Thursday, 29 September 2011

Funny Colour

What's your USP? What makes you stand out from the rest? Why should someone employ you over everyone else? Why won't you stop hassling me? All of these apart from maybe one are questions that actors are asked on an almost daily basis (yep, thankfully I don't know anyone who uses the term 'USP.') I remember one fateful day at drama school when we had to go round our whole year and be told what we are likely to be cast as. Apparently our acting talent alone couldn't carry us into the big bad world and get us the jobs we wanted, it was the way we looked that would determine our casting and nothing could ever possibly get in the way of that. I'm part Middle-Eastern (Iraqi and Iranian before you ask) and when it got to me, I was told that I most likely find myself playing a suicide bomber, the wife of a suicide bomber, the daughter of a suicide bomber, the best friend of the second cousin of a suicide bomber or a doctor. Great. As someone who was desperate to get my gnashing little teeth into the profession I'd spent years wanting to get into, this was not good news. I wanted to play everything. I didn't want to be held back by the fact that my parents decided that they loved each other very much and wanted a little mini version of their best and worst points. (Incidentally, about two weeks after this talk, I was cast in my final drama school play as a white, upper class 78 year old. Casting, schmasting.)

Looking back now I realise that everyone is held back by something and I'm actually very lucky to have a distinct 'selling point.' The sad truth is that especially when you're starting out, you have to cling on to that one little thing you have and not let it go. Thankfully there are quite a few Middle Eastern type roles out there to be had and not that many actors who fit that casting type so when I apply for a role, I can usually be guaranteed at least an audition. My heart skips a little beat when I see the words Middle and East mentioned in the description and I can often be found doing a little dance if there's a character called Farah or Layla.

A quick glance at my CV shows that most of the parts I've played have been helped by the colour of the skin ("funny-coloured" as one person in my year once worryingly described me...) so I really shouldn't complain. But the thing that makes me sad is the generalisation that takes place. This was spurred on by the fact that I saw a casting this morning asking for actors who could speak 'Middle Eastern.' Eh? Since when is that a language? I don't like getting up on my high horse (it costs me a fortune in stable fees) about race and prejudice but things like this properly bug me. Would it really have hurt putting down a few languages rather than just chucking us all in the same brightly coloured, 'foreign' box? However, it's the characters and stories that really upset me. Apparently, for a Middle Eastern character to be in something, they need to either be a suicide bomber, in an arranged marriage or about to be killed for trying to get out of said organised nuptual. It's an unfair asumption that because of you're of a certain descent, you're exclusively affected by only a handful of stereotyped issues. Not once has my dad tried to kill me (although I'm sure he was tempted the night I came home drunk at 2am and repeatedly rang the doorbell to be let in as I thought I'd lost my keys - I hadn't. I'd dropped them two feet away.) I've never been forced into an arranged marriage (although I'm sure my mum has had her moments where she has worried that I'd be an eternal spinster.) And I wouldn't even know where to start when trying to create a suicide bomb due to too much larking about and not enough listening during chemistry classes.

I understand that this isn't just biting the hand that feeds me but gnawing repeatedly on the delicate palm that offers me the most wonderful foods but I'm hungry and feeling a bit gnashy so please excuse me while I take another bite....

No comments:

Post a Comment