Benedict Cumberbatch apologizes for calling black actors ‘colored’

Benedict Cumberbatch says he was an "idiot" to refer to non-white actors as "colored."
Benedict Cumberbatch says he was an "idiot" to refer to non-white actors as "colored." Associated Press

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch is “devastated” that a word he used last week during a talk show interview has offended people.

The “Sherlock” star was talking about his work on the PBS show “Tavis Smiley” last week when Smiley started ribbing him about British actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo, who are both black, coming to the United States and scoring good acting jobs in Hollywood.

Cumberbatch, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “The Imitation Game,” joked that if Meryl Streep can play former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it’s all fair game.

Then Cumberbatch got serious and said “I think as far as colored actors go it gets really difficult in the UK, and I think a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here (in America) than in the UK and that’s something that needs to change.”

Smiley didn’t say anything about Cumberbatch’s word choice in the moment – which was said so quickly it could barely be heard – as the actor went on to expound on how “we’re not representative enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up apace.”

But some folks on Twitter scolded Cumberbatch for saying “colored.” And a spokesperson for a British anti-racism charity called Show Racism the Red Card told British media that Cumberbatch “highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society. In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language.”

Cumberbatch issued a lengthy statement on Monday apologizing for his “thoughtless use of inappropriate language.”

“I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology,” he said. “I offer my sincere apologies. 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 talking 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.

“I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner please be assured I have. I apologize again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.”

Read The Guardian’s take on the apology and what it reveals about “how white the film industry is.”