Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Chiwetel Ejiofor

By Andrea Plaid

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Via blogs.thestage.co.uk

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Via blogs.thestage.co.uk

Anyone who know me very well just waited for me to write this one. Something about his beauteous combination of brilliance and chest hair keeps me on Team Chiwetel.

This week’s Crush started life in London, born to Nigerian parents and with the name Chiwetelu Umeadi Ejiofor. And he started his acting career when he was 13 doing school plays and getting accepted into the National Youth Theatre, whose alums include Daniel Day-Lewis, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, and Derek Jacobi.

There’s a standing theory in acting that theater thespians are the best-trained ones because they’re used to doing their work in the relatively untricked-out environment of the stage. Ejiofor’s accolade-laden career so far may offer some proof of that theory: he’s been given some of the highest nominations and awards in British  theater, including the Ian Charleson Award for his interpretation of Romeo in Romeo And Juliet; London Evening Standard‘s Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer and a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the play Blue/Orange; his turn as drag queen Lola in Kinky Boots got British Independent Film Award,  Golden Globe, and BAFTA Rising Star nods; another Golden Globe nod and an NAACP Image Award nod for his work in Tsunami: The Aftermath; an Independent Spirit Award and an African American Film Critics Association Award for his role as radio-station manager Dewey Hughes in Talk To Me. And Ejiofor snagged the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for his turn as Othello in 2008. All of his incredible actorliness earned Ejiofor  the honorific of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2008, too.

US audiences may remember Ejiofor as Ensign James Covey, the interpreter in Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad (he was 19 years old when he did it) or in Love, Actually. I personally remember him–more specifically, his almost-omniscient eyes and anchoring steeliness in the face of human chaos–in the anti-human trafficking indie flick Dirty Pretty Things (for which he won the Best Actor prize as the British Independent Film Awards, among many awards and nominations), the hold-up-you’re-the-bad-guy revolutionary in Children Of Men, and Denzel Washington’s got-your-back-and-your-common-sense partner in Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Ejiofor is the lead in Steve McQueen’s highly anticipated historical drama Twelve Years A Slave, and he’s also on the list of actors to play T’Challa (a.k.a. Black Panther) in a proposed movie project from the Marvel Comics movie division. 

When talking about race and racism in acting–especially in regards to his participation in the British jazz-age drama Dancing On The Edgein an interview earlier this year, he says:

I’ve been fortunate to be able to do a lot of different things. I haven’t felt any frustration [about parts he's been able to play]. In certain areas, British films don’t have as many black characters [as US films] and in other areas they do.

Then he adds this insight about race relations in the UK, then and now:

The Second World War simplified things like race, and people came down on very clear lines. I feel like modern-day racial discussions are much more complicated. At any given point, different sides of that argument are winning or pushing their viewpoint forward. ‘Winning’ in inverted commas. The perception is always that things get more liberal, but that’s not always how it works. The investigation of race politics in the Thirties and people’s openness had an interesting parallel. Paul Robeson would be playing Othello, as opposed to Laurence Olivier. And even though him kissing Peggy Ashcroft would mean that some people would walk out, some others would think it was brilliant and take it back to the States. But then, 20 years later, that sort of dynamic was impossible for a while.

And, if you want to know about my simplified theory about chest hair…feel free to drop a note at the R’s Tumblr. ;-)

 

  • racialicious

    Hey–Andrea here. Bite your tongue! :-D I think he looks rather cute in his Shakespearian garb. The photos is also a subtle tribute to the R’s Owner/Editor, Latoya Peterson, who loves photos of Black folks doing the Bard’s works.

  • racialicious

    Andrea here. I saw him in that and, as much as I looooooooove Ejiofor, that role made me roll my eyes. Perhaps a bit of chest hair may have alleviated my annoyance a bit. ;-)

  • http://www.zoomis.com/ Daman Bahner

    He also had an interesting role in Woody Allen’s Melinda & Melinda.

  • ladyfresh

    Absolutely.

  • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

    Chiwetel Ejiofor is a wonderful actor!
    Great crush choice!

  • Greg_G

    For those that haven’t seen him in the film Redbelt, written and directed by David Mamet, he is incredible.

  • faraic

    An interview I did with him on NPR. He is crushworthy: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90323110

    • racialicious

      Oooooooooo! Thank you, Farai, for the link!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Akins/694459632 Kim Akins

    You missed one – His turn as the Operative in “Serenity.” He took what should have been a one note character and turned it into a reasoned, sensitive assassin who you could actually root for.

    • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

      Yes he was great in that role, the whole film was good!
      I did not root for him per se, because he was the ‘villain’ of the piece but he was compelling. : )

    • racialicious

      Hey Kim–it’s Andrea. You’re right, I did. But purposefully: I wrote about the films that I personally remember him being in and the movies that I knew people over the years referred to that crossed-checked with the movies I found out he was in. Et voila–Armistad and Love Actually. But there’s a link in the post where you can see his filmography, which includes his Serenity role.