Michaela Coel and Lennie James among figures signing public letter of support for Anthony Ekundayo Lennon
Nearly 50 actors and writers including Michaela Coel, Clarke Peters, Lucian Msamati and Lennie James have signed a letter in solidarity with Anthony Ekundayo Lennon.
They argue that the theatre director has never misled anyone over his heritage and that criticising him takes energy away “from the real struggles that need to be fought”.
Lennon, who is on a two-year placement for black, Asian and minority arts leaders, became the subject of debate after reports claimed he had previously spoken about his white parentage.
Lennon had been quoted as saying that despite having white Irish parents, he identifies as mixed-race and has experienced the struggles of a black man because of his appearance.
Last week, Lennon said he had been made to feel like “a liar and a thief” because of the criticisms about his position.
In a letter published in the Guardian, a group of nearly 50 actors, writers, campaigners and producers voice their support for Lennon.
It says: “The fact that a group of black and ethnic minority arts practitioners like ourselves are prepared to come out in support of Anthony should communicate to the wider community that this story is not the ‘black and white’ narrative being presented by the media.
“For years we have been chronically under-resourced, and ineffective diversity measures and training initiatives have done little or nothing to remedy this situation.”
The letter argues that Lennon has “never misled anyone” about his heritage, and that frustration with the challenges facing artists of colour “needs to be targeted at cultural institutions and structural racism rather than individuals who fall outside easy racial classification”.
Signatories also include actors Shobna Gulati, Tanya Moodie and Adjoa Andoh, as well as playwrights Roy Williams and Suhayla El-Bushra and equalities campaigner Lee Jasper.
“The media narrative of a white man adopting a black identity to claim funding to which he was not entitled is not true and in no way does justice to the complexity of Anthony Ekundayo Lennon’s identity or the situation he was born into,” the letter argues, and warns there is a danger of people misunderstanding his background due to “inaccurate” and “narrowly researched” commentary on the situation.
Talawa’s artistic director Michael Buffong has also voiced his support for Lennon in an extended statement which argued for the “nuances and grey areas” within the situation.
He too recalls working with Lennon for a number of years and being aware of his mixed-race identity, but said he had only become aware of his white parentage about a year ago.
“This is a very unusual case and we do not think it undermines the support we provide to black and minority ethnic people within the theatre sector,” he said.