The first job interview I ever had I was aged sixteen, nervous, apprehensive and it was a cold January morning in 1980. Not much is remembered apart from the name of the company (Martin & Co. Ltd.,) and the gentleman (Mr. Whittingham,) and the address (97 Camden Street,) Birmingham B1 3DG. The only other thing I recalled was the answer I received to the question I asked him about pay. His answer was:-
We pay on results.”
Then he went on to say what the weekly wage was (Twenty-seven Pound Sterling – £27 GBP).
I had forgotten the above until recent years when dealing with the good, the great and the not-so-great in terms of making a living and marketing and promoting myself as an Actor, Writer and Digital Artist/Creative Director.
My recent dealings with ‘The Spotlight’ the UK Actor’s Directory, has left me somewhat appalled when one considers for the past ten years, I was a paying client. Apparently anyone who is anyone and serious about being an actor subscribes to ‘Spotlight’ as it is known throughout the Industry. After a decade as a subscriber I seriously have my doubts regarding the above.
I have written elsewhere on My Blog about the difficulties of being ‘An Actor of Colour’ in the UK and how strange and very frustrating it is that in Britain in the 21st Century, Race and Ethnicity is still a major issue and one where if your skin is darker than what is seen as the norm, it is very difficult to get ahead. No matter how good and talented you may be. What galls me is that those who run things pretend that none of the above exists or is an issue.
Since the start of 2014 I started to receive (via email,) casting breakdowns from Spotlight. Every single email I received contained roles where the requirement was to be Caucasian. I found this odd because I look anything but Caucasian, nor Scandinavian for that matter. Finally yesterday, enough was enough. I fired off a few messages to Spotlight themselves via Twitter (@SpotlightUK) and told them to stop sending me emails for casting breakdowns for Caucasians because it was bloody annoying. I then went on to criticise them for what I felt was a bloody awful service. To cut a long story short, I received a tweet message from someone called ‘Pippa’ from Spotlight with a contact number. So I called. I would like to say that we had a constructive conversation but to be blunt I have never experienced a greater washing of hands over any issue I have encountered with regard to this conversation. Pontius Pilate himself would have been proud.
It is all well being told by Pippa that she has had this conversation before, with this issue coming up again and again and she has spoken to casting directors about this, before telling me I need to be talking to casting directors and writers about this.
Now I am not sure what makes Pippa think that if she as a representative of an Organisation with a 70/80 year history cannot convince those casting projects to be more open in their decisions instead of adopting a white’s only policy, then what makes her think that I as some no-name actor is going to fare any better? The mind boggles at what goes on inside the minds of these people. If an issue arises constantly, clearly there is a problem so just why is nothing happening to address it?
The problem is the UK Media is run by white, middle-class people who have no idea of diversity nor the changing face of Britain in the 21st Century. A week of viewing British Television will tell you that much.
As a paying client of Spotlight, I am not getting what I am paying for. I do find it quite insulting to be sent emails clogging up my inbox that effectively tell me on a daily basis that as far as the UK Casting System is concerned, it is closed for business as far as black actors are concerned. And it is no good Pippa telling me that plenty of black actors are getting cast and working because I know many who like myself are not working, not because we lack talent and experience but more because the doors are closed to us because those who write, produce and green-light projects continue to display an ignorance about the Society they supposedly live in that borders on the Neolithic.
The old paraodox: ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ continues unabated. I live in the very heart of London, a City, a Metropolis, a Virtual City State, where diversity grows unabated. A City where three hundred different languages are spoken. One hardly ever hears English spoken on the public transport system anymore. That is how diverse London is. Cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, much like London have a long history of ethnic and cultural diversity. Unfortunately those who control what we watch, read and consume via the Media in this Country, very clearly are ignorant of the above. Either their ignorance borders on the Neolithic or they just don’t care. Business as usual.
And the above is why I can no longer subscribe to UK’s Actor’s Directory ‘The Spotlight’. The doors of Britain’s Casting and Acting Establishment may be closed to me because my skin is too dark. But I will be damned if I am going to pay any organisation like Spotlight for the privilege of sending me endless emails requesting to see Caucasian and Scandinavian actors. I find that grossly insulting, offensive and not what I subscribed to nor joined Spotlight for.
That is why Spotlight and I had to part company. I can get the same results without the need to pay Spotlight to tell me what I already know. If they can’t be bothered to instigate change from the position they hold in the UK Entertainment Industry, then I cannot do business with them.
The more things change, the more they stay the same”.