Why Was Don Cheadle Forced to Cast a White Actor in Miles Davis Biopic?


Don Cheadle had a great script, talented actors and the support of Miles Davis‘s family ready to go when he set out to make a biopic on the jazz legend’s life, but he couldn’t move forward without one key ingredient: a white co-star.

The Oscar nominated actor, who produced, co-wrote and stars in Miles Ahead, reveals that it wasn’t until he wrote the part of a fictional Rolling Stone reporter and cast Scottish hunk Ewan McGregor in the role that he got the green light for the project, despite raising $360,000 from crowdfunding.

Speaking on a panel at the Berlin Film Festival, he said it was “one of the realities of the business that we are in” that films with all-Black casts are thought to be bad investments because they allegedly won’t work for an international audience.

“There is a lot of apocryphal, not proven evidence that Black films don’t sell overseas,” he told reporters. “Having a white actor in this film turned out to actually be a financial imperative.”

In order to get foreign sales dollars to fund production, Cheadle says he was forced to rework the script, which focuses on a period in the late 1970s in which Davis fell into a creative slump, to include a shady reporter who follows around the trumpeter. Thankfully, Cheadle says, it turned out to be a good thing for the film.

“I think it works great, and particularly the fact that Ewan McGregor is the actor who is in it, I think he is fantastic in the movie,” he says. “But that was a component of… allowing us to even have a budget to get the film made.”


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