Thandiwe Newton is opening up about the backlash, privilege, and guilt she has experienced as a fair-skinned Black actress navigating Hollywood and the UK film industry.

The emotional comments came about during a recent interview with The Associated Press regarding her role in God’s Country, which premiered at Sundance late last month. As a Black woman in her 40’s, Newton was an unlikely choice for the role of Sandra, a college professor suffering a tragic loss who gets into a steadily escalating conflict with two hunters who trespass on her land. The film is based on James Lee Burke’s short story Winter Light, in which the story’s protagonist was an older, weathered white man.

While talking about taking on this role with The Associated Press, Newton discussed the impact of prejudice within the film and opened up about the prejudice she’s personally experienced as a light-skinned Black woman in Hollywood.

Thandiwe Newton appears in God’s Country by Julian Higgins, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“I now realize that my internalized prejudice was stopping me from feeling like I could play this role when it’s precisely that prejudice that I’ve received. It doesn’t matter that it’s from African American women more than anyone else,” she said. “I received prejudice. Anyone who’s received oppression and prejudice feels this character.”

Despite being on the receiving end of oppression, Newton recognizes the oppressive effects of colorism that her selection for roles perpetuates for actresses who are darker-skinned than she is.

“I’ve wanted so desperately to apologize every day to darker-skinned actresses. To say, ‘I’m sorry that I’m the one chosen.’ My Mama looks like you,” she said, getting emotional.

“It’s been very painful to have women who look like my mom feel like I’m not representing them. That I’m taking from them. Taking their men, taking their work, taking their truth.”

Newton also told Variety that the character of Sandra was actually named with Sandra Bland in mind, a fact which drew her to the role even more.

“For a good five (years) I’ve been supporting Kimberly Crenshaw’s work with the African American Policy Forum and movement ‘Say Her Name,’ which she coined,” Newton said. “And in this movie, right from the get-go, we are saying her name. I don’t mean just about Sandra Bland. I’m talking about all the ‘Sandra Blands.’ Now and in the past.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 05: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been digitally retouched) Thandie Newton arrives for the Premiere of HBO’s ‘Westworld’ Season 3 held at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 5, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images)

Newton, who is billed in this film by her traditional Zulu name Thandiwe as opposed to the Hollywood-friendly “Thandie” she went by for so many years, also claims that this is her final movie as an actress.

‘I’m 49, and I think I’ve been a successful Black actress for many, many years. And it’s been rare for me to have a movie where you follow me for the whole movie,” she told Indiewire of finally having a meaningful starring role. “I finally got to do something I really f**king got my teeth into.”

“This defines what I want to be as an actress.”

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