Welcome to Don’t Sleep On Them, our weeklong series marking the launch of Unbothered UK. Not a single actor of colour was nominated for a BAFTA this year, so we’re using the week leading up to the awards to spotlight incredible black British actresses. Join us in celebrating the women slaying the game and check back tomorrow to see who else we’re rooting for.
When Gugu Mbatha-Raw broke onto the Hollywood scene in 2013 with her outstanding performance as the mixed-race Dido Elizabeth Belle in Amma Asante's 18th-century English drama Belle, it had me thinking: Will I see more of this beauty on my screen? My prayers were answered.
Since her big break, the Oxford-born actress has gone from strength to strength, landing an incredible variety of roles, from her powerful performance in Disney's big budget, Ava DuVernay-directed adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time to her major role in Netflix's Emmy-winning Black Mirror episode "San Junipero", in which she played a bisexual beach town party girl.
Who can forget her touching performance in romantic drama Beyond The Lights, a role which saw Mbatha-Raw nominated for the Best Actress gong at the 2014 Gotham Awards? Or her recent and hugely relatable role in Apple TV+'s The Morning Show, where she tackled the emotional impact of sexual assault? Despite these career highlights and impressive turns in British television and theatre (Doctor Who and Romeo & Juliet, among others), Mbatha-Raw remains a relatively unsung name in Hollywood.
The impact of seeing someone like me, bouncing across my TV screen with big afro curls, is so meaningful.
There's no denying that the film industry's major flaws play a big part here. Too many talented individuals, especially black female actors, are overlooked during awards season. The recent Academy Award and BAFTA nominations are examples of how black women continue to go unrecognized in their fields. But the future looks bright for Mbatha-Raw as she takes on a number of impressive parts this year, including the lead in Seacole and supporting roles in Peter Pan sequel Come Away and Summerland, an upcoming World War II drama.
This month we'll see her in Misbehaviour, a comedy-drama about a group of feminists who hatch a plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World competition in London. It's this one that's important to me. Mbatha-Raw stars as Jennifer Hosten, the 22-year-old Miss Grenada who became the first black woman to win Miss World. I remember my Grenadian grandmother telling me the story of Hosten and her family, who are closely linked to my own home back on the island.
As a biracial woman myself, the impact of seeing someone like me, bouncing across my TV screen with big afro curls, in a show as major as Black Mirror, is so meaningful. Mbatha-Raw is more than aware of this. She told Refinery29 last year: "Hair sounds like a superficial conversation. But images remain in our subconscious. So when it comes to representing on screen, I can use my hair to send the important message to girls everywhere that they can be who they are."