An Actors Fight: Racism, Sexism & Discrimination

An Actors Fight: Racism, Sexism & Discrimination

Due to the recent sad and quite frankly, barbaric circumstances of racism, there has been a lot more information, resources and discussion in support of Black Lives Matter which is great to see. In our industry, Casting Directors, Drama schools and various professional bodies are speaking out about their involvement in racism and what they plan on doing about it as well as the support and changes they will be making for a better tomorrow. The movement has caused, very rightly, an uproar highlighting the systematic racism that has existed for centuries. I believe that now everyone has been forced into lockdown during the pandemic, losses of jobs, more time at home has enabled people to have time to think! To actually process what is STILL happening around the world just because of someone’s skin colour or sexual orientation; people have been more involved and aware of socio-political issues. I personally believe that if we do not fight for what we believe in, we are part of the problem. I want to share with you, the ways in which actors and fellow filmmakers can fight and stand by our fellow BME and LGBT+ colleagues and create global change:

  1. When you’re on set or talking to fellow filmmakers and are asked to suggest reliable, professional actors, make sure you recommend as many awesome LGBT+ and BME (black and Minority ethnic) actors as possible too. This will ensure more chances for those that don’t have as many castings due to the assumption every character is white. We must stand together on this to help change this pre-conceived idea.
  2. Actors cast too. For example, when we write our own short films, features or showreel scenes and are looking for actors to work with, that we trust and know are right for the role, that is essentially casting. I have my own theatre company and always leave the audition/cast open to all ethnicities. In fact, as a Greek actress that has lived in the UK since 5 and speaks with a British accent and is considered white – other, but not quite seen as British, I understand how horrible it can be to feel an outcast just because you’re not born here but also recognise because I am white representing I am PRIVILEGED. It is important to acknowledge what this means. “White privilege doesn’t mean that your life hasn’t been difficult or full of riches, it means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder” anonymous. When you are casting, it is your duty and responsibility to be part of the solution not the problem.
  3. Writing/ devising your own work is exciting. As actors and filmmakers, playwrights and screen writers we aren’t just creative. We can use our art, our voice and experiences in the world to shed light on society then, now and what could be. Our written work has the ability to create a whole new world as well as reflect today’s world too. Which means, if you’re representing Britain today, then realistically you would have a LOT of cultures and ethnicities in your work because we are such a beautiful and multi-cultural country. So when you write your next piece, don’t only include different cultures and ethnicities  in your character but perhaps even write about a different culture too. When writing a character, can they not just be an LGBT+ member in general? You don’t have to write a story about Mediterranean, Asians, Latin Americans , Africans or transgender, gender neutral or gay individuals. Write a story and make that just part of their characterisation. That would be more forward thinking and I would love to see more work that represents the world we live in truthfully. Another point to consider here is, if something you have written must be historically accurate then try to tell it from a different perspective. For example, there are countless world war films, which is important as we don’t want to repeat that EVER, but how many of them, by the big blockbuster studios, are not from an American or British perspective? How many of them show you the varied ethnicities that joined the British army to help us fight those wars? Or the involvement that women played in the war? If your written work is fiction – then why does the cast need to all be one particular ethnic group? The answer is they don’t need to be unless of course it is integral to the storyline like someone’s biological daughter. Think about these things when you write and research, research, research (in history books and the internet not just by watching films that have been)because remember we are trying to change how they’re made! * Wink wink*  
  4. Read and learn about history. I recently signed a petition on change.org regarding colonisation and imperialism being taught at school mandatorily before choosing GCSE’s as it should not be a choice to learn about history and this would also help us understand why and how others moved here from around the world; mostly invited by the way and how we can shape the future of the next generation if we provide them with a well-rounded education.
  5. Stand up for injustice, discrimination, racism and sexism on (and off) set. If you don’t feel comfortable to do so in a large crowd, approach the producer or director so that a safe space can be created. Another alternative is to speak to professional bodies or unions such as Equity (UK) or SAG (USA) to get their advice on how to best handle the situation and if necessary to report such behaviour.

I wrote this blog because although I have hired a lot of ethnicities and members of LGBT+ because they were GREAT actors, I do feel that I still have room to grow and improve. A recent realisation being that I had written a story based in the 1950’s. There were many ethnicities around in England back then too, in fact we had Indians fighting in WWII for the UK and many other culturally diverse individuals. Yet, I instantly pictured the character’s as white represented. I asked myself why?  Well, quite honestly it was genuinely because when I wrote it I pictured two actors I really enjoy working with because of their talent and reliability but when I dug deeper into my subconscious and asked myself difficult questions this is what I found too to be the case; societal assumption due to the films, books and things I have been exposed to from that time that I connect that era with. I am glad I challenged myself on this; it opened up a discussion between myself and the director on how we can make it more inclusive and honest to what the world was truly like in that era and not just what has been portrayed to us in big studio Hollywood films. We will also cast other scenes we have written more consciously and recommend to each other actors that are less represented in our industry.

So, I hope as an actor this has made you think a little more on ways in which you can help make this a fair and just industry and represent the world we live in within your work – let’s stop the systematic racism together because we all have the power to create change.

Your First Industry Contact,

Kelly Juvilee

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