Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 13, 2015

Saving Benedict

I Swear

Vic Fleming

We use the term ‘people of color’ in America. Is that immensely different to what he said? I don’t think so ….” David Oyelowo, British actor currently playing Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Selma.” He was in the BBC series “MI5” and in “The Butler” (2013), “Lincoln” (2012), and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). I’d say he’s doing pretty well for himself.

How odd that the usage different to arises in the media within days of my different column. I ran across different to in my research, but didn’t mention it. I can’t help wondering how Lee Martin, over at Vandy’s English Language Center, will receive this.

The above remark was spoken in defense of Benedict Cumberbatch, another British actor. Cumberbatch is nominated for Best Actor in “The Imitation Game.” He’s played the lead role in the BBC/PBS series “Sherlock” since 2010. In 2013 he was in “12 years a Slave” and “August: Osage County.” He’s doing okay, too. Or was.

In an interview with black radio talk show host Tavis Smiley, Cumberbatch said, “I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really difficult in the U.K. [A] lot of my friends have had more opportunities [in the U.S.], and that’s something that needs to change.”

So, Cumberbatch was saying that the U.K. needs to do better by its black actors, but he used the word “colored.” Understandably, the world reacted negatively. Starting on Twitter, about three seconds after the 38-year-old British actor made the remark. He was probably working on his apology before the interview was over.

By noon the next day, he had issued a mea culpa that goes down in my book as one of the best ever by a celebrity: “I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology,” he began. “I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive.” Well said, dude!

It continued for another paragraph and a half. Which, as I gauge it, is about when Oyelowo stepped up. Asked what he thought about “Colored-Gate,” Oyelowo replied, “I think it’s ridiculous. [From] what he was actually saying, it’s clear that he’s a huge supporter of black performers. To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in, where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance.”

Oyelowo’s final words on the topic bear repeating: “Excellence is the best weapon against prejudice. I intend to be part of the solution and not the problem. You’ve just got to keep on banging out good performances.”

That’s going to be my daily motto for the rest of the year. I’m going to try to bang out good performances in court. However, first, I’m going to call out Oyelowo for his grammar. Even though the British do say “different to,” different from was clearly called for. He should apologize! Right, Lee?

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.