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Sophie Okonedo Plans To Focus On Theater Thanks To The Lack Of Film Opportunities For Black Actors

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 27, 2011 at 9:42AM

Well... you go where the work is (especially if it's the kind of work you love). It might mean we'll see a lot less of her on the big screen in the immediate future... but, then again, it's been awhile since we last saw Sophie Okonedo in that format; 2008, when she had 2 films in circulation - The Secret Life Of Bees and the lesser-known Skin.
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Well... you go where the work is (especially if it's the kind of work you love). It might mean we'll see a lot less of her on the big screen in the immediate future... but, then again, it's been awhile since we last saw Sophie Okonedo in that format; 2008, when she had 2 films in circulation - The Secret Life Of Bees and the lesser-known Skin.

Since then, you'll recall that in June I posted an entry alerting you to her casting in 2 projects: an upcoming epic UK TV mini-series based on Sinbad lore; and an Australian TV mini-series titled The Slap. She's also set to star in a stage production called Haunted Child, which will begin its run at the Royal Court theater in London on December 2.

That's really it for her; some might call that a travesty, given the talent; alas, so it goes in this biz for so many other strong performers - specifically those belonging to marginalized groups.

But she certainly isn't letting the lack of on-screen opportunity disparage her from taking advantage of others.

I lifted the below paragraph from an interview she did with the UK's Telegraph, posted today, as she does the press circuit, as a marketing effort for The Slap, which begins airing on BBC Four tonight.

She enjoys stage work for what she calls the “minutiae” of the performance. “It’s something about doing the same thing every night. The repetition of the theatre means you’ve got the time to get deeply inside the person you’re playing.” She likens this to “how I find my garden fascinating when I probably didn’t at 20. It’s the little things now that just give me complete delight.

Okonedo says she wants to focus on theatre for the immediate future. Her Hotel Rwanda Oscar nomination seems to have taken her away from the stage in the last few years, although, somewhat to her disappointment, to the small, rather than big, screen. She’s been Bafta-nominated (last year, which is when she was also awarded an OBE for services to drama) both for Mrs Mandela and for playing the ballsy lawyer Jack in the second series of BBC One’s Criminal Justice.

But it is in theatre, which is less wedded to realism than television and thus more colour blind, where she believes the best roles now lie for her. Theatre will offer her “Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov”, whereas British film-makers are obsessed with making period pieces that rarely include black or mixed-race actors. Okonedo made a touching, and entirely plausible, Nancy in the BBC’s most recent version of Oliver Twist, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Most British movies are costume dramas,” Okonedo says. “All the older actors are having quite a lot of fun doing their Dickens. I think I’d be quite good at those characters. I’d like to do more grand dames as I get older, but I don’t think I’ll be offered them.

So... nothing we haven't heard from other black actors before, but still kind of sad when considered - this lack of variety and thus opportunity within what we could term the *establishment.* All the more reason to try and work outside it... easier said than done, I know.

But I certainly hope she continues to be offered work in theater. I can almost sense her disappointment in not having as much big screen success as she maybe hoped.

As an aside... interesting the idea that theater is less "wedded to realism" than cinema, and more risks seem to be taken in the former than the latter. I've actually never really given that much thought, but will. It's maybe not the best example, but one that comes to me right away was that there was more uproar over Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in the Thor movie than there has (thus far) been about an all-black Broadway stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I guess it's all about the differences in the form and structure of both.

Anyway, good luck to Ms Okonedo regardless of what path she chooses, and I'm sure we'll see her on screen again eventually... maybe sooner than we think.

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