In Depth

Downton Abbey casts Gary Carr as first black character

Hit ITV period drama criticised for lack of diversity is no longer 'the whitest show on earth'

gary-carr-1.jpg

DOWNTON Abbey is "no longer the whitest TV show on earth", says Jezebel. Why? The show has announced its first ever black character, a "charismatic and charming" jazz singer called Jack Ross. Former Death in paradise actor Gary Carr will play Ross in the show's fourth series, which will arrive on screens in Autumn 2013.

His casting comes after hit ITV drama's creator Julian Fellowes said he wanted to "open up the show ethnically". But for Filipa Jodelka in The Guardian, the news makes "uneasy reading". "Downton Abbey haven't introduced a character who is black. They have introduced a Black Character, which apparently warrants a press release", she writes. "By making his inclusion a talking point, the makers of Downton Abbey have placed a hundredweight of pressure on Gary Carr's shoulders".

As the New York Times notes, Downton Abbey has been criticised for its lack of diversity, even though it is a "series about white aristocrats and their servants in the early 20th century".  But producer Gareth Neame tells the paper's arts blog that the use of a black character in a show about 1920s England has nothing to do with "box-ticking". "We tried to reflect something that was accurate and that was going on at the time, while always thinking of ways to surprise and entertain, with all the twists and turns that we have."

Not everyone is so certain. One fan, commenting on the Radio Times website, argues that the introduction of Ross "follows the trend (stereotype?) of making prominent black characters in period dramas performing artists or sportspeople, to the exclusion of most other roles and professions".

Carr, 26, is one of many new faces in the ITV period drama's fourth series, which will feature opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, along with Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden, Nigel Harman, Joanna David and Dame Harriet Walter.

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