looks-in-general and then someone said "By God! You're right! Cast her immediately!" It's never changed things for the person saying that.

  • Muse | September 20, 2012 1:27 AM

    True. I hope she gets a good publicist, and copies of 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction and Ask and It is Given.

  • John | September 17, 2012 2:27 AMReply

    There are more black actresses than there will ever be roles for black actresses. That's not a good thing at all, but even Viola Davis can barely get a lead role.

  • jihan | September 12, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    "Is this an argument which warrants further conversation? Or is this Ruth Negga's wake-up call on being an actor-of-color in America?"

    i find it strange that these are presented as mutually exclusive questions. why do people think that just becomes something, and its often a race thing because people never say oh just forget the holocaust, has been going on for a long time that it warrants no deeper examination? people have been killing people since before we were even people really, and yet we still spend googobs of money trying to figure out why that is. make it race in the united states and all of a sudden everyone wants you to just forget about it, just accept it because all that stuff has been happening "forever"; why is something that still so strongly affects so many people considered irrelevant for the same reasons other things are considered almost innately relevant (ie: the amount of time its been happening, how many people it affects)?

    forever seems to deal with the past or future rather than the present, though you must travel through this moment to reach either, and people who represent the "middle", which are mostly economically and socially cozy white people with a few token poc, are still unwilling to give up the comfort of their "color-blind post-racial" mindset to accept that this perspective is fundamentally an act of denying reality and therefore destructive. not to mention that its demeaning and dehumanizing to those affected most by it, people who don't fit into, or are not allowed into, that comfortable box

  • Woodrow | September 17, 2012 9:59 AM

    Why would you even compare losing one's life to being hired for an acting role? We have a human right to not be unlawfully killed by another human being. Getting a job as an actor is not a human right. Yes, it would be great if those with the power to diversify the entertainment industry would do so, but they're not breaking any laws. We only wish they would actually WANT to be more inclusive. But we can't keep begging and whining for them to do so. If that's the conversation you'd continually like to have, don't expect everyone to feel the same. Some of us are tired of talking about trying to get the entertainment industry to do what we'd hope they'd do on their own.

  • Facts of life | September 4, 2012 9:29 PMReply

    I get what she's sayin. They don't want to hear you talk about being mixed race or come from different countries. They want you to say you Black and hear you talk in Black American slang. She's not complaining just telling it like it is. Reading on she talks about being grateful for current job opportunities.

  • noel | September 4, 2012 4:54 PMReply

    Sucks when actors don't count their loses not blessing. Dozens of talented black actresses can't make it into project that can showcase their talent because of looks, heritage and what have you. Ruth should be grateful she's not in that category and stop complaining. She wants to be a big star or an actor? She is working damn it.

  • noel | September 4, 2012 5:01 PM

    Sucks when actors count their loses not blessings....

  • Simone | September 4, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    We must be proud to be black and continue to fight for equality, we can't change nothing about our identity, we have to give our best, Hollywood is difficult for women, specially for black women.
    We need to keep the faith and a change gonna come. Everything is possible.

  • Maxx | September 20, 2012 10:03 PM

    Your lips are firmly planted on our sphincters as you blow smokey hope up our bums...
    You are so deeply and painfully naive!
    White people are comfortable in their powerful perches and they will not give up privilege willingly. It has to be taken forcefully.
    Oprah is not a very attractive woman... On top of that, she has dark skin. Do you think she played nice to get where she is? Do you think the "Good Ol' Boys" just winked and gave her a pass? No she took it; she worked and took it. She outsmarted them. We have to do the same...

  • DL | September 4, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    boo hoo mixed race actress doesnt get as much work as her white counterparts arent we bored of the mulatto blues? Black actresses from ANYWHERE around the world are literally black listed from hollywood roles but of course this is so old noone cares anymore.

  • Donella | September 4, 2012 1:10 PMReply

    Welcome to the cultural schizophrenia of the United States... and... Hollyweird.

  • Gesbit | September 4, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    I feel for her. She could have easily changed her name and hid her heritage. But she's proud of who she is. Now, she's learning a hard lesson about the industry. One possible consolation may be that she's probably the most famous mainstream Ethiopian actress working right now.

  • Wowzers | September 4, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    America - black skin - limited opportunities? Sounds about right.

  • AccidentalVisitor | September 4, 2012 12:12 PM

    LOL. To be fair it is more than just about that. America seems to have a problem with complexity when it comes to people's origins and ethnic backgrounds. We Americans apparently want people to be able to check a single box to describe themselves and with that comes expectations of how those people must talk and sound as well.

  • AccidentalVisitor | September 4, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    "the historical epic Twelve Years A Slave with Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt"

    This is more of a pet peeve than a legitimate complaint but considering Chiwetel Ejiofor is the lead of the movie and actually shares scenes with Ms Negga I am surprised his name was excluded. I would have expected such exclusion from a more mainstream website that was interested in star power and, perhaps, catered more to white viewers. Didn't expect it though from this site.

  • Emmanuel | September 4, 2012 12:57 PM

    Thanks for pointing it out. It was oversight, not exclusion.

  • justsayin | September 4, 2012 10:11 AMReply

    you're working. hysh!

  • nika | September 4, 2012 3:19 AMReply

    GIVE ME A BREAK! I could say the same thing. I am from and live in New Orleans where Twelve Years a Slave was shot and they didn't even audition anyone FROM New Orleans for this role! Most of this story took place here in NO. I have been in this business for 19 years starting in NY, Los Angeles and now back in my hometown and the films coming here don't even give local actors these opportunities. I am a fair skin black actress that most people in Hollywood (WHITE AND MALE) don't recognize as being really african american. Her feelings are valid but passe and seriously? You should have known this before you came to the US or LA LA LAND.
    old news.zzzzzzz

  • J | September 3, 2012 11:12 PMReply

    I'm a fan. Enjoyed her in 'Misfits,' and there's a video floating around the web of her reading a Shakespearean sonnet - it'll surely blow your mind. Like others here, I'd love to hire her one day.

