I recently performed a rehearsed reading for an excellent writer; *Alice Baker, who I have worked with previously many years ago. Alice is an excellent writer with tremendous talent and insight. I believe she is a writer at the forefront of British contemporary drama. She is a modest writer so would never admit her brilliance, but the most talented people are also the most humble!
Anyway after the performance reading, we offloaded what was going on each other’s lives over large glasses of red wine.
“I recently had to take a step away from a great writing job” said Alice.
“Why?” – I protested
“Because it was so cringing ……the way in which the writers in the room perceived – Amber (a black female character in the drama.) I am in a room filled with white, middle-upper class writers who believe that their perception of Amber is right; no one took into consideration my view…….which is ridiculous, as I am as close to the character of Amber as they will ever get. I mean, I am black and from a working class background, just like the Amber.” Said Alice.
“People want to see what they want to see……………the ignorance of this industry, never fails to surprise me.” I said.
This conversation is one of many that I have been having with people for the past 7 years.
Today I read an article in the Evening Standard (page 29) which had the headline
Lack of diversity on TV turns off younger viewers, says campaigner.
The article represents some of the views of what many ethnic performers believe. It inspired me to reflect on my own journey as a Ghanaian-British actress:
Before I went to drama school, I rarely had discussions with other young actors about the lack ethnic representation on British TV. I suppose I was blinded by the ‘Real McCoy,’ ‘Desmond’s’ and ‘Goodness Gracious Me’. Great COMEDY dramas fortunate enough to have a long run on national TV. However there weren’t many dramas that had a mixed cast of actors from all backgrounds. As an actress who aspired to do ‘kitchen sink’ drama’s I took inspiration from ‘Band of Gold’, ‘This Life’ and ‘As If.’ TV dramas which featured a mixed cast of actors; different races, different accents, different classes. I thought this calibre of drama would expand and that there would be a lot of TV dramas that embodied these characteristics. With that positive perspective, I was even more determined to become an actress, and so I enrolled into drama school.
Drama school…..what can I say, I found the experience quite stressful. Believe me the early starts, the long hours and the constant ‘personal dramas’ of my peers were not an issue, I actually enjoyed that part and of the course performing. What was the stressful part was the fact that the majority of my peers made a lot of ignorant comments regarding my race. At the time, I was frustrated with the stupidity of some my peers and chose to keep my distance rather than educate them. I couldn’t understand how young people of the 21st century could be so clueless!!! In hindsight I see that I was surrounded by a lot of people who had never interacted with a black person on a social level. Not only was I bombarded with questions, which made me feel like I was part of a Victorian circus, but I was greeted with some disdain from my peers when I chose not to go to the local pub with them after class, a pub which happened to be the BNP (British National Party ) headquarters! On one occasion I was called a ‘black bitch’ by a peer of mine, after a minor disagreement. Oh those times were FUN! I learnt a lot! But what put the cherry on the cake was when a tutor of mine at my drama school made the following remark to me on the day of my showcase.
“You have come a long way, and you have a bright future…….why is it, that the black students always have poor diction and speech?”
If looks could kill, if I could unleash the South London rude girl I once was……
I could not believe my ears! It is that level of ignorance I had to endure for three years, and naively I thought it would end when I left drama school. But much to my surprise, it was….is even worse.
So to hear Alice talk about her anguished attempts of providing a more interesting perspective Amber (the black female character in the drama ) only to the dismay of her colleagues, this does not surprise me. However this does re-light the fire in me and my belief that SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!
Drama’s school are admitting more ethnic people each year ( when I went to drama school, I was one of two black people and one mixed race person, the year above me there was only one black person and the year below me, I lost count when I saw more than three!) But the question is, are they accommodating ethnic actors? Or are ethnic actors still being confronted by the level of ignorance that I once endured from a past drama tutor?
There needs to be more work created for ethnic people that goes beyond the stereotypes. Because guess what, not all black people in Britain are poor and live on council estates, selling drugs. Oh and guess what, not all South Asian people are oppressed by Islam, terrorist or unhappy with arranged marriage. OMG you never guess what, not all East Asian people are submissive and just work in finance or just sell DVD’s. Oh and not all mixed race people have a black dad that is absent and a white mum….some of them have a black mum and a white dad that is absent….or…..this is so unbelievable some mixed race people are mixed with Asian and black or Asian and white….. shock horror! But most importantly……..ETHNIC PEOPLE PAY TV LICENCE AS WELL! SO DO HOMOSEXUALS AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITES!
SO why am I not seeing more TV dramas that reflect everyone regardless of race, gender, class , sexuality and disability!
Is it because the majority of the people producing the dramas, writing the dramas, commissioning the dramas are not of a minority?
Or do people still believe the myth that there are not enough ethnic writers, directors and actors out there in the vast island of the British Isles?
There is so much ethnic talent out there, and it is time that the British public are given the chance to see it!
For most people, TV and the internet are ways to have an insight into different lives therefore we need more dramas that reflect the real, diverse nature of our society on these platforms.
Campaigns such as The Act For Change Project and What Next? are opening up the forum and now is a chance for everyone’s voice to be heard!
“England is known for (being a) predominately white society, but the more and more it gets diverse the more diversity must be recognised, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.” – Samuell Benta, producer and director of sitcom ‘The Mckenzies,’ as seen in the Evening Standard Newspaper.
The Act For Change Project – Click here
What Next? – Click here
London Live – Click here
For a taste of light hearted drama which features ethnic actors, click here
I am not a writer, just a blabber, a girl that asks many questions but never knows how to collate the answers. Just a normal girl with nothing more to say, than words that mean nothing but say something.