Westworld star Thandiwe Newton is apologizing to darker-skinned actresses for the role her light skin has played in advancing her career, often at the expense of their own. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Read it again if you have to, then keep on because I’m just getting started.)
According to NPR, in a recent interview with the Associated Press, the 49-year-old addressed the issue while promoting her upcoming film, God’s Country, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival last month. In explaining how she related to her character, citing feelings of prejudice in the industry, Newton explained:
“I now realize that my internalized prejudices were stopping me from feeling like I could play this role. When it’s precisely that prejudice that I’ve received—doesn’t matter that it’s from African-American women more than anyone else. It doesn’t matter. I received prejudice. Anyone who’s received prejudice feels this character.”
“I’ve wanted so desperately to apologize everyday, to darker-skinned actresses to say ‘I’m sorry that I’m the one chosen. My mumma looks like you. It’s been very painful to have women that look like my mum feel like I’m not representing them, that I’m taking from them. Taking their men, taking their work, taking their truth. But I do think that any women of color, whether they’re pale or whatever. They’ve managed to help other actors get into this business. We matter. Whenever they say that Black women who’ve watched a movie and it really, really, really, matters to them. I just thank God that my light-skin didn’t stop that from happening. That it didn’t cause more pain.”
Ummm, OK, girl. I guess?
Look, I’m not here to speculate on the intent of Newton’s heart when she gave this HELLA cringeworthy response. But what I am here to talk about is the implications this response carries. After all, it’s impact over intent, right?
As a brown-skinned woman who most certainly wouldn’t pass the Paper Bag test, and who’s been called everything from a “roach” to a “tar baby”—and everything in between—let me first say that I know what it feels like to be the “unchosen one.” However, I also know what it feels like when somebody is lowkey playing in my face with an “apology” that comes across as more patronizing than it does uplifting. I’m sure Newton really felt like what she was saying was coming from the right place, but the delivery of this was, frankly, all wrong.
Instead of apologizing for “taking roles” from darker-skinned actress, I wonder if she ever considered turning those roles down in the first place and suggesting one of her equally qualified, darker-skinned peers take her place instead. (I won’t speak to the “taking their men” part because attraction is subjective. But let’s not act like there hasn’t been years and years of discourse and proof of the negative role desirability politics play when it comes to the love prospects for Black women with more melanin. That’s a conversation for another day.)
What I will end with, though, is while there’s a part of me that’s immensely annoyed at this “apology”—another part of me can’t help but laugh at how absurd her messaging is coming across. I don’t know whether it’s the tears or the “my Mum looks like you part,” but all I know is this: I’m not taking this seriously.
But as the old folks in my Southern hometown would say: Bless her heart.