  • Neil | September 3, 2012 10:59 PMReply

    I remember reading comments from Naomi Watts being very frustrated with her career and how her buddy Nichole Kidman advised her to just hang in there. She isn't the only one I am sure that believes that something other than talent is holding them back. The truth is she is right and she is wrong. It is a thing that is just short of typcasting and it is called a "quality"; something that directors think of when they think of a particular role and who and why that person would be good for it. Again it is good advise, just hang in there till they remember you.

  • ALM | September 3, 2012 10:41 PMReply

    Most of the actors we fight for on this sight i.e. Viola Davis have extensive resumes showing their acting talents. When I see her in action, I can begin to determine what may be the cause for this. At the end of the day, it shouldn't matter where she's from. Her job is to act. If she does that well, that is all that should matter. In an ideal world, that would be all that mattered.

  • K | September 3, 2012 8:40 PMReply

    Her career seems to be going swimmingly. She's working with acclaimed filmmakers. I think it'd be interesting to hear what she really means. On the surface this seems weak.

  • DW | September 3, 2012 7:35 PMReply

    I would need more information to comment with any measure of insight. For example, are you auditioning with your accent or the accent of your characters? I would venture to guess, however, her "look" has more to do with whatever she feels she's missing out on. She reminds me of a screen siren from early Hollywood--akin to Betty Davis. It's very very distinctive, which isn't a bad thing at all, it just means what's for you is truly for you, and what's not for you; you have to let go of with as much grace as you can muster.

  • Jdog | September 3, 2012 7:12 PMReply

    She seems to be doing supremely well, working on high-profile projects by respected filmmakers. The life of an actor is tough, we recognize this. So what's really the dialogue here and what makes it news of any sort?

  • Kevin | September 3, 2012 6:57 PMReply

    She is probably coming into the auditions for a black female roles, trying to portray some biracial "whatever" and they are not trying to have that.

  • Boomslang | September 3, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    Where exactly are you from?

    God I hate that question , this right here falls into the "microaggression" category. As a person with a dual background myself I truly hate people who interrogate my heritage; only to dispute it. GRRRR!!! I am no national geographic material.They never actually wanna know , they just want to confirm their "suspicions" .

    In the EU is you are half black/ half Belgium , you basically have to pretend your white side is French instead of Belgian.And work on a Parisian accent to create a perfect illusion.

    If you are half black half Irish , settle with British .You'll have less trouble.

    If you are half Dutch half black , pretend you are half German.Plus both languages are mutually intelligible, it works lol!

    If you are all sorts of blacks in one , and your last name doesn't fully reveal your lineage.I think you are in trouble.

    Lastly if you are quadrilingual ( like me ) , pretend you are monolingual; you'll never have to explain why you speak so many languages and write them as well.

  • Darkan | September 3, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    She's an amazing actress. She was awesome in the Samaritan opposite Samuel Jackson. I'm glad she kept it real. I would think that she knows more about being discriminated against than the people who refuse to believe its a factor. Lord knows I've been a victim of it many times myself. Maybe if more people stop playing the ostrich game and speak up like she did things would change a little. I hope to be able to hire her one day. Keep your head up Mrs. Negga.

  • YoungBlackActor | September 3, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    I loved Ruth on "Misfits" and found her look to be strikingly uncommon and beautiful. I feel as though she is right. I recently had a conversation with another actor about this very subject. Here in LA (or the U.S. in general) casting officies tends to focus on race so much, as in the UK you will see Luther or Misfits and though they may not have many black people on the show, the roles given to them are not specifically for a "black guy, or girl", and I feel like that makes the difference. Its strongly based on talent then look in the UK, but quite the opposite here in America. Thats what makes overseas actors seem to have so much more depth than what I feel America is producing.
    HOWEVER, Ruth just stay the course, and be the difference. I know I am.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | September 3, 2012 6:22 PMReply

    As Kanye put it, even if you in a Benz you still a "Negga."

  • MulletLove | September 3, 2012 6:18 PMReply

    Yes, but more often than not, actors of color are often judged on that even more definitively, sometimes before they even get the look-see, and we know it. The darker the natural color, the more "baggage" it may be assumed the actor in question is carrying. And then, of course, there is the inevitable will-white-folks-believe-it-or-go-to-see-it line of reasoning when it comes to potential box office. Let's not be ostriches about this. Heads up!

  • LeonRaymond | September 3, 2012 6:16 PMReply

    I don't feel that it's about Racism at all, it's that they can't get a finger on her correct culture and that's a good thing but Hollywood execs can't think out of the box and lack far too little imagination, so when you give them too much to figure out they can't handle it. She might have to play some tricks and declare one place to make it easy, I know that sound ugly but she's very talented and she should be working more!!!

  • B | September 3, 2012 11:52 PM

    "Can't" or "won't"? I think it's much more the latter. You give hollywood execs far more credit than they deserve.

  • Archangel2020 | September 3, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    I think this was her wake-up call on dealing with Hollywood. I don't think it's a matter of her "getting over herself". That so denies what artists of color go through on a daily basis in Hollywood. Be they Black, White, Red or Yellow.

  • Matthew Hahn | September 3, 2012 6:04 PMReply

    All actors are judged by their appearance and voice. Get over yourself.

  • No | September 3, 2012 6:45 PM

    Yes, but some are judged more than others about their appearance, and if you read what she what she's saying it is less about her appearance and more about her heritage when she opens her mouth or they note where she is born.

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