AN OPEN LETTER TO ACTORS OF COLOR: FROM AN ACTOR OF COLOR

Being an actor of color has by no way hindered my success in the commercial, theatre, film and television industries. Quite the opposite – it has propelled it.

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I am an actor of color.

Well, partially if you want to get technical. My father is Canadian (pretty much as white as they can get) and my mom was born in Guyana. According to industry terms that all actors, directors and producers will be familiar with, the best way to describe my look is “ethnically ambiguous”. In daily life I am seen as “ethnic” of various sorts, or mixed – which I am.

In fact what “seems to be” versus “what is” can be applied to my chosen career field to greater and greater degrees.

But being an actor of color has by no way hindered my success in the commercial, theatre, film and television industries. Quite the opposite – it has propelled it.

Though my acting career has been brief in comparison to some of my peers, I have been able to monetize my creativity and make acting a sustainable way of living. In the past year alone I have booked 4 Feature Films, 3 TV Pilots, 3 Web Series, 2 Professional Theatre contracts, and so many commercials I’ve lost count.

This is not to “toot my own horn” by any means – but I am a busy working actor. My agent…she’s happy. It’s something every actress & actor strives for, and I don’t fully agree with the sentiments of some of my peers that the industry consistently conspires against us.

Numerous times I’ve seen in social media groups, some of which are geared towards providing casting notices specifically to actresses & actors of color, people complaining about the lack of breakdowns for performers of color or specificity therein. I’ve seen the latest statistics on representation on screen and I understand that certain things do still have to catch up in terms of on screen representation in relation to proportion of the population (which I think is the fairest measure). But in fact when you read the reports, the trends are looking favorable for this, and in some cases representation meets or exceeds that of the proportion of population (more so when the total cast is taken as a whole and in television – leads still seem to be disproportionately white by the reports I’ve read that take the US population in account).

Now I’m not here to argue the intricate details of that at the moment, though I understand that’s often that’s were the devil resides. It’s definitely a conversation we must have. What I’m suggesting is that we are moving past the tipping point of change in the industry in terms of opportunity, and that this is a great time for us actors & actresses of color. So let’s move forward with a more nuanced narrative that acknowledges this.

I have never seen so many stars of varying ethnic backgrounds. From Dwayne Johnson to Danai Gurira, you only need to turn on your television and open your eyes to see the plethora of different people. Audiences want to see diverse casts and change has happened and continues to do so. This is the entertainment business after all – emphasis on business – and you don’t think that great financial successes like Black Panther have had an impact on casting considerations? Or that even older successes like Rush Hour didn’t catch attention? You really don’t think that those executives haven’t taken a long, hard look at demographic proportions and projections domestically and worldwide, and factored in the marketing benefits of having a diverse cast? Who their audience is and will be? Audiences are diverse and ultimately pay the bills of those who produce content. It only makes sense from a business standpoint.

It doesn’t seem to me that there exists a “racist conspiracy” that intends to keep us down. If the system was so inherently oppressive, how else would a person such as myself be able to be thriving in what is arguably the most competitive market in the world? In addition, I’ve performed in (paid) productions that have covered stories based internationally from Afghanistan to St Lucia. Sure, call me an Uncle Tom if you like – but in my experience thus far, I have overwhelmingly received support in my career.

CD’s from Mann, to Jules, Powerhouse, Jigsaw, Larissa Mair Casting, The Casting Group, Brunch Store and numerous independent and major production companies (just to name a few) – have all brought me in. And multiple times at that. I’ve competed for roles against white counterparts and I’ve gotten them. These decision makers are behind us, they pitch us to their clients and they fight for us.

To them I have nothing to give but thanks – and I don’t think that we do that enough.

The fact is is that success is now based more on personal merit and strategy then I think some would like to admit, and for performers of color it’s been bolstered by the increased marketability of diversity. The industry at large is not void of its fair share of superficiality and “looks” matter too of course, but our “look” is in demand and growing.

Every single up and coming performer of color I’ve been following or worked with – works hard. Myself included. And every up and coming white performer I’ve seen that continues to remain viable – works hard. So what’s the common denominator? Work Hard. Be persistent. Embody change through your own excellency. It really does pay off with the application of gumption and strategic decision making.

For us performers of color, the odds are becoming increasingly stacked in our favor. In my opinion, it’s easy to play the blame game rather than strap on your boots and hit the pavement. We didn’t choose an easy industry, it’s a difficult one all things considered. And when you insightfully take into account the totality of your experiences in this acting game and the opportunities that present themselves – the work is there for the taking.

Besides, isn’t that what we want to be known for?

by TARICK GLANCY

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