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The 39-year-old David Oyelowo has had a lot of different roles in a vast swath of films that have been released in the past decade. He’s had everything from bit parts in blockbusters like Interstellar and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes to show-stopping leads in projects such as his recent HBO film Nightingale and, of course, the Academy Award-winning Selma. Yet for all of his experience, and all of his craft, there is one role you’ll never be able to cast him in: the token black best friend.
In an interview with NPR, promoting Nightingale’s premiere on HBO this week; Oyelowo used his trademark candor and charm to talk about all sorts of odds and ends that went into his performance in the film. That's when David Oyelowo took the time to send a polite but firm message to anyone who would even think of hiring him as "the best friend."
Don't send me your script if you want me to play the black best friend. I just won't do that. You can feel when it's literally an afterthought; you can feel when it's like, 'Oh quick, let's get some color in here.' That I won't do because it's disrespectful and, for me, I'm either part of the solution or I'm part of the problem."
Without skewing too politically, Oyelowo does make a good point even on a story level. The stereotypical black best friend character isn’t really all that developed, and nine times out of 10 is used to support the actor that’s meant to be the "star" of the project. Saying that out loud sounds even more ridiculous than it reads on paper, especially considering David Oyelowo has put in some powerhouse work in the films in which he has been a part. Selma alone shows how the man should be nominated for an Oscar, instead of trying to help Matthew McConaughey land Kate Hudson for the fifteenth time.
So if you’re writing a romantic comedy, or a heartwarming drama that requires a best friend character to lift the lead up, you shouldn’t even bother sending David Oyelowo your script. Not only will he probably fail to give it even a reading, it’ll probably be buried under the stack of scripts that he’s already wading through as potential candidates. However, you probably should send him your Marvel superhero scripts, because having Oyelowo in a Marvel project is probably too good of a prospect for him to turn down – especially if his Selma director, Ava DuVernay, lands herself in the realm of heroes.
Nightingale premieres on HBO tonight.