Call me difficult, I’ll shrug it off. Call me bad, I’ll be hurt till tea time. But call me a black actor and you devalue me. The aim is not to be an actor with a prefix. Simply an actor.
Upon leaving drama school the biggest shock of my life, other than finding out the annual Spotlight fee, was discovering my colour. I was brought up by a white woman. Spoke with the self conscious vowels of a working-class kid who’d hung around with posh people. And my greatest ambition was to meet Liza Minnelli.
How would this fit with the image of the street thug they were now asking me to play?
Benedict Cumberbatch recently spoke of feeling castigated for being “a moaning, rich, public-school bastard”. Telling friends I was writing this column their response was similiar: “You’re not whining about being an unfortunate ethnic again?”
If someone’s only criticism of you is that you went to a better school, have more money and speak R.P then you should probably get over it. But when you’re called “duskily un-nordic” in print as Libby Purves recently wrote of my performance in Ibsen’s St. John’s Night [also reviewed by The Stage], there’s a problem.
Many scripts I read fuel the misconception that every young black man is troubled and volatile, in the same way his Asian counterpart is the studious, law-abiding citizen. The gulf between real life and that packaged by TV commissioners is ginormous. If race is represented at all it’s an integral part of the narrative construct. Rarely will a brown face exist for existing’s sake. This was highlighted by the Olympics.
A British actor of ethnic minority hears the words “go to LA” in direct proportion to the amount of times they’re told,”Sorry, it went the other way”
While TV cultivates a world in which non-Caucasians are predominantly the best friends, criminals, doctors and victims, the Olympics, and subsequent Paralympics, celebrated a very different England to the one on prime time.
Recent ads for ITV’s new autumn season omit the black British experience altogether. The reality is scripts don’t land on the doorstep for a non-caucasian actor in the same way. Are the parts being written?
A British actor of ethnic minority hears the words “go to LA” in direct proportion to the amount of times they’re told, “Sorry, it went the other way.” Theatre is the only forum in which perceptions of gender, race and disability can still be challenged to their fullest potential.
One of the most positive events to happen has been the Olympics opening. Not only did it make up for the hideous image of Russell Brand which followed at the closing, but it succeeded gloriously in making present day London a part of the past narrative.
While some questionined whether blacks were a part of the workers’ revolution as depicted in Danny Boyle’s celebratory ode to Britannia, it was time for the rest of us to rejoice in the visonaries who exist in our industry giving wave to a rising hope for the future.
A future in which there are only actors. No prefix.