Life: Sci-fi film star Ariyon Bakare on identity politics, Samuel L Jackson’s Get Out comments and getting ahead as a British black actor

British actor Ariyon Bakare stars in the new sci-fi extravaganza Life opposite Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Fergusson and Jake Gyllenhaal. They play astronauts on the International Space Station who have just discovered the existence of life on Mars. But before you can say David Bowie, the little critter is trying to kill them. What then unfolds is the scariest space opera since Aliens

When the first trailer for Life launched last October, it was cut to make it look like Bakare was going to die, and social media lit up with comments about how the black dude is always dying first in movies. 

It was a reaction that made the 45-year-old British actor sad. “That was pure identity politics,” says the Brit. “That was quite upsetting. I understand why people thought that, but I hoped that we could rise above it. We are a multicultural cast and this is 2017.

“The real reason it’s upsetting to me is that we have the idea that the lowest strata of society is the black man so we think it’s the norm for a black man to be considered disposable,” he states. “I’m hoping it’s changing and it’s changing. The general consensus at the moment is that everyone is politicising more.” 

Bakare as Derry and Hiroyuki Sanada as Murakami in ‘Life’

And how black actors are treated in cinema is big news. Last year the British Film Institute’s Black Star season just seemed to highlight how far Britain still needs to go to achieve diversity. There was also the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that led to the American Academy inviting a more diverse membership to join, a move that made it more than coincidence when Moonlight won the Oscar this year. 

In the past month we’ve had the British Westworld star Thandie Newton complain that the preponderance of period dramas in the UK has meant that she can’t find roles on British television and then almost as a counter balance to that, Samuel L. Jackson suggested that black British actors were only being used so…

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