Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Colored”-gate: A Hilarious Romp Through Antiquated Speech

Poor, poor Benedict Cumberbatch. If you happen to read this for whatever reason, Benedict, just know that you gave me a good cackle, and I can only imagine how embarrassed you are.

I had seen around the interwebs grumblings of Cumberbatch and the word “colored,” and for a while, I didn’t want to know what they were talking about. Despite the disastrous turn as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, I actually like Cumberbatch. He seems like an all right dude, especially since he’s not really all about the term “Cumberbitches” and doesn’t seem too fond of the Tumblr cult Sherlock has given him (if you follow Tumblr, you know what I mean). In short, I had nothing against the guy. I still don’t actually, and more on that later.

Anyways, I finally got around to seeing the headline when The Root posted their article on Twitter, and I clicked the link to get to the actual post. And boy was it a cornucopia of laughs for me.

The rundown of the story is this: Somehow, Tavis Smiley successfully booked Cumberbatch on his PBS talk show. The minor shade towards Smiley comes from this background knowledge; Smiley is a public speaker and activist the majority of the black community,including myself, cooled out on when he drank serious Haterade about then-Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, resulting in Smiley losing his spot on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and then getting hilariously scolded by Rev. Al Sharpton on both Tom Joyner’s show and Sharpton’s own show on the same dayComic View wishes it could be as good as this showdown was. Apparently, Smiley is still drinking the Haterade against the President. 

Also, when he had his commentary spot on Joyner’s show, Smiley would refer to black people as “Negros,” which I guess he thought he could do since he’s also black. But he was saying it as if he was herding sheep who didn’t care what was being told to them, as long as they were being herded. The way he said it seemed to be very much in a “Big House” mode, which, I think, partly led to his demise on Joyner’s show. The bounce-back from the fall from grace resulted in Smiley creating his PBS show.

Anyway, Cumberbatch was able to be a guest on Smiley’s show. During the interview, Smiley and Cumberbatch were talking about racial disparities in the British theatre scene. Here’s the video of him gleefully speaking about his fellow black actors and the stuff they go through:

After viewing this and reading the entirety of the article (and realizing the irony of him being on Tavis Smiley’s show saying outmoded forms of language), I laughed and laughed and laughed.

First of all, I’m not surprised Smiley didn’t say anything about Cumberbatch’s use of “colored.” As I wrote up top, Smiley himself used to call his listeners “Negros,” so there’s that. The only reason he didn’t get called on that stuff at first was because he’s black.

Second of all, this is a classic “Po’ Lil’ Tink Tink” moment. You can see how happy Cumberbatch is to 1) be on a socially-aware show 2) be on a socially-aware show which airs in the homes of thousands of black Americans and 3) be on a socially-aware show hosted by a black guy. On a PR level, all of this would make Cumberbatch look and sound like he’s down with the black community and can finally earn the Black Card (which would also lead to a wider audience when he does mainstream films). I don’t know if he was thinking this far ahead when he agreed to do the program, but I would have been if I were him.

HOWEVER, the dude was trying so hard to be down (which you can tell by his sheer gleefulness in the video) that he slipped up and used the wrong terminology. BRUH. GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF. Either he was so focused on impressing Smiley and Black America and/or he is so comfortable using the term “colored” in his (really privileged) circles that he said the term on American television and got in trouble.

Let’s also put out there that his family ancestry includes the ownership of slaves. Maybe since this knowledge had gotten out to the public during his 12 Years A Slave days, Cumberbatch took the interview opp to really distance himself from his slave-owning ancestors. Anyways, whatever the reasoning was, it completely backfired.

Once black America rose as one to declare his speech antiquated and, well, racist-sounding, Cumberbatch issued a humble apology, an apology that seems like was written by Cumberbatch himself since it lacked all the PR spin we’ve come accustomed to from celebrity apologies.

I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was takling about racial inequality in the performing arts in the U.K. and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term.

The Root article addresses the fact that the UK still has pockets of people who call black folks “colored,” and I’m not surprised, since the US has folks that still do that (it happened to me in middle school). But it would seem that perhaps America has a little bit of an advantage on the UK and Australia when it comes to knowing what is actually outdated terminology. Here’s a Twitter conversation I had with a Twitter follower of mine:

So there are some people who really don’t know that “colored” is now not kosher. As you can tell, even Cumberbatch didn’t know this, since he said the term without malice.

So, do I hate him now, you might be wondering? No. First of all, this story made me laugh, and I can’t really hate anyone who makes me laugh. Second of all, he seems like he’s actually really sorry for causing offense. Third, I don’t think he’s racist. (At least not intentionally, anyway). I think he just made a wildly ill-advised move when he used “colored.”

I’d been thinking about this incident in comparison to the Sony Hack incident, in which Amy Pascal  and producer Scott Rudin were shown having a high school-esque conversation about what black films President Obama would like. I called that out as being racist without the people themselves being intentionally racist. I wondered if I should feel as annoyed about “Colored”-gate as I did this.

I think what irked me the most about the Sony Hack email exchange was the level of assumption there was. I don’t know; there’s just something off-putting about it, particularly since these are folks that actually run the industry and they’re talking about black people in such an off-handed “monoculture” manner. The emails were meant to be private, yes. But what irked me is that the gatekeepers of movies are supposed to be thinking much higher than this since they are making films that all people should be able to enjoy (and see themselves in). Cumberbatch is just a cog in the machinery, but cogs also have their level of responsibility as well.  It would seem, to me, that he is trying to do his level best.

Anyways, Cumberbatch has definitely learned his lesson about correct terminology, bless his heart. We shouldn’t excuse him for the ignorance, and it would seem he doesn’t want you to, which is refreshing. It shows that he’s committed to growing as a person. What did you think about this story? Give me your opinions in the comments section below!

EDIT: David Oyelowo has come to Cumberbatch’s defense. The Hollywood Reporter has stated that Oyelowo reached out to Cumberbatch to give his support. “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,” Oyelowo said to the BBC, also calling the controversy “ridiculous.”

I agree with Oyelowo; I had fun with the story, as you can see from the post, but I feel bad Cumberbatch has to experience this level of embarrassment. He didn’t mean any harm and he was clearly trying to offer a helping hand to Hollywood and the UK’s problem with diversity. Again, “Po’ lil’ Tink Tink”.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s