Benedict Cumberbatch is in hot water today as his quotes surrounding diversity in the arts go viral.
The Sherlock actor made a (by all accounts accurate) comment about diversity in North American media versus in the United Kingdom. Benedict told the Tavis Smiley Show:
“[In America,] it’s an even playing field. [These actors] paid their dues for years by just doing beautiful performances. I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK and that’s something that needs to change. Something’s gone wrong, we’re not representative enough in our culture of different races and that really does need to step up a pace.”
In case you missed it, the problematic phrase was: “…as far as coloured actors go.” The sentiment of the statement was well-received. Its wording, however, was not.
Even his own Cumberb**ches seemingly recoiled at the outdated wording and called him out on it. To Benedict’s credit, he listened and almost immediately apologised. It’s also a REAL apology. Contrite and humble. Rather than “sorry you were offended”.
The question is… does he really have anything to be sorry for? Is Benedict racist?
UK anti-racism group Show Racism The Red Card released a statement about Benedict’s use of “coloured” to mean non-white:
“Benedict Cumberbatch has highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society. The lack of representation of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds within certain industries in the UK is an issue which needs addressing, and we are pleased that Benedict has spoken out in support of more appropriate representation and of the views of actors and campaigners like Lenny Henry.
“In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feel that the term ‘coloured’ is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage. Appropriate terminology differs from country to country; for example, we know that in some countries the term ‘coloured’ is still widely used, and that in the US the term ‘people of colour’ is quite common.
“During our work with young people in schools throughout England, we discuss appropriate language to use when describing people of different skin colours and backgrounds and explain why the term ‘coloured’ is no longer the best way to describe someone.”
It only took a few hours for him to respond to the media backlash. Here’s Benedict’s apology for using “outmoded” terms for people of colour.
“I’m devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for 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. 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.
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 apologise 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.”