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Black Characters In 'White Roles' Only Promotes White Culture

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I recently read an article from GB News in which Leslie Thomas QC who is a barrister from the UK claimed that the white Georgian-style wigs look ridiculous on black advocates, and they should be banned.

I disagree with him, I don’t think it should be banned. Perhaps, barristers should be given the choice to wear them.

However, I also agree with him, they do look ridiculous on Black skin because the wig was made at a time when only whites existed in that area of British society and as a result, the wig was made by white men for white men to wear.

I’m going to use this to talk about the modern trend of inserting black people into ‘white history’ where they are made to dress in outfits and perform routines that were made by white people for white people. Whenever I see this, I can't help thinking it looks silly and a little awkward. I will attempt to explain where I’m coming from.

It’s not unreasonable to say that before the slave trade, the overwhelming majority of people in European countries like the U.K, France, Germany, Belgium, and similar were white.

Whereas during that period, if you were to travel down to Africa, the same could be said that the huge majority would be black. Likewise with Asia and South America. As a result, culture, art, fashion, and tradition for those areas were created by the races in those regions to fit their appearance. It’s why West African clothing, fashion, art, and even music are different from Indian, Chinese, and British cultures.

To achieve more equity in modern media entertainment there has been a push to cast more black and brown people in movies and this has extended to casting them in historical dramas. For example, Jodie Turner-Smith a black actress was cast to play Ann Boleyn the very white wife of Henry the VIII.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded because she hadn’t bore Henry a son and he wanted to marry Jane Seymour. However, her portrayal of the character looks silly and awkward, she’s dressed and styled in a way that was clearly made for whites at the time and as a result, it looks fake.

Left: Jodie Turner Smith as Anne Boleyn, photo from The Mirror // Right: Anne Boleyn Official Portrait from Wikipedia

And my opinion on this goes both ways, it's the same feeling I get when I see whitewashing of characters in Hollywood, for example when Angelina Jolie played Marianne Pearl. I have also said the same whenever I see a white picture of Jesus or seen white characters play Biblical figures from the Bible.

Do I think black people should stop getting cast in these period pieces and made to dress in outfits that I think look silly on them? No, it’s only entertainment, it’s not real, I’m just giving my opinion on how it looks.

However, I do think the trend shows what I think is an unconscious belief in white superiority by supposed progressive individuals working in the entertainment industry. The idea is that we should get more black people in roles, as a way of fighting racism and white privilege/supremacy.

But I would argue that if they really wanted to uplift black voices, history and promote equality, then why not tell stories based on historical periods and figures from places like Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana. These countries like every other country have their own revolutions, ancient civilisations, past monarchies, governing systems, artists, culture, and history.

For instance, very few people probably know that the richest man to live according to several historians is Mansa Musa, the king of the Mali empire from 1280 – 1337. He was so rich that his wealth is indescribable. There are several fascinating stories about him.

Mansa Musa inherited the kingdom his brother Mansa Abu-Bakr left behind.

Under his rule, the kingdom of Mali grew significantly. The kingdom stretched for about 2,000 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to modern-day Niger, taking in parts of what are now Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.

There is an interesting story told of when Mansa Musa, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, he reportedly left Mali with a caravan of 60,000 men.

He took his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, griots (entertainers), merchants, camel drivers, and 12,000 slaves, as well as a long train of goats and sheep for food.

It was practically a city moving through the desert.

Probably wanting to show off his wealth, he had every one of the 60,000, all the way down to the slaves, clad in gold brocade and finest Persian silk.

Additionally, a hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

It certainly would be entertaining to watch a movie or tv series based on this man or the period he ruled. There are already plenty of films and fictional works inspired by European or American history. It would be new and in my view interesting to see a piece of entertainment with foundations, lore, and inspirations from an African civilisation like the Mali empire. You would also be able to cast all black actors and it would make authentic sense.

The cynical side of me thinks those involved in the movie and TV industry don’t think that will sell. They don’t believe telling stories of black history outside of slavery, gangs, sport, or crime will attract white customers. They know sticking with something familiar and closer to home is easier, more comfortable, and satisfies that tribalistic instinct we all have. But they also want to feel like they’re fighting racism, so to make their money, they tell the stories of white figures and history, put a black face in it to appease their guilt, and praise themselves for their progressivism. Everybody gets paid, no one (at least the ones they care about) complains.

A show like Bridgerton with all the black characters does not give a voice to black people or fight white supremacy. Especially because I know that the period of history the show is based on was made for whites only and the type of people those black characters are based on would not have been black. Even completely fantasy settings like Lord of The Rings and Game of Thrones which are based on white medieval culture look awkward and forced with a black person wearing a metal knight armor or a medieval-style gown. At the end of the day, those stories are just showing us glimpses of white history and spreading traditional white culture. Putting black faces in them doesn’t change that.

Yes, keep casting black characters in fictional stories like Bridgerton, especially if authenticity isn't a concern. But mix it up with more historically black settings to really help promote black voices and fight white supremacy.