‘Downton Abbey’ has added their first black character for the fourth season

I’ve never really thought about how Downton Abbey is an overwhelmingly “white” show. I generally don’t think of diversity issues when it pertains to a period drama like Downton – sure, there were racial issues in the early part of the 20th century (even in Britain), but it just doesn’t seem like the kind of criticism that can be fairly lodged at a show like Downton. Realistically, I don’t see how an aristocratic family in 1922 would spend any time with any person of color IN England (exceptions: when one is abroad).

But Downton producers heard the “too white” criticism and they’re adding a black character. Don’t even skim down to the Deadline piece, just stay here with me for a moment – a black character in the 1920s. What does that make you think of? Of course, he has something to do with “jazz”. So obvious.

Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame said today that Gary Carr‘s addition to the ITV show “will bring interesting twists to the drama.” The actor has most recently been seen in BBC series Bluestone 42 and Death In Paradise.

His Downton character, Jack Ross, is a jazz singer described as “a charming and charismatic” young man. The addition marks the first time Downton has had a black character.

The show has in the past faced criticism that it lacks cultural diversity. In the fourth season, he’ll join previously announced new cast members Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden, Nigel Harman, Joanna David and Dame Harriet Walter. Shooting is currently underway for air later this year. Carr is repped by Markham, Froggatt and Irwin in London.

[From Deadline]

CB and I were talking about it and we’re sure he’s being brought in for that annoying new character Rose. Rose, who sleeps with married men and frequents jazz clubs. When I think about all of the moving pieces of Downton… the idea of Rose and a black jazz man doesn’t bug me. What would really bug me is if they brought Rose in to be Tom’s new girlfriend after Sybil passed away. THAT would be horrible. CB also thinks it’s possible that Gary Carr could be brought in for Edith, but I’m sure they’re going to keep going with this stupid “Edith is going to take a married lover” storyline, which is like straight out of Jane Eyre. Oh, and we already know that Mary is getting a new boyfriend too. Because Matthew Crawley and his tingles are GONE. Did you know Mrs. O’Brien is also gone for Season 4?

Meanwhile, did you hear that Downton is now going to be expanding into merchandising? Isn’t that a terrible idea? Producers tell Vanity Fair that there will soon be a Downton line including “fashion, apparel and homeware and furniture to wallpapers, beauty products and stationary.” OK, I might buy Downton stationary. MAYBE.

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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60 Responses to “‘Downton Abbey’ has added their first black character for the fourth season”

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  1. truthSF says:

    Ooh! Hi handsome. Can I have you for desse…I mean, Can you come over for dessert. :-D

  2. SageM says:

    I am still unsure as to whether I’ll watch season 4. Since the male lead got too big for his boots and left the show… not sure if there’s any point anymore.

    • Liv says:

      I was obsessed with season 1 & 2, but I’m kind of over it now. They lost me when they killed Sybil.

      I know they can’t do much when actors want to leave, but not every figure can die, that’s so stupid. They should have written Matthew out like he has to work in London or something like that. He could have been part of just one episode.

  3. Nev says:

    Amazing show. Sooooo enjoyable can’t wait!!!!

  4. Pixie says:

    He is SO funny in Bluestone 42 and a brilliant actor, I’ll definately be watching!

  5. lamamu says:

    Hate that O’Brian will be gone! She brought such great drama to the show.

  6. Meredith says:

    I don’t watch the show but I don’t agree it’s not “reflecting cultural diversity”. In that era in history in those social circles, there was no cultural diversity to be seen. So DA is pretty damn accurate. I think this character would be a great idea for the series but don’t parachute him in just to reflect a cultural diversity that simply wasn’t there at the time.

    • Soapboxpudding says:

      I agree. It was very exclusive. They didn’t even mix with non-aristocratic white people much.
      However, an East-Indian character would be more realistic given Britian’s colonial (and business) relationship with India.
      PS- Gary Carr is super HOT.

