‘Homeland’s’ David Harewood Clarifies ‘I Don’t Support or Condone Blackface’ After Interview Comments: ‘It Is a Grotesque Distortion of Race and Should Always Be Condemned’

UPDATE: After “Homeland’s” David Harewood told The Guardian that actors should be able to “Black up” for roles, but warned “it’d better be fucking good,” the actor clarified in a statement to Variety, “I don’t support or condone Blackface. My own documentary on the subject can be found on the BBC website. It is a grotesque distortion of race and should always be condemned.”

PREVIOUSLY: Speaking to The Guardian, Harewood, who also serves as president of prestigious British drama school the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, said: “We’re at this strange point in the profession where people go: ‘Oh, you can’t play that role because you’re not disabled, or you can’t play that because you’re not really from there.’ The name of the game is acting.”

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He added, “Yes, we’ve got to be representative, but I do think we have to be careful. That even extends to ‘Othello’ in Blackface. I say, if you want to Black up, have at it, man. It’d better be fucking good, or else you’re gonna get laughed off the stage. But knock yourself out. Anybody should be able to do anything.”

Harewood’s comments come just a few weeks after “Star Wars” actor Billy Dee Williams told Bill Maher he believes actors should be able to perform in Blackface. Recalling Laurence Olivier’s performance in 1965’s “Othello,” Williams said, “I thought it was hysterical. I loved it. I love that kind of stuff.”

Maher noted that “today, they would never let you do that,” to which Williams replied, “Why?”

“Blackface?” Maher questioned, prompting Williams to say: “Why not? You should do it. If you’re an actor, you should do anything you want to do.”

Last year, Harewood played white conservative William F. Buckley in a London West End production of “Best of Enemies.” “I knew the minute I walked on stage, 99% of the audience was thinking: ‘Why is he playing that?’ But by the end of it, everybody was going, ‘Fuck me, that worked really well!,’” Harewood told The Guardian. “Hearing his words coming out of my mouth, many people went, ‘Why am I liking William F. Buckley?’”

Harewood also played Romeo in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” when he was 23. The hostile critical reception to the show led to a breakdown. “Every interview I did was about my color: why are you playing Romeo? Should you be playing Romeo? Did Shakespeare write it for a Black actor?” Harewood said.

The comments from Harewood come at a time when the U.K. is in a febrile space vis-a-vis race. Last month, “Black Out” performances of “Slave Play” were slammed by U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office as “wrong and divisive.” And earlier this month, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who was recently cast as Juliet in a London West End production of “Romeo & Juliet” alongside Tom Holland, was the subject of online racial abuse.

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