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Sophie Okonedo Says She Struggles to Find Acting Roles in the UK & Sees Better Opportunities in the USA

by Sergio
July 15, 2014 10:26 AM
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Sophie Okonedo

Sophie Okonedo seems to be one of busiest actresses working today. But according to her, things aren't all that they seem. In fact, in a recent interview in The Guardian (HERE), the Oscar nominated actress says that she finds it very difficult to get acting roles in the U.K., unlike in the U.S., where she gets more opportunities.

As she says in the article: "I do notice that – over the last year – I've had maybe two scripts from England and tens and tens from America. The balance is ridiculous. I'm still struggling [in the UK] in a way that my white counterparts at the same level wouldn't have quite the same struggle”

She goes on to say that: “People who started with me would have their own series by now, and I'm still fighting to get the second lead or whatever. I think I'm at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn't my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is? There's something amiss there."

Interesting though Ms. Okonedo is reluctant (perhaps out of fear of biting the hand that feeds her) to blame racism for her situation. When asked about that, she responds by saying: "Oh, look, I don't know. This is why I don't give interviews. All I know is that I have to go across the Atlantic to get work…. I think a lot of it is [due to] costume and period drama, which must be, what, at least 40% of what we do here? Which means that 40% of opportunities are closed to me already."

Though it should be pointed out that she is soon scheduled to play King Henry IV’s widow Queen Margaret in the BBC TV "The Hollow Crown," which goes into production in September (HERE).

She does say however one of the big causes for the lack of diversity in roles on television is due to the lack of diversity among TV writers: "I think you have to start with the stories. If the writers all come from the same backgrounds, you are going to get the same sorts of characters. Get a broader variety of writers and you get a bigger range of stories.”

It is interesting to note that many black actors and actresses of color in this country have made the exact same complaints that Okonedo has made about the U.K. - so it's a universal problem amongst black artists.

What do you say?

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  • Honey Williams | July 16, 2014 12:52 AMReply

    “One of the most durable paradoxes of white supremacy - the idea that those who are closest to an experience of oppression are its least credible witnesses.”
    — Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market

  • lilkunta | July 15, 2014 7:18 PMReply

    i feel of all the pics of her why did you use this one ?
    also sophie is happily married to sexy jeffrey wright and lives in NY. if her career were to skyrocket in the UK is jeff and her kids williing to move to UK ?

  • sergio | July 17, 2014 7:34 AM

    For the records Okonedo does not live in the US. I never said she did. She lives in north London with her daughter and current boyfriend. Read the Guardian article It clearly states that

  • Val Lewis | July 17, 2014 7:16 AM

    She shouldn't have to move back to the uk to be recognised more. She started in the uk and is already recognised in the uk so the fact that she lives in another is unimportant. It's not like she can't fly back over to film. Maybe if she was given more roles in the uk she wouldn't have moved to the US. Like she said, she gets recognised there more so why not decide to live where your talent is recognised more, as well as evidently have to be more because of work. You go where your career takes you regardless.

  • slb | July 15, 2014 11:44 PM

    LOL @ Sergio! I was thinking, "Wait. Since when is Sophie married to Jeffrey Wright?" *SMH*

  • sergio | July 15, 2014 8:23 PM

    To answer your question I picked this photo because I thought it was an interesting picture of her. I believe it's from that BBC production of Oliver Twist that she was in a few years back that was broadcast on PBS. You have a problem with it?

    And second she is not married to Jeffrey Wright. Carmen Ejogo is married to him. Good to see that's you're on top of things

  • jaebanree | July 15, 2014 4:58 PMReply

    the problem is too much out front complaining and not enough behind the scenes creating.

    the question "do you feel it's because you're [insert ethnicity here] keeping your roles limited?" is inanet. everybody knows it's about the writers and producers not being [insert ethnicity here].

  • brown bomber | July 17, 2014 7:46 AM

    @Jaebanree Please walk a mile in another man/woman's shoes. Then be so dismissive as to their comments on the state of the industry they are working or lack there of opportunities. As someone who works with and supports actors, the landscape Sophie Okonedo is describing is very accurate description of what's out there on offer. Speaking 1st hand or even 2nd to some extent. It can be dire when you see your colleagues and friends struggling to have the same opportunities (that on the surface appear to come easier to others) when their body of work clearly speaks volumes for the diversity and capability of their work.

    p.s to @Lilkunta. Sophie Okonedo, is as she said "I think I'm at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn't my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is" But do not be under any illusion that she is not having to go up of for auditions for parts she wants or is approached on. So last time I checked flying back and forth to US, is not CHEAP! Only actors who carry Box Office as Lead's on big budget feature, NOT Indie's get their tickets paid for to come out to US. And then that's only when it's pretty much a done deal that the person is only one they want for that particular role.

  • CareyCarey | July 15, 2014 3:04 PMReply

    Fellows, wait one minute, Sophie is not complaining about her lack of money. Nor is she complaining about her lack of work in general. She said. she finds it very difficult to get acting roles in the UK. unlike in the U.S., where she gets more opportunities.

    "I think I'm at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn't my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is" ~ Sophie Okonedo

    So fellows, get it right, this is about her opportunities in England. To that point, she's a black actress, okay. Now quick, which film was she in that was produced in the UK? Okay, times up, it was "Skin (2008)", the true story of a black girl who was born to two white Afrikaner parents in South Africa during the apartheid era. I am suggesting that just as in America, a person's skin color is directly related to the jobs they're offered. And, it's safe to say those parts, which may fit a black person, is in limited supply in the UK, moreso than the U.S.A.