      • clutch says:

        Actually there was mixing among aristocrats from other cultures. Inter racial marriages were still illegal but theres evidence of liasons including a number of elopements. I do believe a Botswana prince who later became President had one such elopement with a titled lady.

        Ofcourse most friendships werent romantic in nature. Most were built around esteem that came from having princes from exotic places attend your dinner parties. Households that were intellectually inclined would have been especially drawn to those friendships. And ofcourse there were titled families with business interests in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who cultivated relationships

      • clutch says:

        My friend and i have just discussed this and she pointed out how influential film has been in how people view history. Which is sad because film makers are not historians. Nor are they great at capturing the nuances that great wealth introduces in race relations.

        Off topic but i am reminded of the thousands of black cowboys that were erased from our collective memories by simply never being depicted on film. Some census actually show they outnumbered white cowboys in places and yet for too many people, Django was the first film depiction they had seen. Its an off topic note but it should make us question where this super white idea of Post WW1 nobility came from, its certainly not accurate.

      • Sarah says:

        @ clutch
        Fascinating stuff you wrote. My parents are both from England. And people were shocked in 1944 when my English Anglican mother married a Catholic son of Irish immigrants (my father). That was a “mixed marriage” to them! But I agree completely that film makers are lousy historians. I cringe to think how many people got their “history” from Oliver Stone movies!

      • Me says:

        Britain had colonial and business relationships with many countries, including those in the West Indies where many Blacks immigrated from. My family being one of them. It wasn’t just India.

  7. Emma13 says:

    I can see him with Rose as well. I don’t know what else they would do with his character. Unless he’s coming to live as one of the staff?

    I wouldn’t be sad to see Rose go, especially if they’re going to try and pair her with Tom. I’d be pissed if they did that.

    I wish Edith would find someone truly AVAILABLE.

    I’m excited to see who Mary will be paired with and if she ever tones down the bitchiness.

  8. GoodCapon says:

    He’s handsome :) But I don’t really care if they’ll add a hamster and its niece to the show, I’ll still tune in!

  9. RF says:

    “sure, there were racial issues in the early part of the 20th century”

    This just sounds insensitive.

    • Naye in VA says:

      Eh no point in taking offense to it. It just sounds uninformed. There have always been race issues, just not as politicized as they were in the late 20th century, so it make sense that it wouldn’t be in Downton. I dont have a problem with Downton not having a black character. It’s a period show about aristocracy, so there isnt much point. I actually stated to a friend the other week how I wouldn’t care to be Black back then, so it was no loss to me.
      But I sure don’t mind having him on the show, sexiness. I’m also pretty positive he’s for Rose.

      • RF says:

        My point is that waving your hand at race ‘issues’ as if they were ‘allergies’ is insensitive ~ I don’t care about Downton Abbey so much re race. But they better not kill the black guy 2 episodes in and they better not load him up with stereotypes. If he dances, sings or undertakes to ‘raise’ a white orphan, I’ll go off the show.

    • MonicaQ says:

      I remember in class (a long time ago) we had to write history papers about what would we do if we were dropped in certain time periods. I’m like, “Well, let’s see…rape, die, die some more, be hungry, pick cotton, pick sugar cane, be lynched, be cannon fodder, be a servant–this is going to be an exciting paper!” Didn’t help I was the only black person in the class.

      • yup, me says:

        Isn’t it great to be black by yourself in a class and have stupid, culturally insensitive ass-hat for a teacher? It’s a not to be missed experience in the POC academic career.

      • Ms.Smurf says:

        That’s the worst thing for me. I am the only black female in the high school, and there are only two other black males in the high school with me, and one of them is my twin brother. I am white as a lily (quite literally, think Angelina Jolie with a tan in Tomb Raider).

        The only way that I “look” black is because my hair is really curly and it goes into an afro if I comb it out.

