By Tom Goulde, Film & TV Deputy Digital Editor
‘I hope people listen to black people more. You’d be surprised how little people listen to black people when it comes to racial issues.’
Daniel Kaluuya was born to working class Ugandan parents in Kentish Town. The odds, unfortunately, were against him; Kaluuya remarked that ‘being young, working class, and black, everything you do is policed.’ However Kaluuya always had a mind for writing and wrote his first play at the age of nine; Kaluuya remembered being at school and writing down phrases that his friends would say that he found amusing: he seemed to be destined for a role in entertainment.
Growing up Kaluuya was involved in improvisational theatre and got his first big break in the cult classic Skins (2007-2013). In the original, and best if you ask me, cast of Skins playing Posh Kenneth, Kaluuya did not play a major role but was great comic relief when storylines got tough as they often did. This was not Kaluuya’s breakthrough however, for a number of years after Skins, he made guest appearances on comedy TV shows. As well as this he acted onstage in Sucker Punch, something that was dear to him.
Kaluuya’s true breakthrough came in 2011 when he starred in the second ever episode of Black Mirror (2011-) titled “Fifteen Million Merits.” As a bit of a Black Mirror superfan this is the first time I saw Kaluuya act. Even though it is not one of my favourite episodes, Kaluuya captured my attention and I became invested in seeing more of his filmography. It was not only me who wanted to see more of Kaluuya after this, a certain Jordan Peele was captivated by his performance and approached Kaluuya to star in his first feature film, Get Out (2017).
‘“Diverse” is a cancerous word because it's life. It's a PC way of saying 'non-white,' and it ultimately suggests that white is the standard.’
Get Out, a brilliantly enticing and tense movie, stars Kaluuya as its main protagonist and marks clear harsh realities about the nature of racism in the West. Kaluuya, a Brit, plays an American but understood the importance of his character saying that ‘Racism isn't just in America... alienation is felt worldwide in different capacities.’ Kaluuya embraced what came with starring in this film, he knew he needed to stand up for diversity in the industry and it is something he has been very open about it since Get Out.
In an interview during the press junket for Get Out, Kaluuya stated that ‘I just want to tell black stories’ but also highlighted that this should not be necessary, saying that ‘You're getting singled out for the color of your skin, but not the content of your spirit… That's my whole life, being seen as "other."’ Kaluuya, since Get Out, has continued to be a prominent black voice in an industry that is constantly trying to improve and adapt.
However, like Kaluuya notes, it is not nearly changed enough yet and not only the industry, our society itself still has a lot to do until we reach a level of equality. Kaluuya, especially has been very vocal on the use of the word ‘diverse’. Kaluuya identifies this word as dangerous as, in his own words, ‘“diverse” is a cancerous word because it's life. It's a PC way of saying 'non-white,' and it ultimately suggests that white is the standard.’
‘You're getting singled out for the color of your skin, but not the content of your spirit… That's my whole life, being seen as "other."’
Since Get Out, Kaluuya has starred in both Black Panther (2018) and Widows (2018). Kaluuya is brilliant in both films and firmly has a place in my mind as one of the best truly British actors around at the moment. About his performances in these films Kaluuya said that ‘I have to own the fact that I'm a black man - that's why I did Black Panther and Widows because if I play the industry game, I lose.’
Kaluuya is an inspiration for many aspiring actors and shows, proving through his wide range of roles that you do not have to ‘play the industry game’ to be a successful actor. Widows, which is a lesser known film from 2018, is absolutely amazing and his performance in that was truly special. The rapping scene is my favourite from the movie and Kaluuya plays a large part in making that film one of my favourites from last year.
Daniel Kaluuya is an important figure to look at this Black History Month because, not only is he a great actor and I suggest everyone watches his films, he also has a prominent and important voice in society at this tense time. Kaluuya, is not pushing for everyone to tell him how amazing he is because he is black, instead he asks people to see him as an 'individual'. Kaluuya’s engaging worldview helps him stand out from the crowd and with a number of films currently in production, he will continue to be a great actor and an important voice in the years to come.
Featured: IMDb / Christopher Polk
How long have you been following Kaluuya's meteoric career ascent?