Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Award-winning actress, Thandie Newton shared her experience on what it meant to be a black actress in Hollywood during a very revealing interview with Vulture.
The Westworld actress is trending on Twitter after a vulnerable Vulture interview peeled back the frosted veil on one of Black Hollywood’s most dynamic thespians.
An eating disorder. Sexual abuse. A victim among predators. Yet still, Newton stands tall and bold enough to tell her story while naming names. Big names. It’s all a testament to the resilience of Black women and an industry that just doesn’t know what to do with us. Currently, Newton is isolated with her family. Right before the pandemic hit, she was filming a “demanding” role in God’s Country. And before that, she spent 12 months on set of Westworld. Switching gears, Newton revisited her 16-year-old self. “I had no sense of myself,” she reflected. “There was a lot that people could have been interested in me when I was young. They didn’t want to express it, because they didn’t want to praise the Black girl.”
The petite actress learned early how undervalued Black women are. She remembers her childhood dance teacher who never rewarded her performances despite her being a star ballet student. “We didn’t talk about it at the time, but the damage was so done. It just made me super-vulnerable to predators.” Overcompensating became a coping mechanism she would carry with her to Hollywood. It eventually led to an eating disorder.
“It was like I had to give something back for being noticed,” she explained. “You get predators and sexual abusers, they can smell it a mile off. It’s like a shark smelling blood in the water. All you need is one of those to really drive you into the dust. In a way, an eating disorder was just like, Okay, I need to finish myself off. I need to get fully rid of myself now.
Newton was 16-years-old when she was groomed by director John Duigan, an experience she’s talked about in detail. Oddly, some chose to describe their relationship as an affair. He was 39-years-old at the time. “It’s like re-abuse. I think the reason I talked about it a lot, too, is I’m trying to find someone who understands. I’m looking for help. It’s so fucking obvious to me. What is the point if we don’t expose what needs to be exposed?” On another occasion, Newton recalled meeting with Hollywood exec Amy Pascal, who was courting the Emmy Award winning actress for a role in Charlie’s Angels. But according to Pascal, she wasn’t believable as the character and therefore should shake her booty on top of the bar. Newton turned down the role because she refused to be objectified. She touched on the horrific casting couch incident that rocked headlines in 2016.
“I’ve got my little black book, which will be published on my deathbed.” She won’t mention the casting producer by name. “Got to leave something behind, love. I’m not doing it when I’m alive. I don’t want to deal with all the fallout and everyone getting their side of the story. There is no side of the story when you’re sexually abused. You give that up,” she said.
There was something else plaguing Newton’s on a personal level, never feeling Black enough. Despite being completely different, she and Halle Berry shared the fact they’re both biracial.
“Quite interesting that we both have one white parent,” she said. With a Black mother and white father, she yearned to be fully accepted by the Black community. “Like on my Instagram, it’s always my mum. I don’t put my dad up much, and that’s 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. All my fucking career, I felt like, to Black people, I’m not a legitimate Black person.”
Despite the blessings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she regrets taking on the role of in Half of a Yellow Sun because of her fair complexion.
“I recognize how painful it is for dark-skinned women, particularly, to have to deal with being substituted or overlooked. For example, you watch Queen & Slim. I look at Jodie [Turner-Smith]. Or, you look at Lupita [Nyong’o].
To see a woman of color, to see that dark skin, that beautiful chocolate skin, my mother’s skin, onscreen … It’s holy. I do see so clearly why there’s been so much deep disappointment.”
Newton is still healing from all the traumas she faced in the industry. She went on to talk about being intimidated by Tom Cruise. Her horrific experience working on the set of Crash and being killed off Rogue in the most degrading way. But at the core of Newton’s experiences in Hollywood, is a cautionary tale that will spare another. She’s lived. She’s learned and she’s thriving.