On my radar: Jamael Westman’s cultural highlights

The Hamilton star on how Kendrick Lamar is changing rap, the relevance of Julius Caesar, and why it’s now Wakanda for ever

Actor Jamael Westman was brought up in Croydon, London, by a Jamaican father and an Irish mother. He is currently playing the title role in the West End production of Lin‑Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical Hamilton, for which he has been nominated for this year’s Laurence Olivier award for best actor in a musical.Since graduating from Rada in 2016, he has also performed in Torn at the Royal Court and The White Devil at Shakespeare’s Globe.

1. Gig
Kendrick Lamar at the O2

Kendrick Lamar perfoming in London, 2016.
Kendrick Lamar perfoming in London, 2016. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Kendrick Lamar has effectively taken on the ethos of someone like Tupac Shakur, who was my favourite rapper growing up. This performance was just incredible. He wasn’t relying on running around the stage and hyping people up – he had faith in his talent and in his work, and knew he had everyone on his side. He’s an actor as well: in his lyrics he takes on different guises, uses satire – he’s changing how rap can be perceived. You can’t question his integrity: he’s trying to raise up not just black America but people of colour across the world. He’s an inspiration.

2. Theatre
Julius Caesar at the Bridge theatre

Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw as Brutus in Julius Caesar at the Bridge theatre. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

It was a little while since I’d seen any Shakespeare, so it was great to see this, which was brilliant. The set was constantly forming and morphing around the cast, and they made great edits – it was just constant action, from one thing to the next. The actors were phenomenal. I love watching Ben Whishaw, his mastery of the language is something to admire. And the story is so relevant to today: they didn’t push on it too much, but the person you’d liken Julius Caesar to in many ways would be Donald Trump.

3. Book
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Reni Eddo-Lodge.
Reni Eddo-Lodge. Photograph: PR

I’m only on the second chapter, but it’s touching on a nerve that I’ve had many discussions about, and it’s good to have it so eloquently expressed. This is from the perspective of someone who has long tried to explain white privilege and racial oppression and is just goddamn tired of it. It’s about something I’ve wrestled with for a long time: race relations, identity, and a sense of Britishness now being brought in to question.

4. TV
Seven Seconds

Clare-Hope Ashitey in Netflix’s Seven Seconds.
Clare-Hope Ashitey in Netflix’s Seven Seconds. Photograph: JoJo Whilden/Netflix

I’ve just seen this on Netflix and I cried so many times. It’s a really painful watch but definitely needs to be seen. The premise is a young black boy has been killed: he’s been run over and left to die. The perpetrators were actually police and they’re trying to cover it up. It’s about the justice system, the value of black lives, and the effect the murder has on the family. It’s just plot twist after plot twist. Every character has depth, and the acting is heartbreaking – Regina King and Clare-Hope Ashitey especially.

5. Film
Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman in Marvel’s Black Panther..
Chadwick Boseman in Marvel’s Black Panther.. Photograph: Matt Kennedy/AP

This was the most uplifting thing I’ve seen in a long time. Just think about young children of colour seeing themselves reflected on screen. I love this idea of going back to Africa and reclaiming our roots. Black Panther and his nemesis in a sense represent Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I think it’s something that exists in a lot of the black community – which choice do we make? I’ve seen this three times and I’ll see it again. The last thing I say to my friends before we part ways now is “Wakanda for ever” – it becomes a state of mind.

6. Podcast
Playwright’s Podcast

Playwright Simon Stephens
Simon Stephens, host of the Royal Court theatre’s Playwright’s Podcast. Photograph: Jenny Anderson/WireImage

There are two series of this on the Royal Court website, and it’s wicked. Simon Stephens hosts discussions with different playwrights: the one I was listening to recently was a double whammy of Joe Penhall and Dennis Kelly. Sometimes amazing playwrights like these can feel unreachable. You can’t imagine them as normal people because all you see is their name in shiny lights under an amazing play. But this humanises them – it’s like chilling in a writer’s room, exploring the first plays they saw, points of inspiration, why they wrote what they wrote.


Interview by Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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