Benedict Cumberbatch: I’m Sorry, Feel Like “Idiot” For Calling Black Actors “Colored”
Benedict Cumberbatch has apologized for using the word “colored” to refer to non-white actors in a recent interview about Hollywood diversity on “Tavis Smiley.” The star of The Imitation Game called himself an “idiot” for the faux pas, and said he was “devastated” to have caused offense. His apology came after Show Racism the Red Card, an anti-racism educational charity in the United Kingdom, praised Cumberbatch for highlighting an important issue but took him to task for using an antiquated expression.
Here’s what happened: During the interview, Smiley mentioned how many black British actors have recently come over to America for movies like Selma and 12 Years a Slave. “You guys are coming over here, just taking over, man,” he told Cumberbatch. The actor replied by saying:
Well, it’s an even playing field, which is we all stand in our tights under the same conditions. I can’t speak for [Selma star] David Oyelowo, but those are two actors who work and live here as well, you know. They paid their dues for years by just beautiful, beautiful performances from very fine actors.
And I think as long as we pay our subs and our taxes over here when we work camp, I think it’s fair game. I mean, you know, Meryl Streep can come over and play Margaret Thatcher. Why can’t we come over and play in your sand pit, you know?
In all seriousness, I know what you’re saying. I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really difficult in the U.K., and I think a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here than in the U.K. and that’s something that needs to change.
We’re not being represented enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up a pace. I don’t want to get involved in any debates about that, but it’s clear when you see certain migratory patterns that there are more opportunities here than there are in the U.K.
Following Cumberbatch’s “Tavis Smiley” appearance, Show Racism the Red Card highlighted both his attention to an important issue, and his unfortunate use of an outdated term. The organization stated, “Benedict Cumberbatch has highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society. In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feels that the term ‘colored’ is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage.”
On Monday, Cumberbatch issued a statement to apologize: “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,” continued Cumberbatch. “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.”
He went on to say, “I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner please be assured I have. I apologize again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.” What do you think of Cumberbatch’s use of “colored” and his apology?