        I don’t have insensitive or ignorant teachers, for such a small town, I’m surprised at how much they know….but its the students that are the worse. They laugh about genocide and make jokes about the KKK…not funny at all. I don’t know if they know that I’m black because I’m kind of new to them, but it’s tough.

        I’ve had people stare at me, because of my hair. I was in Walmart at the checkout and two Tech students (black) were standing a few checkouts away, pointing and staring at me (wtf? don’t know what that’s about), and so on. My mom, who is about the color of Idris Elba, has been “mistaken” for my older sister (who is the same shade as I am), by her BOSS. They aren’t the same age, aren’t even close to the same color and her boss “mistook” her for my sister.

        It just gets annoying at times.They are all really, really ignorant where I live….my mom got mad because she found out that they don’t really teach anything about Civil Rights, so she bought a documentary set Eyes on the Prize, and we’ve all watched it. A lot of people just don’t know. And don’t care.

  10. Maya says:

    Um, Kaiser? I think you forgot to mention the most important part: dude is effing GORGEOUS. Look at him! Even his ridiculous facial hair doesn’t take away from his deliciousness. I would have thought that’d be the first thing you mentioned! Who are you and what have you done with our Kaiser?

  11. clutch says:

    I quite watching at Season 2. The 1st season was good, if a little soapy and formulaic but it quickly jumped the shark.

    I do think that upper class households could have had contact with non-whites in that era. There were alot of students from the colonies in England. Virtually all Independence Heads of State of the commonwealth attended prestigous English universities.

    Also dont forget that many royal families from Asia, Africa and the Middle East set up part time residences in England. As they say nothing rubs out racism like great wealth. And then consider that downstairs staff could very likely have encountered Caribbean or Asian trades people. So yes, it was strange that they had not tried to enrich their storylines. FYI the UK was never as badly segregated as the US.

    I hope Jullian can write a credible person of color and we dont end up with a mass of stereotypes.

    • LAK says:

      This is very true.

      The Aristocracy socialised with the ubber wealthy and or royal families of the colonies who partially lived in England and or sent their kids to study at Oxbridge. They were treated as equals, but as you say money smooths many a path which is still as true today as it was then.

      In terms of the servant classes, they reached as high up the chain as Queen Victoria who had a favoured indian servant.

      I do think Julian doesn’t really understand that aspect of Britain, and can only address it via the Jazz performers who were patronised by the wealthy.

  12. Bored suburbanhousewife says:

    1. I assume Julian Ovenden is the new casting choice for a new guy for Mary? He’s handsome and btw he can sing too! Saw him in a musical.

    2. Rose is the new cousin Georginia ( see Upstairs Downstairs, original).

    3. Won’t miss the chinless Matthew. Love Allan Leech. Marcus Agrippa rocks!

  13. lisa says:

    i hate when the storyline gets away from downton

    i didnt like all the scenes in the prison, i have to desire to follow rose around london.

  14. Esmom says:

    As long as my Thomas is still in the cast I can breathe easy.

  15. j.eyre says:

    *gasp* Kasier said my name! *giggle*

    • Amelia says:

      Soon you’ll be on your way to internet stardom, bringing Shakespeare to the masses.
      Loved your interpretation of MacBeth, btw. If only that was around when I was doing my GCSE’s!

      • j.eyre says:

        @Amelia – thank you. I apologize for the late reply, I only just got back to this thread. Some of the “interpretations” would have raised a brow or two, I fear.

        I sent it to my mother (who taught Shakespeare) with a note saying “I guess I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought in class.”

        She sent a note back saying “I guess not, we studied Romeo and Juliet.” One can never outwit one’s own mother…

  16. Addison says:

    I am really starting to hate this trend of shows bowing to some of the complaints that they get. If 3 million people watch your show and you are getting 300 complaints (just as an example) maybe the others are fine with the way hour show is progressing.

    I am a minority, I don’t watch DA but if historically there would be no black people during this time in such a setting the adding such a character is dumb. The complainers need to watch another show. This is really stupid.

