Earl Cameron, the trailblazing actor considered Britain’s first Black movie star, has died at age 102. The actor died peacefully on Friday at his home in Kenilworth, England, his agent said in a statement provided to EW.
Cameron broke racial boundaries in British cinema with his breakthrough role in 1951’s Pool of London, as a sailor who falls in love with a white woman. The film was the first depiction of an interracial relationship in a British film, and marked the first leading role for a Black actor in a mainstream movie in the country.
“Certainly I was aware that films didn’t at that time have any romantic scenes between blacks and whites. It was unusual for a black actor to have the romantic lead,” Cameron told the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2017, but added, “I didn’t feel like I was breaking barriers at the time, it never occurred to me. It felt natural.”
“I never saw myself as a pioneer,” he told The Guardian that year. “It was only later, looking back, that it occurred to me that I was.”
Born in Bermuda in 1917, Cameron served in the British Merchant Navy in his youth and settled in London. He began his acting career in the theater and made his film debut with Pool of London. Cameron’s performance won him critical acclaim, and he went on to appear in the James Bond film Thunderball, with numerous other film and TV credits including such popular British series as Doctor Who and The Prisoner. His later roles included an African dictator in The Interpreter, a royal portrait artist in The Queen, and an elderly man in Inception, his final onscreen appearance.
Reflecting on racial diversity in the modern film industry, Cameron said in 2017 that it was “a little better, not much. It could be a hell of a lot more [diverse]. Life is like that. It’s a wonderful thing, humanity is growing up and realizing we’re all here together on this planet. Why do we need these divisions?”