Nathalie Emmanuel is the 25-year-old British actress who plays Missandei on HBO’s popular series “Game of Thrones”. Missandei is one of the show’s few black characters, all of which have been slaves. In recent interview with Salon, Emmanuel gives some insight not only on the character, but also the slavery aspect and being the dark-skinned slaves being led to freedom by a blond girl.
In the United States, there is currently a lot of discussion of “good” and “bad” representations of African-Americans in popular culture. As a person of African descent, were you concerned at any point about portraying a former slave?
It’s definitely something you have to acknowledge. But people have asked me in the past whether it bothered me – the fact that there’s not many people of black origin on the show, and then the ones that are have come in and been slaves. But I just feel like, for whatever time period this show was set in, the reality is, if you were not a rich white person you would have been a slave. History just shows us that, right? It is such a hard thing, but I feel like what’s so great about both [Missandei and Grey Worm] is that, yes, they were slaves, but they’re very good at what they do. So, even though people might see that as a bad representation, I think it’s not because they are also both very smart, educated people as well – which is a positive thing, for sure. I definitely think about that because it is obviously a part of every black person’s history in a way, even though we’ve come so far.
And what about the image of an army of dark-skinned slaves being led to freedom by a little blond girl?
I think Daenerys is coming from a place where she was kind of sold, in a way. When she was married off to Drogo it was for an army. She was kind of passed around like currency, and I think it’s an issue that’s close to her. I don’t think it comes down to race. I think it comes down to relating to an experience and it actually being something that she felt. If you want to talk about whether it’s to the same extreme, she’s not necessarily going to have experienced the level of violence or abuse that maybe Missandei or Grey Worm would have in that kind of environment. But fundamentally she was sold for the advancement of somebody else, for her brother.
As a fan of “Game of Thrones”, it will be interesting to see the direction the show will take in regards to Missandei’s character. Emmanuel alluded to talks of a love interest sparking between the character and Grey Worm.