    • mslewis says:

      But the thing is, there WERE Black people (and brown people, etc.) in that era interacting with the upper classes. Remember, Britain ruled a lot of colonies around the world. I do think adding a person of color is the right thing to do but they could have done something other than a jazz singer. That’s just lazy, IMO.

      • LAK says:

        There are many books on the other races that lived and worked in Britain during this time.

        Downton Abbey simply doesn’t acknowledge them.

        And by using a Jazz storyline for the introduction of a black character, Downton Abbey is choosing to acknowledge ONLY that aspect of other races in Britain, which probably means he will be an American character.

      • nikkie says:

        It might be lazy, but what is the other option? A servant? They’d never hear the end of it. Yes they could go the foreign visitor route, but then he’d only be around for a few episodes and then they’d be right back where they started with no minorities in the cast.

  17. HolaGatito says:

    I can honestly admit that I’ve never had the desire to watch this show… mostly because I feel that I can’t relate to it in any way.

    These pics give me a little motivation though ;-) He is soooo very handsome.

  18. MonicaQ says:

    I don’t even know when this show is *on*, much less what it’s about. And I swear, just brings up “-_- ish” memories of sitting in literature class in HS and college, being the only non-white person there and the teacher going, “So tell us about Motown and Jazz! I’m *sure* you know.”


    • Stacia says:

      LOL…I don’t watch this show either (or MAD MEN -I’ve tried to watch but lose interest) as I can’t relate to it. I like period pieces but for some reason these two shows come off as ‘elitist’ and it has nothing to do with not having minority characters. BUT, dude is a smokin’ hot cutie. But that still wont make me watch cause I don’t get this show. I’ll IMDB him and see other stuff he’s done.

  19. Brittney says:

    Well, maybe I need to start watching this show again… wow! He reminds me of Michael B. Jordan (the actor, not the athlete) from Parenthood and the Wire. Maybe it’s just the mustache and dimples.

  20. Alexis says:

    Downton’s trying to keep up with Mad Men, which has had minor black characters (a secretary and two girlfriends) appear since pretty early on in the show. Unlike Mad Men, though, the time period and context makes the emergence of a black character strain credulity a bit. But we’ll see. I’d like to see this done well.

  21. Annelise says:

    I can’t stand the character of Rose, and I’m irritated that the actress was just cast in the new live-action version of Cinderella (produced by Disney, directed by Kenneth Branagh). Since all I’ve seen her in is DA, it seems like they’re only casting her for being thin, white, and unremarkable… because heaven forbid Hollywood change things up a little with their casting!

  22. I Choose Me says:

    Oh he is fine. Look at those eyes and lips and he looks so wonderful in both uniform and tailored suit. I’m even feeling his name – Gareth. Thank you CB for the introduction to this fine specimen of manhood. Wouldn’t have seen him otherwise; I don’t watch Downton.

  23. Ally8 says:

    I saw on TMZ that the redhead typist maid is now showing her ta-tas on Game of Thrones.

    Dubious step up.

  24. Amy says:

    Well Mary did sleep with that Turkish guy but apart from him there hasn’t been much cultural diversity on the show. Unless you count the appearances of American Shirley Maclaine and the actress who plays Cora (and I don’t). I don’t know much about the cultural history of England in the early 20th century but surely there were immigrants living there? Black, Asian, people from other European countries? There had to be! There were plenty in the US, that’s for sure.

    • Myrto says:

      Amazingly, American history and context is different from the European one. Crazy, I know.
      So yes there were immigrants in 1920′s England but they were mostly European (Russians fleeing the communist regime, and later Germans after Hitler took over).
      There were obviously some people from the colonies (India, West Africa) but they were part of the elite and were a minority.
      So that black character will probably be American. Like others have pointed out, it’d more realistic to have an actor of Indian descent. But oh well, I’ve stopped watching Donwton after season 2.