David Oyelowo: Period dramas alienated me

David Oyelowo has said he wanted to make period drama A United Kingdom because he’d grown up never seeing himself represented in British history.

The Selma star is debuting his 40s-set film at the Toronto International Film Festival, a tale about heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, now Botswana, Seretse Khama (played by himself) and his romance with a white British woman (Rosamund Pike), which attracted controversy at the time for being an interracial marriage.

He said: “When you grow up in the UK, certainly in the 80s and 90s when I did, you are surrounded by period dramas. You’re surrounded by Merchant Ivory films and adaptations of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and I never saw myself represented in British history, in British drama.”

The 40-year-old actor, who also produced the film, is currently prepping to play Othello on Broadway with Daniel Craig as Iago and said he had been on the receiving end of criticism about British history being told through different perspectives. In a 2001 Royal Shakespeare production of Henry VI, some questioned his casting as the monarch.

David said: “It made me recognise that there is resistance to seeing people of colour take their place in British history. I’m not saying there was a black King of England in reality but there were certainly very significant figures in British history, in world history, in history that intersects with British culture. But you just never saw it. You certainly never got taught it at school. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve really seen the effect that seeing yourself represented on film has on an audience.”

His lack of an Oscar nomination two years ago for Selma was key in the “OscarsSoWhite” protest against the Academy Awards.

The star can also be seen in Queen Of Katwe at the festival, directed by Mira Nair, and he explained why he had wanted a female director (Amma Asante) for A United Kingdom too, saying, “because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”.

He went on: “I want to see all people represented. I want to see female directors represented. I want to see disabled people represented. I want to see people of colour represented. That’s what the world looks like. No matter how much the status quo tries to push back against that, it’s happening whether we like it or not. And the audience is responding.”

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