The Chinese have a saying that goes:-
“May you live in interesting times”.
It is apparently meant as a curse, in that it is hoped one experiences chaos and disaster. That could be the description of my life to a certain extent but then my experiences have always been interesting, thought-provoking, where lessons have always been learned. For better or worse.
As a British Person of Colour (Black if you will,) born and raised in the UK, I do wonder if it is my fate to continually be living under a curse in the Country of my Birth, where the black historical experience and contribution of ethnic people who settled here down the centuries, is seldom documented or taught in our schools and institutions. This leaves the white populace (and worse,) those of us who are children of British Citizens from overseas who settle here, with the false impression that Britain was ‘all-white’ until after The Second World War and no one of colour from ‘The British Empire’ (British Subjects/Citizens,) made any contribution to the expansion of that Empire, nor served in any of the conflicts and wars that were pursued in the expansion of that Empire, nor the two World Wars Britain was involved in.
A friend of mine was raging on Facebook about black people being told to get over Slavery, when those very same people would never tell Jewish people to get over the Holocaust. As I told her, there is a great deal we can learn from the Jewish Nation and the recording and remembrance of their History and Experience – The way in which they have kept those images and memories alive for generation after generation. And given this, we don’t see Jewish people being rounded up, put into concentration camps, tortured, experimented on, starved, gassed or being burned alive. Yet, Slavery is still a fact of life in many parts of the world in the 21st Century. The United States of America, to its everlasting credit, has never shied away from its part in Slavery and the role it played in the Slave Trade, doing much through its media of Print, Film and Television to address this issue by producing drama that reflects this part of its History. After all they fought a Civil War to end Slavery – A War that split a Nation and whose consequences were felt for nearly a Century afterwards, right up to the Civil Rights Era in the Mid-20th Century. The same cannot be said of the British situation where all of the above, was swept under the carpet and conveniently forgotten about.
Even now, nearly two decades into the 21st Century, we still find Britain and The Establishment in complete denial or ignoring the above issues. Immigration is a big issue in Britain, despite its membership of the European Union, where people of the Member States, have the right to live and work in other Member States – That is their right. Yet in Britain today, we see a situation my parents and I had to deal with in the 1960s and 70s. This despite my parents coming to Britain from Jamaica with British Passports (Jamaica was part of Britain’s Empire at the time,) and yet were seen as foreigners, rather than fellow Citizens – in the same way French, Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Polish, Romanians, Bulgarians, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians and Greeks are seen as ‘Foreigners’, despite British Nationals living, working or retired in those very same Countries. The approach of the British Establishment and a large section of its populace are both two-faced and hypocritical in the extreme. Like so much of its institutions, the British Media has continually failed the populace by actually not producing drama that could and would have addressed so much of what I am discussing here. But once again the Media of Film and Television continually fails to show Britain as a multi-ethnic Country and Society that is rich in diversity and history.
I have noted over the past few months that the UK Casting System in this area still fails to recognise so much of what has been discussed. I get dozens of email alerts of ‘Casting Breakdowns’ from ‘The Spotlight’ which is the UK Actor’s Directory. Virtually every breakdown I have read since the beginning 2014 has been mainly for Caucasian actors – despite nothing in those breakdowns and descriptions saying why the actor has to be white or anything else. I am not sure if this can be called progress of sorts but many of those breakdowns are now asking to see Brazilian, Mediterranean, Scandinavian actors. I have even seen ‘Mixed Raced’ actors in those breakdowns. There may well be reasons for this (none I can see as being valid,) but what I have taken from this is that as far as the British Film and Television Casting System is concerned, Black people generally are an irrelevance. We don’t exist in Britain, we don’t exist as a people so we don’t need to be portrayed in any kind of role – Meaningful or otherwise. Years of experience, skills and talent doesn’t matter. We don’t make any contribution to Britain nor have we ever done so. Now the thing is I paid a great deal of money in the form of an annual subscription to be on The Spotlight Directory. After what I have been seen thus far in 2014, that will no longer be happening. I don’t need to pay so much money as an Actor to an organisation that continually tells me that as a ‘Black Actor’ (as opposed to being ‘An Actor’,) I have no place nor a career in British Stage, Film or Television. This brings me again to the point of the Chinese Proverb of ‘May you live in interesting times’ because it would seem that if you are a darker shade of pale and have any kind of ambition, then Britain is definitely not the place to be.
For myself, I am certainly living in interesting times. Not everyone thinks in British terms but it was interesting this week to access one of my Social Media accounts and find a surprising request from an internationally renowned casting director, asking me to write them a recommendation. On one hand, I have the UK casting system via their casting breakdowns telling me that years of experience is irrelevant, as I have the wrong skin colour, while on the other, I am invited by an internationally renowned casting director to write a recommendation about them, their work and career. Something I was more than happy to do and was actually thanked or doing.
The question beckons. Just what is it that someone who has cast major Hollywood productions and internationally renowned film and television productions sees in my abilities that the UK casting system and media continually fails to see?
If I had the answer to any of the above I would be so wealthy I wouldn’t need them but would be setting the agenda via producing my own work.
Yes, I am indeed living “…in interesting times”.