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Ayo Edebiri, we’re proud to call you Irish. It makes a nice change from Britwashing

Donald Clarke: Didn’t realise the Bear and Bottoms star is from the Emerald Isle? Sure she’s from Inisherin

I am delighted to confirm that The Adorable Irishness of Ayo Edebiri, my first magic-realist novel, has been longlisted for the Booker Prize. I’m joking, of course. There is no such volume. But that title does sum up the most cheering phenomenon of the current movie-awards season.

Those who missed the beginning of the phenomenon were surely confused by responses to Edebiri’s win at the Golden Globes and to her nomination for a newcomer’s award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. “Congratulations to Ireland’s own Ayo Edebiri for her nomination for the 2024 Bafta Rising Star Award,” the people at Film in Dublin commented. The Light House Cinema mentioned her name in connection with “an Irish National Treasure Award”. You what now?

Edebiri, an effortlessly charismatic American actor from Boston, had one hell of a 2023. She was great in the charming Theater Camp and the unnecessarily stylish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Her turn in Sean Price Williams’s The Sweet East won over all those who saw it at Cannes. She was plain awesome in Emma Seligman’s hysterical Bottoms. But it is Edebiri’s continuing role as Sydney Adamu in the culinary dramedy The Bear that really put her on the map. Everyone loves how she curls a lip at Jeremy Allen White.

So why have we decided she’s Irish? Is there heritage there? Or is it just a Boston thing? It goes back to the premiere of Bottoms (honestly, you have to see it) at Austin’s South by Southwest festival last March. Interviewed at the event, Edebiri leans into a riff about spending three months in Ireland playing the donkey from The Banshees of Inisherin.


“I’m so happy for everyone going to the Oscars,” she says. “Even though I deserved the nomination more than anyone else.” What really makes the bit is her decision to dip in and out of an intermittently decent, intermittently wayward Irish accent. It’s funny, sweet and not in any way like the same month’s dire Saturday Night Live skit, set on the Oscar red carpet, that portrayed Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as incoherent drunken loons.

Edebiri looks to have hugged back at the response. “Bottoms is out rn in the UK & my home nation of Ireland,” she posted on TikTok. The gag is set to run and run. It’s only a question of whether Patrick Kielty can get to her before Graham Norton does.

All this comes as cheering relief from the traditional awards-season hair trigger that awaits any UK outlet foolish enough to imply, in even the most oblique fashion, that one of our Oscar nominees may be British. We just love it when C Murphy or S Ronan get misidentified. A series of online defence-readiness conditions indicates the escalated response to any such transgression.

Defcon 3 is that Simpsons “days since the Brits were at it” graphic. Defcon 2 is the still of Stephen Rea taking notes in Michael Collins. Defcon 1 is that screengrab of Samuel L Jackson objecting to a British interviewer claiming Colin Farrell for the empire. The nation got its way last week when a single, ambiguous “our” crept into a promotion for a profile of Barry Keoghan in British GQ. We were gagging for it. And the recreational fury was positively undignified. (Full disclosure: I have written overheated articles calling out examples of Britwashing. I’m better now.)

In contrast, we have always been remarkably happy to clutch those born overseas – when willing – to the national bosom. Much of the time we are speaking of people with an Irish heritage. We allowed ambiguity to gather around Peter O’Toole’s birthplace. The author Patrick O’Brian, born Richard Patrick Russ in Buckinghamshire, was happy to entertain the assumption that he was Irish, and he ended his days resident at Trinity College Dublin. The film director John Boorman was a sort of semi-official Irish person for decades.

I have seen griping about English folk taking the passport soup after Brexit, but for the most part we smile when people like John le Carré or Bill Nighy grandmother their way towards the fast-moving queue at immigration. Find me a person who resents the honorary citizenship given to Jack Charlton and I’ll show you a fellow who deserves to be cast adrift on an ice floe. A remarkable number of people wish to be of this nation. It seems reasonable to play along when we can. After all, it’s quite a compliment. Somehow or other it’s cool to be Irish in a way it’s not cool to be… Well, let’s not go there. But you can fill in candidates for yourself.

Anyway, The Adorable Irishness of Ayo Edebiri really is a tonic for the bitter months. We got the joke. She played along. Nobody felt the need to go to Defcon Three. Happy awards season.