‘What next, a white Rosa Parks?’ Internet clashes over black model cast to play English Queen Anne Boleyn

Black model Jodie Turner-Smith is set to play 16th-century Queen of England Anne Boleyn, who was, of course, a white woman. The head-scratching choice tore the Internet apart, many suggesting it amounted to cultural appropriation.

Turner-Smith’s turn as the medieval monarch was announced on Friday. The project was described by entertainment outlet Deadline as being a three-part “convention-defying” psychological thriller by Channel 5, set to “shine a feminist light” on the life of Boleyn, famously sent to her death by her husband King Henry the Eighth.

Social media quickly began overflowing with complaints about Turner-Smith playing a white queen. Commenters demanded “historical accuracy” and called it “cultural appropriation” – a term usually used when white people emulate other cultures. Many said that, logically, the Turner-Smith casting as Boleyn should be no more acceptable than a white person playing a well-known black historical figure.

Others mocked the future series by riffing on the concept of ‘whitewashing’ prominent people of color in history, noting how ridiculous it would be for them to be played by white actors. Some proposed that the US civil rights era heroes Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks be played by Caucasian actors, along with the South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.

Another group, however, clapped back, pointing out that white actors have frequently played Middle-eastern and North African characters. “People freaking out about Anne Boleyn being played by a Black woman were remarkably quiet every time Jesus was played by a white man,” quipped activist Matthew Hodson.

But there was at least as much positive reaction as there was negative to the announcement. Many praised Channel 5, saying that race was unimportant, and that the future onscreen queen simply “oozed regality.”

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