Billy Dee Williams Shockingly Supports Blackface in Acting: ‘You Should Do It’!

Actor Billy Dee Williams has encouraged his colleagues to pursue any artistic approach they deem necessary for their craft, even if it includes putting on blackface.

As the first African American actor to hold a key role in the extensive “Star Wars” series, Williams expressed his stance on the subject of non-black actors portraying black roles during Sunday’s episode of Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast. About an hour into the show, the 87-year-old actor shared his thoughts about the contentious portrayal of “Othello” by British actor Laurence Olivier in 1965.

Olivier, a white actor, darkened his skin with makeup to play the lead character in the film version of the Shakespearean play, a Moor from Venice. The history of blackface dates back to racially offensive minstrel shows from the early 1800s, where non-black actors would paint their skin darker to mockingly depict black people, who were largely excluded from mainstream entertainment.

Williams told Maher that Olivier drew from the late black singer, Paul Robeson, for his portrayal of “Othello.” Olivier wanted to embody “Robeson’s stature and Robeson’s voice,” according to Williams. The actor, known for his role in “Brian’s Song,” also mentioned Olivier’s physical performance for the role.

“When he performed as Othello, I was in stitches. He exaggerated his posterior and strutted around with it,” he added. “It’s a common stereotype that Black people have large posteriors. I found it hilarious. I truly enjoyed it.”

However, Maher reminded Williams that the use of blackface in today’s entertainment industry would inevitably lead to backlash.

“Why? Why can’t we? We should be able to,” Williams responded. “As actors, we should have the freedom to explore any character we want to.”

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In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, Hollywood has faced a racial reckoning over its history of racial bias, including the use of blackface and the promotion of racial stereotypes. Consequently, various entertainment platforms like HBO, Hulu, and Adult Swim have removed content considered offensive from their services, although some have been reinstated.

During his appearance on Maher’s podcast, Williams discussed the early stages of his career when his opportunities were limited due to his race (Williams is of Black and Native American descent). Nevertheless, he believes the use of blackface “doesn’t matter.”

“The main thing is not to see yourself as a victim,” he added, earning praise from Maher. “I refuse to live my life constantly angry at the world. I have no intentions of staying mad all day, every day.”

Williams, who brought the character of Lando Calrissian to life in “Star Wars,” was on Maher’s comprehensive podcast a few months after the release of his recent memoir, “What Have We Here? Portraits of a Life.” The book, published by Knopf, was released in February.

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