In a new interview with Thandie Newton, the Hollywood actress opened up about “casual racism,” she says she’s encountered throughout her enviable career in the film industry.
“Being Black is important. Because certainly at the beginning of my career, when it was just, like, me and Halle Berry in our age group going up for every role: ‘Oh, this is novel. This is a little quick flash in the pan. We’ll let you come in for a minute,'” she told Vulture.
Newton wants to ensure that she is speaking out clearly about her stance on colorism and oppression the Black community faces, “because I want Black people to feel they can trust me and feel safe with me — that I’m not a representative of this Establishment that degrades people of color,” she explains.
Newton is biracial. Her mother is Black and her father is white. For this reason, Newton says she tries to take extra care when choosing roles portraying Black women.
“I know the nature of this business has had me play roles that I’m embarrassed I played. It’s had me misrepresent African-Americans. Because I didn’t know. I have not been of great service in my career. I guess it’s been of service in one respect, because there’s a person of color in a movie, but that can do more harm than good — let’s face it”
The star reflected on her role in the 2004 Oscar award-winning movie, Crash. In the flick, Newton plays a wealthy woman, encounters a racist traffic cop in Los Angeles after her husband is pulled over.
She says she was unaware that the movie involved a sexual assault scene.
“In the script, it wasn’t specific what his hand was doing inside her skirt,” she told Vulture. “And then in the later scene, when she’s screaming at her husband, she says, ‘You just let him finger-f*ck your wife.’ I thought she was being ironic.”
She continued, “I went into the makeup trailer and burst into tears…. as far as I was concerned, to insinuate that a cop would hand-rape a woman in the streets, and in a racially charged way, too, I felt this fear that I didn’t want to be part of putting that out in the world.”
But the movie gave her an awareness she was oblivious to before. Black women being assaulted by cops was a “phenomenon,” as she was relieved to have cast a spotlight on the issue. “The movie was clever and witty, but it basically stopped the judgment. It neutralized the very real rage that African-American people feel” over police brutality.
She also fought to have more Black extras a the movie shot in Oakland, California. “‘But we cast you. So we took care of that’,” both the producer and the showrunner told her. “We had this sort of sexist, casually racist idiot, you know?” she asserted.
Early on in her career, there was no #metoo movement, and young actors actresses were habitually exploited and abused.
Newton detailed the aftermath of her allegedly being groomed and sexually abused by director John Duigan as a teenager. She says the media flipped the story of abuse into a tale of a sordid “affair.”
“It’s like re-abuse. I think the reason I talked about it a lot, too, is I’m trying to find someone who understands. I’m looking for help. It’s so fucking obvious to me. What is the point if we don’t expose what needs to be exposed?”
Despite the traumatic experience, Newton remains defiant.
“What I am evidence of is: You can dismiss a Black person. If you’re a young Black girl and you get raped, in the film business, no one’s going to fcking care. You can tell whoever the f*ck you want, and they’ll call it an affair. Until people start taking this seriously, I can’t fully heal.”‘
She added, “So careful what you do, everybody, because you might find yourself f*cking over a little brown girl at the beginning of a career, when no one knows who she is and no one gives a f*ck. She might turn out to be Thandie Newton winning Emmys.”