David Oyelowo turns down 'about 80 percent' of acting roles to avoid perpetuating Black stereotypes

Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo feels a huge responsibility when it comes to the roles he chooses to play.

“I live my life from the perspective of ‘I must be part of the solution and not the problem,’” the actor told Access Hollywood on Tuesday. “I think one of the privileges I don’t have is to just do any role I want, because I know that certain roles perpetuate stereotypes and perpetuate mindsets people have about Black people that is not helpful to all of what we’re talking about … I turn down about 80 percent of what comes my way for that reason, because I understand the power storytelling and images has on culture.”

David Oyelowo feels great pressure when choosing roles. (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
David Oyelowo feels great pressure when choosing roles. (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Some roles are more important than others. For instance, the actor said he felt compelled to play the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 movie Selma.

“I felt called [by] God to do it. I was rejected by the original director, and there were another four directors before Lee Daniels came along and cast me. And we still couldn’t get the film made. That was a seven-year journey and so I just had the moment of, ‘OK, Lord, if you told me to do this, you’re just gonna have to equip me. I’m gonna do the work.’”

Oyelowo’s theory that his choice of roles matters was confirmed when he did a ride-along with a Black cop in Los Angeles, as he prepared to play an officer in 2019 movie Don’t Let Go.

“He thanked me for some of the films I make, because he said, unfortunately, a lot of my white colleagues, their estimation of what an interaction with a Black person might be is based on films and television they watch,” Oyelowo explained. “And so those images, whatever they are, if that is informing how you see Black people, then what I do for a living, for some people, is life or death.”

Oyelowo’s next roles include boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson in the biopic Sweet Thunder and the president of the United States in Showtime’s adaptation of James Patterson and President Bill Clinton’s novel The President Is Missing.

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