    For instance, you know Sophie won a Tony for her role in Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in The Sun, right? Did you know she couldn't even buy that play on Kindle in the UK! Also, she said "I hadn't read the play because its not part of our upbringing in England."

    So fellows, take another look at the post (and read the links, if possible). I believe your opinions will be altered.

  • Mike | July 15, 2014 1:15 PMReply

    I would have to agree with D.C. KIRKWOOD. You can produce, film, and distribute your own work today. Why complain about the UK system and lack of roles? Be proactive and make your own stuff and you keep 100% of the profits.

  • Val lewis | July 17, 2014 7:27 AM

    You do have a point however a lot of black writers and producer are not given the opportunity to produce what they want. There is a huge institutionalised racism within the British media industry. For instance, Im working on a decently budgeted short, which was picked up by a very famous black British actor who took the script, to producer who turned around a said they loved it but wanted the concept to be changed to a housing/ council estate because it's more realistic! The story and film has NOTHING to do with poverty or any type of URBAN story so why can we not produce what is evidently a great idea for a feature.......? Because it's not stereotypical. There is a very big problem with the industry in this country and it's a shame because it has such a diversity of talent waiting to be harnessed but evidently the country is still backwards. Im only speaking the truth from an experienced talented actress/writers point of view.

  • D.C. Kirkwood | July 15, 2014 11:24 AMReply

    Okay enough with the complaining. I checked Sophie's IMDB, page and I don't see where she has produced or written anything. How do you expect to survive if your not writing or producing? Samuel Jackson and so many others have spoken about this to death. You can go on certain sites and purchase a screenplay and produce it, if you aren't a writer yourself. There is no excuse why these so called seasoned actors aren't being more proactive. People talk about Ving Rhames and Vivica Foxx doing straight to DVD work but they produce on some of these projects and get backend profits. Even Tatiana Ali, gets producer credit on her work. You don't see them complaining about Hollywood as much either. Just food for thought.

  • Val Lewis | July 17, 2014 7:36 AM

    Maybe she can't write. Plus comparing America to England isn't fair in a lot of respects. Firstly african Americans have a bigger opportunity to have there own TV network, and film producers who have earned enough money to have there own film studios etc to create. Bare in mind that all these American actors and film producers have been working and earning credit since the 70's eg spike lee, Tyler perry, BET. The african American industry has been building for years and the amount if money that has been funnelled into has been from years of opportunities and credits. Not to mention that I feel talent is rewarded a lot more in American regardless of race. Again tatiana Ali has worked her way up through the fresh prince, a music career and now back into television. She has had the opportunity, the connections, money as well as obviously talent to do this.

  • sergio | July 15, 2014 3:29 PM

    MACKIE MESSER? You mean as in Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper? And you think you're the only one who gets it?

    But can you can the song with the original German lyics?

  • Mackie Messer | July 15, 2014 2:43 PM

    Why is it "complaining" when minority actors point out that literally 95% of the jobs in front of and behind the camera go to white people and literally all of the studios and networks are controlled by white people which results in discrimination. This is an industry supported by EVERYONE'S dollars yet white people prosper and benefit from it almost exclusively. Why should it be that an American Industry is still this discriminatory in its hiring? Every lame white actor or actress has an endless array of roles open to them, but talented minority actors have to produce straight to video movies just to work!?!

    Worse, when this obvious inequity is brought up for discussion, jerks like D.C. Kirkwood and Mike blame the victims, essentially calling them lazy. No wonder racism persists as long as there are bigots like you two to defend the status quo.

  • Byron Wigfall | July 15, 2014 11:02 AMReply

    First, I geeked a little at "actress and actresses". But I think the tide are continually shifting in favor of colored actors and actresses.

  • Vicky | July 16, 2014 11:03 PM

    Honey Williams,

    UK people of color have been quite vocal about the lack of opportunity for them. There have been many articles about their struggles and how they have come to the US. Black and Asian Britons have sought out roles in the U.S.

  • Honey Williams | July 15, 2014 11:35 PM

    Did you just say 'coloured' its 2014 not 1962 lol.

    Lets face UK is more in denial about its racism, Americans are just more vocal and upfront as a people about everything lol. In the UK people will smile with you and then behind your back or behind closed doors harbour all kinds of ignorance that never gets aired out. This is what helps keep Racism fresh in the UK, its quite segregated (apart from working class white women and black men of Caribbean descent) and hierarchal. Everyones lips are buttoned about all of these topics for fear of offending people, but its the keeping lips buttoned and blatant denial that anything is wrong that is offensive.
    It speaks volumes to me that people would rather Sophie to have be an all singing all dancing Producer, Writer, etc as well as having to be a phenomenal actor than for white people to just simply subscribe less to racism white supremacy.
    UK needs to face up to the fact that it gives white people more of a chance to fail and that it isn't quite as progressive as it thinks it is.

    Its not just the racism found in the world of acting that effects Black and Mixed Raced womens lives negatively its across the board, yes employment, issues concerning love and attraction, beauty, religion, artistic expression all get swept under the carpet.
    Mentioning the topic of the erasure or invisibility of Black femaleness in the UK Its not moaning, this is just an explanation of reality.

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