Acclaimed Actress Sophie Okonedo Discusses Race, Class and the Advancements of Diversity within the Acting Industry
The Theatre Awards issue of ES Magazine, out Thursday 6th December
This week, actress Sophie Okonedo, winner of the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress at this year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards, opens up about the difficulties she faced growing up as a black and Jewish child in the 1970s, the progression made towards diversity in the acting world, and her reluctance to discuss harassment within the industry.
On what it was like as a black and Jewish child in the 1970s "I am not a practising Jew and I am not embedded in Nigerian culture, but I have a sense of those things inside me, which is very handy for acting,’ [she says]. ‘There are a lot of things I can draw on.’ [It wasn’t easy being black and Jewish as a child in the 1970s, though. Parents of her Jewish classmates would complain about black people, then add:] ‘We don’t mean you, Sophie.'"
On the changing attitudes towards diversity in the acting world "I didn’t ever feel there was anything in my way, any boundaries.’ When young, she saw a routine from Annie on the Royal Variety Performance, which featured a young black girl in the ensemble. ‘It was unusual then," she recalls. "It wouldn’t seem as unusual now."
On the advancement of attitudes towards diversity in theatre "Theatre has always been ahead in terms of colourblind casting,’ ‘There is a lot more opportunity now and I welcome all the conversations we are having about diversity, about women and about class... I come from a very working- class background and I think the class thing is still probably more tricky."
On her sensitivity and caring what people think of her "I don’t care as much if people like or dislike things." [She grins]. "Well, I do. I am sensitive and sometimes I feel like I have got no skin. That’s why I can’t ever read stuff about myself."
On her refusal to discuss harassment within the industry "I’m not going to talk about that,’ [she says], ‘though it helps that people are coming forward and the dialogue is very current."
The full interview appears in The Theatre Awards issue of ES Magazine, out Thursday 6th December 2018
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