Jordan Peele's new hit horror movie Get Out — which uses horror elements to satirically highlight the very real experience of everyday racism in the U.S., in the company of self-congratulating, "progressive" white liberals — Kaluuya plays an American named Chris meeting his girlfriend's (Alison Williams) parents for the first time. Kaluuya, who was born in London to Ugandan parents, was able to draw upon his lived experience of racism, from glaring bigotry to microaggressions, to get into character — and he was fantastic. But last week, Hollywood legend Samuel L. Jackson questioned whether an American should've played the role. Now, Kaluuya has directly responded in a new GQ interview discussing the surrounding issues.
"Here's the thing about that critique, though," Kaluuya said. "I'm dark-skinned, bro. When I'm around Black people I'm made to feel 'other' because I'm dark-skinned. I've had to wrestle with that, with people going 'You're too Black.' Then I come to America and they say, 'You're not Black enough.' I go to Uganda, I can't speak the language. In India, I'm black. In the black community, I'm dark-skinned. In America, I'm British." Which is exactly how Jackson saw it: "Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. What would a brother from America have made of that role? Some things are universal, but [not everything]." (Jackson later said he was slamming Hollywood, not the film.)
But Kaluuya doesn't view the the challenges of being Black as a country-specific experience — because for him, it hasn't been. "That's my whole life, being seen as 'other.' Not fitting in, in Uganda, not Britain, not America," he said. "If you live in the Western world, it's not hard. I go into a fucking shop and I'm followed by a security guard. Since I was 12. I don't have to look for it. It finds me." He added, "When I see people beaten on the streets of America, that hurts me. I feel that."
The 27-year-old also made the important point that Black people in The U.K. have their own painful history and present battles. "[They] had to live in a time where they went looking for housing and signs would say, 'NO IRISH. NO DOGS. NO BLACKS'...That's the history that London has gone through. The Brixton riots, the Tottenham riots, the 2011 riots, because Black people were being killed by police."
But the thing is, Kaaluya shouldn't have to show anyone that he's experienced enough racism to earn credibility for a role. "This is the frustrating thing, bro — in order to prove that I can play this role, I have to open up about the trauma that I've experienced as a Black person. I have to show off my struggle so that people accept that I'm Black. No matter that every single room I go to I'm usually the darkest person there...I kind of resent that mentality." He continued, "I resent that I have to prove that I'm Black. I don't know what that is."
Kaaluya added that he doesn't want this discussion to distract from the incredible success of the film, which just passed $100 million at the box office — or it's crucial message. "I'd rather it be about the film than about me, or my accent, where I'm from, because that's not what it's about," he said. "I just want to tell Black stories." And we just want to watch them.