This British Television Show Just Did Something Practically Unheard of in America


A new television thriller called Undercover is making history in Britain for casting black actors in all of its lead roles.

The show focuses on an attorney, played by Sophie Okonedo of Hotel Rwanda fame, who's set to become the first black director of public prosecutions while a black man, played by Dennis Haysbert (24), sits on death row wrongly accused of murder. Other actors include Daniel Ezra, Adrian Lester and Tamara Lawrence. The series, produced by the BBC, will also air on BBC America and is currently being filmed in Louisiana and the United Kingdom, according to Deadline.

There's been plenty of talk about diversity in show business. At Sunday night's Oscars, host Chris Rock let loose a rambling monologue that was at times incisive, and at other times offensive, about Hollywood's lack of diversity. "Is Hollywood racist?" Rock asked. "Hell yeah, Hollywood is sorority racist." Rock was responding to the deluge of criticism aimed at the Oscars that was summed up by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which led to several black actors opting out of attending the awards ceremony.

The news about Undercover comes just weeks after Idris Elba, one of Britain's most well-known black stars, spoke before British lawmakers about how difficult it was for him to find work in the U.K. 

Jordan Strauss/AP

"People in the TV world often aren't the same as people in the real world," Elba said, according to the Guardian. "And there's an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. I should know, I live in the TV world. And although there's a lot of reality TV, TV hasn't caught up with reality. Change is coming, but it's taking its sweet time."

Elba's comments showed that the problem wasn't limited to the United States. And he's right that change is happening, albeit slowly. Fox's Empire quickly captured the world's attention after it debuted in 2015, earning record ratings with a predominantly black cast. One of the biggest lessons from the show's tremendously successful first season, wrote Josef Adalian at Vulture, was that, "White viewers will watch a series boasting a mostly minority cast."

British casting directors seem to have taken note.