Acting while Black in the Land Downunder
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Being an actor is hard. As a vocation it is one of those professions that feels for the most part like you are embarking on a hopeless relationship with a feckless lover. For 98% of us it is never going to be a Leonardo DiCaprio-esque career and yet we persist with it regardless of the outcome. Acting is a profession were for a majority of us one loses more than they win. It is a job that one auditions more than the amount of jobs one gets. To be clear this is universal for most actors not only for Actors of Colour (AOC). What does set us apart from our fairer counterparts however is combination of limited opportunities in an industry that continues to adhere to an outdated traditional casting model; coupled with roles that offer a pretty limited view of People of Colour (POC) in general.
So why pursue it at all you ask? Probably because the joy of telling stories that resonate, inspire and entertain, is enough to sustain some of us. Acting can sometimes feel like a “calling” one feels compelled to take up regardless of any tangible reward. My own calling came in the form of a few dinosaurs. Yes, you read that right, I am referring to those now extinct breeds of reptile we go and view at the Museum. Actually, let me back it up a bit. I always knew, even when it wasn’t consciously acknowledged that I wanted to be an actor. It might not have been from the womb but I can actually pinpoint the moment/s when I made that subconscious decision. It was when I was watching the original Jurassic Park (circa 1993). I remember my 7 year old self wanting desperately to be the Ariana Richards character (young girl) in the movie and for months afterwards obsessively reimagined myself running around being chased by a hungry Tyrannosaurus (Oh the joy!!). The other was sitting in the drive-in theatre in Zimbabwe watching Kevin McAllister thwart two dangerous thieves in the Christmas classic Home Alone. It was the beginning of my lifelong journey of never watching a movie without picturing/wanting myself in it.
Opportunities are few and far apart for AOC’s everywhere but they can be non-existent in the small diverse resistance industry we have here in Australia. To be honest I would be remiss if I didn’t honestly say that for a majority of us Australian AOC’s it is futile to attempt to have a career here. Now securing an acting TV gig is akin to winning an Oscar because it is hard won and rare. By acting I am referring to actually saying words not being an extra on a movie set. Many casting agents here are very willing to cast “ethnic” people as extras but will never think to make the same people utter a line here and there. Let me tell you when Neighbours allowed me to drive a car (stunt) and TALK I was beyond gassed. When I returned a year later, they even let me chase someone and TALK!! Talk about living my best Acting life.
For those wondering why this is important. Remember this, TV/cinema can be the mirror within which society views itself and learns from. More than just an instrument for fun and entertainment it also serves as a catalyst for change as it helps people develop their social and political consciousness. People like me exist in Australia regardless of what certain sections of the population might want. We consider ourselves Australian and love the nation that for the most part does not love us back. Globalisation means that POC like me will continue to change the Australian landscape so pretending we do not exist will not make us disappear. Normalising images of POC going through lives in a normal relatable way goes a long way to assuaging current prejudicial fearmongering flamed by hapless ignorance.
So as I close, I want you, the reader, to treat this is a call to action; if you are in the entertainment, try and support projects that have people who do not look like you, amd if you know people in the industry, engage in a dialogue to open their minds. As the world continue to 'open to diversity' what is imperative to it's success is a willingness to “see” the world in its true form and not the way false media portrayals have so long conditioned us to see it.