British rapper-turned-actor Ashley Walters recently sat down with The Independent to discuss the return of his hit series, Top Boy, and why so many Black actors have left merry old England to pursue careers in America…and why he hasn’t.
The 31-year-old thespian had some critical words for his Black compatriots who complain about not having enough roles in the UK: make your own.
“Here’s my theory: I looked up to people like Lenny Henry and David Harewood. They were the kind of people who made me want to get into this. But they don’t write enough, they don’t produce enough and they don’t direct enough,” he says.
“Lenny’s production company put a film out called Alive and Kicking, where he played a guy coming off drugs. And it was one of the most cutting-edge UK films I’ve seen. And since then, he’s put out nothing much. They should be the pioneers. I’d like to direct and produce and try and push things forward. It’s obvious that it’s more difficult for black actors than it is for white actors over here. So you can run away to the States or you can stay here and try to change things.”
Although Walters has yet to write or direct his own project, choosing to star in shows like the controversial yet popular Top Boy, and films like Bullet Boy, Walters claims that when he does begin creating projects they won’t highlight (or to some glorify) London’s street life in the same way his current work seems to do.
“When I start to direct, I don’t want my first film to be like Bullet Boy or Top Boy or something you’d expect,” he said. “I don’t even read a lot of the stuff I get sent because it’ll be AK-47 or The Gun or whatever!”
Walters comments come on the heels of Top Boy’s season two premiere, which many criticized as being yet another stereotypical portrayal of London’s Black community. In the show Walters plays a quick-thinking drug dealer who employees several teens in his local estate (housing project) in East London. While the show does indeed include a host of Black characters behaving badly, the dealers and users in Top Boy come in all shades and races, a fact that Walters loves about his hometown.
“I go away to places in Europe or America and I feel uncomfortable; I can’t wait to get home. We are so multicultural and mixed up,” he explained. “Give it 20 years and there won’t be any people of one race any more. Everyone will have something else in them. I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
Though I sympathize with Walters’ hope for a Kumbaya nation, and feel like his comments simply seek to justify/explain the high numbers of folks who “date out” in London, history tells us it takes a lot more than people “having something else in them” to stop racism/colorism. We can look at Brazil, or post-Antebellum America, or South Africa, or India, or anywhere darker skinned people continue to be oppressed by their fair-skinner brethren.
Mixing races does not end prejudice. Contrary to Walters’ assertion (which he doesn’t seem to stick to since his longtime girlfriend and children are Black), in 20, or 50, or even 100 years from now everyone WILL NOT be mixed. There will always be those who prefer to stick to their own kind, so I wonder what Walters thinks will become of them.
Will the multiracial people look down on those who choose to marry and continue their culture? Will the “pure race” people look down on the multiracial ones?
While I understand Walters’ sentiments and realize that his hometown is much more diverse than other parts of the globe (I mean, even coming from L.A. I was caught off guard by the sheer numbers of Black men with non-Black women on their arms), the rest of the world isn’t London. Hell, the rest of Britain isn’t London either.
But perhaps I’m too cynical. Perhaps history will not repeat itself. Perhaps Ashley Walters is right.
What do you think, Clutchettes? In 20 years…will we be closer to a race-less society?