Black Actors Who Played White Characters

Color blind casting, or non-traditional casting, has opened up opportunities for Black actors, albeit slowly. There have been many Black actors who played white characters, but there’s still room for more diversity in Hollywood overall. 

White characters played by Black actors have paid off at the box office because audiences appreciate an excellent performance - regardless of race. While many fans reacted negatively the casting of Black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, others were excited that such an accomplished actress was stepping into the role. Even Potter creator J.K. Rowling defended the casting choice.

In many cases, Black actors who have taken on white roles have changed the way a character was seen forever. Red has been portrayed as Black ever since Morgan Freeman played the part in the film adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption. We will always think of Agent J in Men in Black as Will Smith. Michael Clarke Duncan was so perfect for The Kingpin in Daredevil, that Marvel wrote a tribute to the actor when he passed. 

This list looks at some of the top Black actors who played traditionally white characters. 

  • Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny
    Photo: United Artists & Sony Pictures

    Film: Skyfall

    Lois Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny for 23 years. Then four other actresses (Barbara Bouchet, Pamela Salem, Caroline Bliss, Samantha Bond) took on the role. Producers and cast kept the secret until Skyfall’s release in 2012, as Naomie Harris became the first Black Miss Moneypenny.

  • Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
    Photo: U.S. Dept. of the Treasury & Warner Bros.

    Film: Man of Steel

    Fishburne portrayed the first Black Editor in Chief at the Daily Planet in 2013’s Man of Steel. Several white actors, including John Hamilton, had portrayed the character up until then.

  • Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford

    Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford
    Photo: Orion & NBC

    TV Series: Hannibal

    Crawford has been played by Scott Glenn, Harvey Keitel, and Dennis Farina. Fishburne was tapped for the role of the FBI agent in the NBC series from 2013 to 2015.