Hollywood has long been accent confused; the mere hint of an accent is meant to suffice for any nationality on Earth. Britons generally serve as the universal go to voice for any global race, as Britons have systematically portrayed German Nazis (Valkyrie, The Eagle Has Landed), Vikings (The 13th Warrior), and most recently North Africans/Egyptians (Exodus: God and Kings). We are forced and made to believe that any accent is better than no accent at all, an absurdly pervasive premise that is shoved down our movie going throats on a regular basis. It hearkens back to the days of ingorance when Laurence Olivier and Constantin Stanislavski portrayed the Moorish character Othello, and the screen was full of white men and women masquerading as Asians and Native Americans (such as Stephen Macht as Heavy Eagle in The Mountain Men), and every other non white ethnicity on the planet. Only in the very recent modern times have ethnicities been able to…shocker…portray themselves.
A classic example of accent forgiveness is Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Costner’s 1991 take on the legendary English tale. As is commonly known, Robin Hood was the fabled English outlaw of Sherwood Forest who challenged the evil authority of the Sheriff of Nottingham, robbing from the rich and winning the hearts of the poor on his way to literary glory. It would be assumed that, portraying such a well known figure of English lore, either an Englishman would assume the role, or someone that was adequately capable of producing the necessary English-ness that would make believers out of even the most discerning viewers. Instead, we got Kevin in his most typical All-American self, with zero (and I mean zero) hint of credibility that he is the famous English longbowman who made the forest of Sherwood his bitch. We got Robin of Cincinnati, who sticks out like a sore thumb as the only one sounding like he’s from Akron, Ohio while being surrounded by a largely British cast. Even Morgan Freeman got his Moor on, while Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio sufficiently mustered thinly veiled European impressions. I remember seeing this film in the theater as a kid, and even then thinking “what the hell”. Behold, Robin of Montana in all his American splendor.
Wisely, they kept the original trailer dialogue free, which deftly concealed his distinct American-ness. This wordless 2 minutes of trailer quite effectively duped the public.
While the prevalence of Africans in Europe is well known, many accounts have been relegated to dusty footnotes, poorly documented, or lost entirely to history. John Blanke, musician, was more than likely brought to England as part of Catherine of Aragon’s retinue in 1501, and as such, is among the earliest recorded Africans in England during the time period.
Existing court records document his wages; 8d per day under Henry VII, as well as a document listing 20 shillings during November 1507.
The Westminster Tournament Roll, a 60 foot long manuscript commemorating the royal festivities celebrating the birth of Henry VIII’s son in 1511, depicts an African twice; it has been determined that this man, shown with trumpet in hand and wearing the royal arms, is John Blanke. Unfortunately, little else is known of Mr. Blanke, but his importance to history is tremendous.
Look him up!
Managed to become the first black man to represent England in an international rugby match in 1906, but due to racial bias, was later withdrawn from national selection. Nicknamed “Darkie Peters”, the highly regarded athlete went on to represent his country several times between 1906 – 1908 (the South African national team refused to play against him), as well as serve out a lengthy and distinguished playing career in rugby league and union as a member of Plymouth Albion and Devon.