Thandie Newton Explains She Turned Down Charlie’s Angels Due to Racist Stereotyping
E. Alex Jung has been having an exceptional week because, in addition to his amazing interview with Michaela Cole, he shared another exceptional piece with British Actress Thandie Newton for Vulture.
Newton has been acting since she was sixteen years old, and in this piece, she shares some traumatic experiences with sexual assault, harassment, on-set abuse, and the racism/colorism she experienced. It is powerful, and I would highly recommend going to visit the entire story in full. The bit of it I want to focus on here is her experience with producer Amy Pascal and Charlie’s Angels.
In 2000, Newton was cast in what would be Charlie’s Angels, a huge film that, while deeply problematic, is one that a lot of us grew up with and enjoyed. It would have been a big boon to her career. So, why wasn’t she in it?
Well, when she was working with the director of the film, Joseph McGinty Nichol, also known as McG, she says he told her, “I can’t wait for this. The first shot is going to be … You’re going to think it’s like yellow lines down a road, and you pull back and you realize it’s the stitching, because the denim is so tight on your ass it’s going to look like tarmac.”
For Newton, this kind of hypersexualization, after her history of sexual assault, was deeply uncomfortable. She didn’t even want to do the Vogue cover the cast had been asked to do. Then, the second nail on the head came when she spoke to the head of the studio at the time, Amy Pascal.
According to her, Pascal thought her character needed to be switched up now that Newton was playing her:
“Look, I don’t mean to be politically incorrect, but the character as written and you playing the role, I just feel like we’ve got to make sure that it’s believable.” I was like, “What do you mean? What changes would you have to make?” She’s like, “Well, you know, the character, as written, she’s been to university and is educated.”
Thandie Newton, OBE, went to Downing College, Cambridge, which has a reputation for Law and Medicine. So, she was very educated and when Newton pointed that out, she says Pascal responded, “Yeah, but you’re different.”
She’s like, “Maybe there could be a scene where you’re in a bar and she gets up on a table and starts shaking her booty.” She’s basically reeling off these stereotypes of how to be more convincing as a Black character. Everything she said, I was like, “Nah, I wouldn’t do that.” She’s like, “Yeah, but you’re different. You’re different.”
The role she was up for would then go to Lucy Liu, because of course, they were planning on having one woman of color in that movie.
Pascal said in a statement responding to the piece, “While I take her words seriously, I have no recollection of the events she describes, nor do any of her representatives who were present at that casting session,” she said, adding, “I’ve long considered Thandie a friend; I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to make movies with her; and I hope to work with her again in the future.”
Pascal is a business executive and producer who was the co-chair of Sony until the 2014 Sony hack. The Sony hack exposed Pascal “riffing” with producer Scott Rudin about if President Obama was a fan of The Butler, Django Unchained, and Kevin Heart movies. So, what we are seeing is that, from 2000 onward to at least 2015, this sort of thinking did not change.
As I said before, please go read the entire piece if you haven’t already. It’s brilliant and done so empathically that you can understand why Newton was able to be so genuine and honest. With the stories coming out from her, Gabrielle Union, Michaela Coel, Nicole Behaire, and others, I hope so deeply that people will understand that these are the microaggressions and coded racist language that Black actresses have been dealing with for decades and why even the most talented do not always get to make it.
(via Vulture, image: Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)
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