David Oyelowo defends Cynthia Erivo playing a different nationality in 'Harriet'

David Oyelowo (Getty Images)
David Oyelowo (Getty Images)

David Oyelowo has defended the casting of British actress Cynthia Erivo as African-American hero Harriet Tubman, arguing that white actors are never questioned when they choose to play characters of different nationalities.

Speaking on The Red Pill Podcast, Oyelowo, who was criticised for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 film Selma, highlighted the hypocrisy of actors such as Rami Malek, Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis being able to play whoever they like without receiving a backlash.

Read more: First trailer for Harriet Tubman biopic prompts 'boycott' talk over British casting

Cynthia Erivo (Getty Images)
Cynthia Erivo (Getty Images)

“Should Rami Malek not have played Freddie Mercury? Should Meryl Streep not have played Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady?” he said.

“Rami Malek doesn’t have to deal with this; Christian Bale is never going to have to with this in playing Dick Cheney [in 2018’s Vice]. Daniel Day-Lewis will never have to answer this question in playing [Abraham] Lincoln [in 2012’s Lincoln].

Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis are both British actors, while Rami Malek is American – Freddie Mercury was British.

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Oyelowo went on to suggest that the criticism of black actors being cast as characters of different nationalities is, in part, down to jealousy.

“Sometimes, I think that these conversations can be tied to, not just the character, but the potential, perceived or eventual success.

Erivo responded to criticism of her casting on her Instagram account, claiming a bigger discussion was needed (AP)
Erivo responded to criticism of her casting on her Instagram account, claiming there is a bigger discussion to be had about heritage and experience (AP)

“If she [Erivo] goes on for that film to be a huge success and then she wins accolades for it and all of that, that conversation will only get bigger and this is where in my opinion, we’ve been killing ourselves.”

Erivo recently took to her Instagram Stories to respond to the criticism of her casting, reassuring her followers that she’s protective of Harriet Tubman’s legacy.

“I guess there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was. That can not be had in an Instagram post, what I will say is that my journey to this woman has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly,” she said.

The upcoming film, titled Harriet, will chart Tubman’s 1849 escape from slavery and her mission to free fellow slaves before the American Civil War.