'Selma's David Oyelowo Defends Benedict Cumberbatch & Puts The Focus Back On The Need for Diversity

PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 03: Actor David Oyelowo attends the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 3, 2015 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Everyone's favorite Tumblr Prince got himself in hot water earlier this week when Benedict Cumberbatch used the term "colored actors" to talk about opportunities for black actors in the UK. But David Oyelowo wants everyone to cut Cumberbatch some slack. The Selma actor said people need to focus on the content of what Cumberbatch was saying, and that paying too much attention to the word he used is just an excuse not to listen to the point he was trying to make.

I agree that the essence of Cumberbatch's words were important. He was discussing how little opportunity for work black actors have in the UK and how that needed to change. 

I think as far as colored actors go it gets really different in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK, and that’s something that needs to change. Something’s gone wrong. We’re not representative enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up apace.

And that they have more opportunity in Hollywood isn't saying a lot either, considering that black actors are offered only 14 percent of the speaking roles in films and television shows.

I think Cumberbatch was just trying to use his platform for good and to change things for the African American acting community, but his poor word choice is most of what people focused on. He issued a heartfelt apology to People on Tuesday, in which he pushed for better terminology.

I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the UK and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term.

But Oyelowo thinks the focus on his term in the first place is "ridiculous." He spoke to BBC's Newsbeat about the controversy on Wednesday: "When you look at what he was actually saying, it's clear that he's a huge supporter of black performers." Oyelowo went on to say that he also reached out to Cumberbatch with words of support after the story broke.

"To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think, is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance," Oyelowo continued. He also added that there's definitely a diversity issue abroad and in Hollywood. "We're talking about diversity again, and that's because there isn't enough of it." 

It's clear from his original quote and from his apology that Cumberbatch truly didn't mean any harm. He was just trying to lend his voice and support to that conversation. He may have used an unfortunate phrase, but, like Oyelowo says, we need to focus on the content of his words. The importance of diversity is something the film industry needs to address and the more people talking about it, the better. 

Images: Paramount Pictures

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