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Star Wars’ Billy Dee Williams on Blackface: ‘You Should Do It!’

Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams Return of the Jedi


  • On Bill Maher’s podcast, Billy Dee Williams reminisced about Laurence Olivier doing blackface in
    , finding it funny even though it’s considered taboo today.
  • He rejects being labeled African-American, citing his diverse heritage, which influences his views on race and acting.
  • The conversation with Maher is a weird and wild one.

The legendary Billy Dee Williams, famous for playing Lando Calrissian in Star Wars and Harvey Dent in Batman (1989), sat down for a bizarre (though honest and congenial) conversation with television personality Bill Maher for his Club Random podcast. It was an awkward conversation with a lot of interruptions and digressions, lapses of memory and grumpy rambling (“I don’t know what this generation is all about,” Williams says to Maher’s agreement). Maher is not a fan of woke ideology and ‘the kids today,’ but even he was shocked by Williams’ laissez-faire attitude about race and racism — and blackface.

The discussion about blackface began with Williams recounting a story about Laurence Olivier doing blackface in his 1965 production of Shakespeare’s Othello. “The thing I always loved about Olivier,” began Williams, “I remember we used to have a lot of discussions. I was just a 23-year-old kid.”

“He must have tried to f**k you,” interjected Maher.

“The first time I met him I gave him a kiss on the cheek. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, this guy thinks I’m gay.’ […] Guys have hit on me all my life,” continued Williams. “The thing I liked about Olivier —”

“His balls tasted good?” said Maher, laughing to himself.

“You’re ridiculous,” replied Williams before complimenting Maher’s shoes (the whole conversation is scrambled like this). “He was doing a play with Anthony Quinn at the time, Beckett, he was right next door to us in New York […] I said to him, ‘Have you ever thought of playing Othello?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I always thought about playing Othello.’ Do you know who Paul Robeson is?”


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“Yeah, I was just going to say,” replied Maher. “For the people who don’t know what Othello is, and I know you hate to talk about race, but Othello is a Shakespearean play. He’s a Moor, he’s Black, he’s from Africa […] So race is relevant here. Sometimes, race has to be brought up. So Olivier would have had to have done it in blackface.”

“He did. He finally did it.”

“In blackface?”

“He said he always had this vision of [Paul] Robeson, his stature, and his voice […] So finally when he did it, he filmed it, if you ever get a chance to see it, it’s really interesting,” continued Williams. “When he did Othello, he stuck his ass out and walked around —”

“Problematic,” mumbled Maher.

“You know, because Black people are supposed to have big asses?” clarified Williams matter-of-factly. “I fell out of my chair laughing. I thought it was hysterical. I loved it. But see, I love that kind of stuff.”

“I agree, but here’s the thing. Today, they would never let you do that,” said Maher.


“Blackface!?” asked Maher.

“Why not? You should do it,” said Williams emphatically. “If you’re an actor, you should do anything you want to do. ”

“That’s a great point of view,” replied Maher, “but the theater would be bombed.”


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Billy Dee Williams Rejects ‘African-American’ Label

Perhaps blackface doesn’t mean anything to Williams because he isn’t concerned at all with race. Maher began the interview saying, “You were an African-American movie star in a time when —” before Williams immediately cut him off.

African-American? What’s that?” asked Williams.

“Of, for f**k’s sake,” sighed Maher.

“I’ve got Indian blood in me. I’ve got Cherokee Indian and Irish, I’ve got African, I’ve got the four spectrums of colors in me,” replied Williams.

“Whatever it is, you would have gotten parts if you came along in a different era later on, that you couldn’t get in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Maher.

“Well, that’s true of being Jewish,” shrugged Williams.

“That’s not true of being Jewish, in the ’70s and ’80s.” And the interview continued from there, awkwardly and with little thought applied before responses richoted around the room. You can check out the whole thing at the Club Random YouTube video here. Check out a fun blast from the past below where Williams spoiled Empire Strikes Back in an interview at the time.

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