Ruth Negga Talks Race and Identity in The Irish Times

Ruth Negga has built an illustrious acting career portraying an extensive range of characters. From her Oscar-nominated role in Loving to the titular role in a recent stage adaptation of Hamlet, Negga’s ability to depict such diverse roles reflects her own intellectualization of what it means to embrace one’s identity.

In a recent profile in The Irish Times, the ICM Partners’ client reflected broadly on this subject. Negga spoke about her own background, and the formative moments and influences that helped define the intelligent, soulful woman she is today. Born in Ethiopia but raised in Limerick, Ireland, Negga recalled that while she did not grow up in a racist environment, she “didn’t have very many other black people around…I had to seek out that identity for myself so I read books; books and films. I read the Malcolm X biography, I absolutely fell in love with him, and then I just became obsessed with black American history.”

However, despite connecting with the powerful voices she has read (she cited Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Spike Lee, W.E.B. DuBois, and Haile Selassie) and the professional success she has achieved, the actress still feels a need to be territorial over her identity “because it’s been hijacked by so many people, with their own projections.”

When asked to comment on these racial divides, which are of course receiving heightened attention at the moment, Negga expressed hope for change.

“Things are shifting now but there’s a long way to go. The success of Black Panther – people were in shock – but it wasn’t a shock to black people. [There was this] denial for ages that black films can’t make money, of course they can, [there’s been a] willful exclusion. If I see more than one black crew member, I get the shock of my life, that has to change, we need to be reflected in this industry… and I think what’s happening now, this movement, this is our opportunity to precipitate change and we can’t let this opportunity go.”

Change, Negga suggested, will only occur by holding those in positions of power accountable to take action, and by creating more opportunities for black voices and black stories to be heard.

“Having black voices being heard, black writers in the room, having black studio heads, having more black agents. I have a black agent, I’m very lucky. There’s not a lot of us in this industry. [We need more black people] in the corridors of power. Certainly shining a light, on talking about this, pushing that [door] open, out of the darkness into the light.”

The full article is available to read here.