Jeffrey Wright is generating Oscar buzz for his role in Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” which sees the actor playing a highly educated Black intellectual who finds mainstream success when he dumbs down his own writing to align it with white audiences’ vision of the Black experience. The film, which won the People’s Choice Award at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, has been praised by many as an evisceration of the boxes in which Black artists and writers are often placed.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly to promote the film, Wright recalled an experience when his own ability to express himself was hindered in a similar way. After filming Ang Lee’s 1999 Western “Ride with the Devil,” in which he played a former slave who fights guerrilla warfare battles in the American Civil War alongside the man who bought his freedom, Wright was asked to overdub a scene where his character repeatedly says a racial slur. Although the cut was intended for airplane and cable TV releases with stricter censorship rules, the actor said that he refused because he felt that the use of the word was artistically significant.

“In this scene in which he has this, kind of the apex of his awakening and his need to emancipate himself, he says, ‘Being that man’s friend was no more than being his n—–. And I will never again be anyone’s n—–,’” Wright said. “And it’s such a self-empowering statement and understanding of the word.”

But after he refused, Wright said that another actor was hired to dub the line over in his place. He explained that he still views the experience as an example of the way the entertainment industry has worked to protect people’s ability to live in ignorance about sensitive topics.

“I said, ‘Nah. That’s not happening.’ And they found some other actor to come in and do that one word, apparently,” he said “So that the airplane folk would be comfy in the darkness of their own ignorance around the language of race.”

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