‘The Get Down’ Actor Justice Smith On Biracial Actors: “We’re Not A Monolith”



Netflix’s ‘The Get Down‘ has had little trouble making waves in TV’s realm this year thanks to a viewer-pulling performance by Jaden Smith.

Fortunately, according to its leading man Justice Smith, its impact extends further than ratings for him and people of colour.

Find out why below…

As a mixed kid, people want to categorize you as one thing or the other, and I’m proud to be black and I’m proud to be white, because I’m both of those things.I’m a biracial human being. I’m not one or the other. People will try to compartmentalize your characteristics, like you dance well because you’re black, but then you talk like that because you’re white. It’s like, No. I talk and act and dance and do this stuff because that’s me. That’s Justice. That’s how I was raised. That’s how my environment was. There are no biological characteristics that comes with race. We’re not a monolith.

Justice had this to say when discussing the treatment of biracial actors during an interview with ‘Vulture.’

He revealed that he is often told that he is not “black” or “white” enough to take on certain roles.

A lot of roles would come my way that were written for black actors and it would always say things like “addressing his dark skin” and I’m like, well, I don’t have dark skin. That’s why I wanted to do this project so much because I got a lot of roles like that in the beginning where all the roles for black actors take place in the ghetto and they all talk in African-American Vernacular English. They’re all talking about race relations and the struggle, or there are a lot of roles that are thugs and gangsters, which is fine because that’s part of the black experience, but if that’s all that we’re making and that’s all that we’re creating, then that’s all the mass of people are going to see us as, which is why we need to create diverse roles for diverse people and not just have “Oh, well I have diversity in my show because I have this black guy.

Why ‘Down’ is different?

I like this show because it’s set in an urban context and it’s about urban life and it’s about the ghetto, but the characters are not monolithic. We have an array of people of color and they’re all different types of people. Ra Ra is not the same as Boo Boo is not the same as Shaolin Fantastic. Books is a very sensitive; he cries and you don’t really see that often in narratives about urban life. I would get sent out for a lot of black roles that I don’t connect to. I actually connect to this white role, and they’d be like, “We can’t send you in for that.” When I walk in the room for these black roles they laugh at me because I’m this light-skinned biracial dude walking in the room, talking the way that I talk, and they’re like, “Why is he here?” I’ve walked in the room and the casters have said, You’re so cute. I’m like, I didn’t get this role. Or I’ll be right for the role, but I’m not dark enough. If that’s happening then why can’t I also be sent out for these white roles? My agent would always say, we know you’re not the right skin color for this, but there’s no hurt in going out for this role because casting directors can see your abilities. That makes a lot of sense to me, but why can’t you send me out for the white roles as well? If they’re not going to cast me regardless, at least they can see that I can act and I can portray this character.


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  1. Aunt_Jackie September 5, 2016

    Interesting read – he should know, though – that there are also plenty of darker skinned actors that connect with character’s they will never be allowed to play. There are women who connect with roles that could be played by anyone, but are constantly cast as male. Typecasting is a major issue in Hollywood because it’s a conservative, reactive, money driven industry that doesn’t like to take what it sees as “risks”.

    His problem is a broader problem, and contextualizing his remarks would make him sound much more informed, instead of like a stereotypical “tragic mulatto”.

  2. #justsayn September 5, 2016

    Race is not just determined biologically but it is also determined by how the world views you. The world sees him not biracial but as black… He should embrace it & move on… but be proud of your blk side & white side.

    • Merideth September 5, 2016

      No you see him as black. This new generation is slowy but surely waking up from this one drop bull. I see a biracial kid. Why are black people always discussing mixed people identities. He is speaking from his life, not yours or mine. Just stop spreading this Jim Crow mess. Who are you to speak for the world? Some countries dont even have race bubbles. This stuff gets tiring coming from urban platforms. Its always an easy bait to get people up in arms about someone else’s DNA. I am proud of my mixed heritage. You can label us all you want, but you will never change my genetics.

