A code of ethical standards for theatre critics is being developed by Equity, in the hope it will stamp out racist reviews.
Led by actor Emmanuel Kojo, the campaign is described as the latest initiative in the union’s “long-standing work in addressing institutional racism across the entertainment industry”.
As part of its efforts, it is asking actors to share experiences of racist reviews, which will be used to introduce ethnical standards for critics and reviewers.
Kojo has himself been subject to racist reviewing of his work, and said he had not yet come across a review that mentioned the colour of a white actor’s skin.
“So is that then to say that white is the default and everything else is a cause for constant mention and discussion and most times without interrogating the racism? If an actor of colour plays a role that’s traditionally played by a white actor, the colour of their skin most of the time becomes the centre of the review, rather than their portrayal of a character,” he said.
He added: “That is exhausting. We have to remember we create make-believe, we create art and that art should reflect the world we’re living in."
Equity President Maureen Beattie said watching and listening to drama in theatre, or on film or television or radio, requires a leap of faith.
“But this is much more serious than a lack of imagination. In my view this is racism, pure and simple. Sometimes unconscious, but sometimes not,” she added.
Members who share experiences will help provide “an evidence-base of the degree and extent of the problem”, Equity said.
They are encouraged to email Ian Manborde, the union’s equality and diversity organiser, on email@example.com
A Zoom meeting is also planned, during which Kojo will explain the work undertaken so far to address racist reviews, and the proposed programme of work for the campaign.
In 2018, Quentin Letts was criticised for suggesting actor Leo Wringer was only cast in an RSC play because he is black.