It’s not Black and White15 Jun 2020, Posted by Casting Tips in
So as a black woman these recent times have been a rollercoaster ride for me; a ride that culminated in watching the very sad funeral of George Floyd. I feel so sorry for his beautiful family, such a sad waste of life.
I absolutely don’t want this post to be about me, but I’m sure that it won’t surprise anyone that I have been subject to racism both personally and in my career. Personally I have lost count of the amount of sneers and abuse, both overt and covert, I have received in the street and bars, but, more relevant to this post, I have also met with racism within the industry I love too.
After talking to producers on phone when I have subsequently met with them I have been greeted with comments like “Wow! I thought you would have been blonde,” or other observations about how I look. I have even had others who have told me that they have come to me because they HAD to cast black people on this project (more on this later) and so they came to me because I am black!
But my most painful instance happened about 5 years ago when my application to become a member of a well known industry body with very few black or working class members was turned down for no justifiable reason. Just no! You see I wasn’t like them – I wasn’t a double-barrelled, I didn’t live in London, I didn’t sound like them and I didn’t have their social connections – I just worked hard and got shit done all on my own merits, something I am proud of. But in truth I don’t need them, and I now know I never did, But others DO need such support, they might not be as fortunate as I have been.
So we need to have strong foundations to build an equitable and sustainable future for ALL people, especially those without a voice, and we need to see change. But it needs to be MEANINGFUL change. There is a worrying trend that I have seen growing over the past couple of years that I fear is only going to get worse; that of tokenism. I hear producers saying things like…
“Get me some more black people on this project will you… and maybe someone with a disability. We need to tick some boxes on this project or we won’t get funding.”
And now it could get worse. I was recently told that broadcasters and SVODs are focussing on commissioning projects addressing diversity – not comedy, not drama, not thrillers, not horror, but diversity. Is this more tokenism?
Audiences are NOT sat on a sofa saying… “Hey Susan, I tell you what I fancy watching a program about diversity on TV tonight.” They are saying, “make me laugh, make me think, excite me – and hey and whilst your at it make it look like the modern DIVERSE world that I live in.”
So any focus on change has to be real and delivered by people with integrity and I do worry that some of these power-brokers in our industry are only doing so to look after their own backs. They are addressing race because they HAVE to – just look at their boards and tell me that they care about minorities of any type.
And also whilst it is now great that a spotlight is being thrown on black filmmakers and creatives, with EVERYBODY focussed on delivering content in this space such blanket coverage risks audience burnout and a backlash.
This next step should not just be a knee-jerk reaction so we can all feel better about ourselves and be “seen to be doing the right thing” and then everybody moves on when the heat dies down. We need to build a SUSTAINABLE INTEGRATED industry where everybody is colourblind. It should be a meritocracy where black and minority creatives are not just handed roles or jobs because they are black but because they are the right person for the job and that this is the right way to tell the story.
The Gucci Northern Soul Campaign was a dream job for me. Not just working for such a creative brand, but they wanted to use black talent to tell a story from a specific all black viewpoint and they trusted me to find them that exceptional talent – no tick boxes, no stereotypes, just a piece of work of integrity that celebrated black culture and creativity. We need more of this please and not just quotas and knee-jerk reactions by panicking white middle aged men on boards!
I am committed to continue the work I have been doing over the past few years to ensure that actors with talent thrive – whoever or whatever their race, sexuality, gender or disability they have or who they identify with. And I will continue to cast these people at ALL levels in productions I cast.
But we need lasting change in the businesses who make the content we love and that shapes our wonderful culture. Please let’s not screw this up.