      • Hmmm… September 5, 2016

        @Meridith I’m biracial. Samoan and Black. I identify with both sides and you’re right about the one drop used being instituted to maintain slavery and racism, however, you must not know the whole story because your response is very naive, given that race is a social construct that has absolutely nothing to do with DNA or genetics. It’s about how you look. It’s ALWAYS been about how you look. You have to put things in context. If you want to talk about biology, this is the wrong conversation because this is not a scientific issue, it’s a social one. Slavery wasn’t even initially about “race”. It was about money. When the powers that be were worried that the poor black people and the poor white people would ban together in rebellion against the elite, race was injected into the system. LBJ said it best, (even tho I don’t like him?). “If you convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t know you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”. Race was created based on the pigmentation of your skin, not your biological makeup. It didn’t matter if your father was white. As long as your mother’s black, you’re a slave. That’s why so many black women were r aped, and so many black men were castrated.

        Race is only used, or should only be used today politically and socially as we still live in a racist world and yes, the entire point is that it doesn’t matter what you identify as, this racist world will see you as black. Period. We aren’t saying that we agree with it, we aren’t saying that it’s okay, but it’s reality. I’m also not saying that we should accept it either, but I am saying that you should not be so naive to think that when a raging racist is looking for n’s to kill he’s gonna stop when he gets to my brown self and go, “Oh, you’re only 50% black, let me leave you alone.”. We’d be foolish to live that way.

    • #justsayn September 5, 2016


      Everything i stated was tfrom my race & minority relations class last semester! Race will NEVER be solely determined from who your parents are! Race is mainly determined how u look! That is a fact straight from a text book! So i do not just see him as black the world does sweety!

      • Bey Sting September 5, 2016

        Race is determined by how you look. I have biracial friends who look white and tell me that they are treated differently in public than their darker siblings

  3. Suicide Blonde September 5, 2016

    So he thinks he’s both black and white, boy, you could be mixed, but you ain’t white, I don’t know why is so difficult for biracial people to identify as black, no one is two races, you can be mixed, but you either black or white, almost all African Americans have some European blood in them, does that make them white?….No.

    • Merideth September 5, 2016

      Please stop. You have no right to force anyone into your box. You cannot change his parents. He is both. Deal. Leave him alone. There are no rules. His DNA is not yours to discuss. Stop the slave master brainwashing.

    • Coolness September 5, 2016

      In today’s trash commentary… You have NO RIGHT to tell him what to identify as.

    • Amerikkka’s Most Wanted ~tyler September 5, 2016

      Why are you always trying to dictate what people should and shouldn’t identify themselves as ? This is 2016 not 1816. You don’t OWN anybody .

    • Danzou September 5, 2016

      Suicide blonde is a damn fool. He thinks the moors were white.

  4. Bam Bam September 5, 2016

    I would have to disagree with Jaden being the “drawing” point of the show. The dude who plays Shaolin Fantastic is by far the best thing about that show.

  5. Blue September 5, 2016

    Im sorry but he is black. In southern Africa there are people of mixed heritage that have their own culture and are their own etbnic group now, they are called coloureds, but identify as black and trust they look more white than him.

  6. Blue September 5, 2016

    Also the pity my kind story is a little dry when light skinned black people stand a greater chance being cast for a role that calls for a black actor than a dark skinned actor.

  7. FASHION_ICON ~ Anti&Lemonade September 5, 2016

    When i am in Europe and Africa people label me as kind of white….
    But when i go to the usa people say i am black …
    Indeed it’s depend of the environnement you live at.
    But personally i know i am both side …in the winter i look whiter but when the summer comes i look more black
    .it’s depend of so many things the way you look at yourself and the way people see you
    I get what it on want to say

  8. Danzou September 5, 2016

    Once a person identifies themselves then that’s the end of it. However it’s been proven that white people are genetically deficient and don’t mix well with other DNA. That’s where the one drop comes from. Whether you’re Asian or black one you mix with white people your DNA takes over because white people technically aren’t supposed to exist.

  9. Danzou September 5, 2016

    Let’s stop being naive here and let’s stop being so willing to avoid white people’s feelings. They are genetically inferior. It’s the truth. It doesn’t make anyone better than them as people and they deserve happiness like the rest of us however on a purely genetic level white people literally would not have survived this long without race tactics such as euro centric beauty standards and segregation as well as the willy lynch letters.

  10. Danzou September 5, 2016

    I’m tired of light skin people playing the victim. It’s annoying. Biracial people are kind of annoying as well when they’re mixed with white and black because the majority of them switch who they identify with depending on who they’re around.

  11. Danzou September 5, 2016

    Unless you’re mixed with two melanin races then you’re black period.

  12. Nowqd Reddish tran ivy blobukz Need UK timely Ukuno eremixi September 5, 2016


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