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 “Downton Abbey” Adds Some Color To Its Cast- Clutch Magazine

Diversity isn’t always easy to find when it comes to television programming. But I’ve never been the type to discredit certain shows because of their lack of brown or black faces. Currently two of my favorite shows air on Sunday nights.  Since I don’t own a DVR, I’m constantly flipping back and forth between “The Walking Dead” on AMC and “Downton Abbey” on PBS. Two totally different shows.  Zombies and Aristocrats. “The Walking Dead” has somewhat of a diverse cast, but I won’t mention how pissed I was when T-Dogg got killed or how Michonne and her sword usually have very little to say, or the fact that Tyrese ran away from the prison scared shitless of Rick’s behaviour. But enough about zombies and human survival, “Downton Abbey” is making changes soon.

If you haven’t watched the show before, it’s a British period drama  set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey. It depicts the lives of a family of aristocrats and their servants in the post-Edwardian era. The story lines intertwine moments of history that had an effect on their lives. The series is set between 1912 and the 1920s. Last November, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, “Downton Abbey’s” creator Julian Fellowes said he would be open to diversifying the cast.  “Oh I think that’s rather a good idea. You have to work it in a way that is historically believable, but I am sure we could do that”.

Well it looks like “Downton Abbey” is adding a “splash” of color. According to casting notes obtained obtained by the Sun, the show is casting a black actor to play jazz musician,  Jack Ross, in the upcoming season.

The Sun reports:

Casting notes were sent out to actors’ agents earlier this month. They describe Ross as “Male, 25-30. A musician (singer) at an exclusive club in the 20s.‘He’s black and very handsome. A real man (not a boy) with charm and charisma.’ Whoever lands the role should ‘ideally be able to sing brilliantly’. Overall he should be a very attractive man with a certain wow factor.’ Jack Ross will play a key part in the fourth series of the hit TV saga alongside a string of other fresh faces.”

But not everyone is happy about the decision. Just take a look at a few of the comments in the article:

“love Downton Abbey but I wish there were areas in the British cultural history that were left alone by the PC brigade ! Why are they always trying to rewrite dramas about our own cultural towns and villages, firstly Midsomer Murders now this.   How many stately home families in the 20’s had even seen black people let alone let them mingle in their circles”

In Britain people complain about the diversity in “Downton Abbey”, in the U.S. some complain about it in “Girls”.  I’m going to assume this role will cast a black British actor, because unlike the casting that goes on in the United States, I doubt they’ll cast an American and make him put on his best British accent:

“My my my & it only took up to the fourth series to put a non white Actor in the show. That is why Black & Asian Actors go to America as they get more opportunities to become Actors as they are more forward. In England Black & Asian Actors are very limited even though the country is the biggest multi cultural country in the world”

I guess that comment explains why we have Idris Elba. The only two actors I can pick off the top of my head would be David Gyasi, who was in “Cloud Atlas” and Chiwetel Ejiofor, from “Children of Men” and the upcoming film “12 Years a Slave”.

In any event, if you’re into high society period dramas, I’d definitely recommend “Downton Abbey”, and you don’t even need cable television to watch it. Check out your local PBS listings for airing information.

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  • Every show on television does not need a person of color on it. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense and often times it is forced. This is a period piece, not a period fantasy. The likelihood of these characters interacting in a meaningful way with any people of color during this time period is nil. And if these shows were truly interested in diversity, they wouldn’t have introduced this black character in the 4th season. Don’t just randomly tack on a person of color for diversity’s sake. Include a person of color because it will add dimension to the story. When you add a poc well into the show’s run, it doesn’t sit too well with me and it probably won’t work.

  • omfg

    i watch downton abby – i like to listen to the language – and on some level i don’t care so much about whether they put black or indian characters in it.

    HOWEVER, it’s a bit of an historic piece. it has incorporated a bit of women’s suffrage issues, gay themes, irish rebellion issues, class issues…inserting race into the mix is not really a stretch.

    this is the 20s also known as the jazz age. there scene in a london club where there was a black jazz band playing and there were white folks in the club dancing. was an interesting moment – black american music being a vehicle for freedom for whites (particularly women) – in this club. lots of black musicians flocked to europe.

    beyond that i don’t know what the black presence was in england but given that they were still actively ruling folks in ghana, nigeria, india, etc. at this time, i would imagine these folks made their way to the uk.

    given all of this, it’s not really a stretch to have a black actor. i don’t know how common it would have been to see a black person working as a servant for this type of family though.

  • Treece

    To reiterate a bit on what has been said already, I don’t think Black characaters should be forced into series like Downton Abby. For the time period and setting of the show, there may not situations where the intersection of Black and White people simply won’t occur. Not to the extent where a permanent (or even semi-permanent) character who is Black should be added. I think it feels forced to the viewer, and we know when the produces and casting directors are just “throwing us a bone”. So the next question is why don’t we just make a show with a Black cast that is a period series? Why are we depending on Whites to do it for us/begging for said “bone”? If only it were that simple.

    There have been countless proposals brought tv studios and major networks for ALL KINDS of Black television series. None of them ever get the green light. If they do, the White execs want to change it up to make us look like clowns, buffoons, or make us play into every stereotype in the racist bible. So we are left with Black networks to help us out, right?? Not really. They pretty much do the exact same thing because they want White/other race viewership (of they only depended on Black people to watch there would be no network) so programming is either shows that have been proven successful before (repeats) or more buffoonery and stereotypes. Original tv shows on Black networks are also very, very short -lived. I don’t watch Downton Abby but there are shows I watch that have no, or few Black characters. While I don’t agree with forcing in Black character just to oil the squeaky wheel, I do think that sometimes it is necessary. I just hope the day will come soon where we’ll see another great Black series on tv and don’t have to accept mediocre attemps to shut us up by giving us a “charity” Black character.

  • Rue

    So who said Fellowes is forcing anyone on?!? I just hope he handles it well….