Word Failed Him

Benedict Cumberbatch: I’m an ‘Idiot’ for Describing Actors as ‘Colored’

The Oscar nominee triggered a social-media backlash by referring to non-white actors as “colored,” but issued a fulsome apology in a bid to quell the firestorm.

01.27.15 4:18 AM ET

Benedict Cumberbatch, the British actor who co-starred in the harrowing, Oscar- winning drama 12 Years A Slave, has issued a humiliating apology for using the word “colored” to refer to non-white actors on a PBS talk show in which he was discussing the fact that all this year’s Oscar nominations went to white actors.

The actor, who previously has spoken about slavers in his ancestry, was taking part in a discussion about the lack of opportunities for non-white actors when he used the term.

Talking on the Tavis Smiley show on PBS last week, Cumberbatch said: “I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really different in the U.K., and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in America] than in the U.K., and that’s something that needs to change.”

Among many hundreds of critical comments on Twitter and social media were those of British news broadcaster Charlene White.

In a fulsome apology issued through news agencies, Cumberbatch described himself as an “idiot” for using “outmoded terminology,” adding, “The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the UK and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term.

“I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner, please be assured I have.

“I apologize again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.”

A spokesperson for the anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card, told British newspaper The Independent: “Benedict Cumberbatch has highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society. In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language.”

The spokesperson added, “Appropriate terminology differs from country to country; for example, we know that in some countries the term ‘coloured’ is still widely used, and that in the US the term ‘people of colour’ is quite common.

“During our work with young people in schools ... we discuss appropriate language to use when describing people of different skin colours and backgrounds and explain why the term ‘coloured’ is no longer the best way to describe someone.” 

Got that Benedict?