Thandie Newton Opens Up About "Casual Racism" in Hollywood and 'Crash'

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Thandie Newton

In a new interview, the 'Westworld' actor discussed having a "black book" for Hollywood, saying no to 'Charlie's Angels' and being killed off on Audience's 'Rogue.'

Thandie Newton opened up about "casual" and blatant racism she has experienced in entertainment as well as her candid thoughts on multiple projects including Crash and Charlie's Angels in a new interview.

Reflecting on her career in the aftermath of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests as well as new revelations of racism in the workplace, the Westworld actor told Vulture in an interview published Tuesday, "I’ve got my little black book, which will be published on my death bed" of "everything' she has experienced in her career. She added, "Being Black is important. Because certainly at the beginning of my career, when it was just, like, me and Halle Berry in our age group going up for every role: 'Oh, this is novel. This is a little quick flash in the pan. We’ll let you come in for a minute.'"

Though she wasn't prepared to disclose all her experiences yet, Newton discussed colorism and particular projects in detail in the interview. She said that on Instagram she primarily features her mother (who is Black) as opposed to her father (who is white), "because I want Black people to feel they can trust me and feel safe with me — that I’m not a representative of this Establishment that degrades people of color," she said.

Newton also discussed her misgivings about playing African Americans as a British woman and Hollywood's historic failing to place dark-skinned Black actors in starring roles. "I have not been of great service in my career. I guess it’s been of service in one respect, because there’s a person of color in a movie, but that can do more harm than good — let’s face it," she said at one point in the interview while crying. At another point, she discussed people in power in the industry perceiving her as "too Black" or "not Black enough" and either putting on a spray tan or "[taking] it down [a notch]." She added, "I recognize how painful it is for dark-skinned women, particularly, to have to deal with being substituted or overlooked."

The actor expressed especially complicated feelings about Crash, the 2004 film that won the 2005 best picture Oscar and co-starred Newton as a wealthy woman who is traumatized by a run-in with a racist traffic cop in Los Angeles. She did not know, she said, that the film included a scene where her character was sexually assaulted by actor Matt Dillon's cop: "In the script, it wasn’t specific what his hand was doing inside her skirt," she told Vulture. "And then in the later scene, when she’s screaming at her husband, she says, 'You just let him finger-fuck your wife.' I thought she was being ironic."

When it became clear to her what Haggis wanted in the scene, Newton recalled, "I went into the makeup trailer and burst into tears. … As far as I was concerned, to insinuate that a cop would hand-rape a woman in the streets, and in a racially charged way, too, I felt this fear that I didn’t want to be part of putting that out in the world." Still, Newton says, she has since learned that Black women being sexually abused by police is a "phenomenon" she wasn't aware of while filming the movie. She also didn't think much of a Ta-Nehisi Coates piece criticizing the film, though she is a fan of the writer's work.

Overall, she says of the film, "The movie was clever and witty, but it basically stopped the judgment. It neutralized the very real rage that African American people feel" over police brutality.

Newton additionally revealed a run-in with producer and former Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairperson Amy Pascal that was racially charged. She recalled, while considering a role in the 2000 remake of Charlie's Angels, that the studio head told her that if she was cast, changes would have to be made from the script so the character would be "believable." Newton told Vulture, "I was like, 'What do you mean? What changes would you have to make?' She’s like, 'Well, you know, the character, as written, she’s been to university and is educated.' I’m like, 'I’ve been to university. I went to Cambridge.' She went, 'Yeah, but you’re different.' … I didn't do the movie as a result." Pascal said in a statement to Vulture that “While I take her words seriously, I have no recollection of the events she describes, nor do any of her representatives who were present at that casting session.” She additionally said, “I’ve long considered Thandie a friend; I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to make movies with her; and I hope to work with her again in the future."

Of her pre-Westworld role in the police drama series Rogue, Newton remembered a producer and showrunner trying to compel her to take her top off in one scene, which she refused (eventually another actor pulled her top "down" in the scene, she says). She also recalled advocating for more extras of color in a scene that was supposed to take place in Oakland and a producer telling her, "'But we cast you. So we took care of that.'" She added, "We had this sort of sexist, casually racist idiot, you know?" Once Newton has agreed to appear on Westworld and exited the show, her character was killed off in a scene where she was strangled and eventually dumped into a tank with "Westworld Garbage Disposal" written on the side.

"I ended up in the fetal position, weeping, sobbing. I had put two years of hard work into that show. And there I was: Westworld Garbage Disposal," Newton recalled.

The actor had kind things to say of working on Bernardo Bertolucci's 1998 film Besieged; however, she said that she agreed with a journalist who once suggested the film's depiction of a generic African country in a state of unrest was "offensive." She said the film ultimately evinced a "casual ignorance."

Newton, who has spoken up about allegedly being groomed and sexually abused by director John Duigan, whom she worked with multiple times as a teenager, also discussed how that experience was framed in the press as an "affair." She said, "What I am evidence of is: You can dismiss a Black person. If you’re a young Black girl and you get raped, in the film business, no one’s going to fucking care. You can tell whoever the fuck you want, and they’ll call it an affair. Until people start taking this seriously, I can’t fully heal."

Not long after, Newton added to Vulture, "So careful what you do, everybody, because you might find yourself fucking over a little brown girl at the beginning of a career, when no one knows who she is and no one gives a fuck. She might turn out to be Thandie Newton winning Emmys."