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

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

The Miles Ahead star reveals just how racist show business is.

Published February 19th

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.”

Miles Ahead hits select theaters on April 1. Check out this throwback clip of Don Cheadle getting the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards in 2007, below:

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(Photos from top: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images, Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Leisure Opportunities)

Written by Evelyn Diaz

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