David Oyelowo revealed that he turns down roughly “80 percent” of the roles he’s offered in order to avoid perpetuating stereotypes about black people.
The actor, who earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2015 for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the hit movie “Selma,” was asked in a recent interview with Access Hollywood about his career in the wake of ongoing protests about systemic racism and police brutality. He explained that he tries to be very selective about the roles he accepts because he believes that storytelling has the power to do great harm as well as great good.
“I live my life from the perspective of ‘I must be part of the solution and not the problem,’” he told the outlet. “I think one of the privileges I don’t have is to just do any role I want, because I know that playing certain roles perpetuate stereotypes and perpetuate mindsets people have about black people that is not helpful to all of what we’re talking about.”
He added: “I turn down about 80 percent of what comes my way for that reason, because I understand the power storytelling and images has on culture.”
He said he recently felt vindicated for his selective role acceptance while doing research for the 2019 movie “Don’t Let Go,” where he played a black police officer. To prepare, he did a ride-along with a real-life officer who is black in Los Angeles.
“He thanked me for some of the films I make, because he said, ‘Unfortunately, a lot of my white colleagues, their estimation of what an interaction with a black person might be is based on films and television they watch,’” Oyelowo explained. “And so those images, whatever they are, if that is informing how you see black people, then what I do for a living, for some people, is life or death.”
Later in the interview, the actor talked about landing the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” feeling that divine intervention played a role in his casting.