Cumberbatch controversy is ridiculous, says Selma star David Oyelowo

28/01/15

David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo has defended fellow British actor and friend, Benedict Cumberbatch, for using the term "coloured" during an interview.

Cumberbatch has apologised and said he was "devastated to have caused offence" after using the word on a US TV show to describe black actors.

"I think it's ridiculous," Selma star Oyelowo told Newsbeat.

"When you look at what he was actually saying it's clear that he's a huge supporter of black performers."

David Oyelowo was speaking at the UK premiere of Selma, in which he stars as 1960s civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.

David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Image caption Cumberbatch talked about Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo during his appearance on the talk show

Cumberbatch mentioned David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor as part of a wider discussion with US talk show host Tavis Smiley about diversity in the film industry.

"To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance."

More: Why the word 'coloured' is offensive

Benedict Cumberbatch
Image caption Benedict Cumberbatch said he's "devastated to have caused offence" with his comments

The actor also said he had spoken to Cumberbatch about the controversy that flared up online over the past few days.

"I reached out to him in support and said I think it's ridiculous," he said.

When asked if he felt Hollywood and the film industry had an issue with diversity, Oyelowo replied with a resounding "absolutely".

"You can see that in the fact every time a film of this size and stature comes up.

"We're talking about diversity again and that's because there isn't enough of it."

David Oyelowo
Image caption Oyelowo won the breakthrough performance award for his role in Selma in Palm Springs

He cited his recent role in Interstellar as one that wasn't specified as a black character and noted "to get to the point whereby myself and Ryan Gosling are going up for the same role is going to be great".

"That's not to say that that doesn't happen, it just doesn't happen often."

Oyelowo suggested there needed to be more diversity among people with the power to finance and get films made.

"Excellence is the best weapon against prejudice. I intend to be part of the solution and not the problem.

"You've just got to keep on banging out good performances."

Selma premiere
Image caption Selma is up for best picture and best original song for John Legend and Common's Glory at this year's Oscars

Benedict Cumberbatch has been nominated for the best actor Oscar for his role in The Imitation Game, and while David Oyelowo missed out on an acting nomination for Selma, the film is in the running for best picture at next month's ceremony.

So does David think the negative publicity Benedict has been getting will harm Cumberbatch's career?

"Absolutely not," said Oyelowo.

"I think it's just part of the silly news cycle that we all feed off and it will go away like chip paper as it does.

"He's a brilliant actor, he gives a brilliant performance in Imitation Game and, like I say, it's just a diversion from what we should be talking about, which is that astounding performance."

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