Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good acting is good acting

I don't think there is a conflict between the writer's intentions and a commitment to diverse casting. When I write a play, I want the best actors. And the best actors are not always white and Anglo looking.

I think the problem is that white, Anglo looking performers are considered the natural default. If you have a non-white Anglo looking performer - than that person's ethnicity needs to somehow be the subject of the play or inform the character. As though you couldn't have a strung-out prostitute being played by a Sri Lankan performer without the character needing to talk about her Sri Lankan-ness. If they're not white, we need to explain their otherness otherwise, why were they cast?

My friend told me an anecdote. She was an extra on City Homicide. She sat at a desk. In between takes, she had a conversation with Aaron Pederson. He asked how she got into extra work. She told him that she wanted to be an actor but decided against it fairly early on because of the way she looks and the roles she knew would be offered to her. Her mother is Malaysian and her dad is from Trinidad and Tobago. So no one can really place her. Some people thinks she looks Indian, Thai, Arabic, or even Aboriginal. She wasn't interested in a lifetime of 'ethnic other' roles. Aaron Pederson told her that his role in City Homicide is the first role he's had that hasn't been about being Indigenous Australian - and he's been acting for over a decade.

Like in any other field, people should be given jobs based on whether they can perform the role. Can Aaron convince as a tough cop with a troubled personal life? Yes. Is he attractive and will viewers like him? Yes. Would it be nice not to see Gary Sweet in this role? Yes.

We should all be committed to seeing a diversity of faces on our stages and screens and recognise (this is so obvious that it's embarrassing to say it - except the fact that this conversation is happening means it needs to be said) that non-white actors can play a whole lot of roles that have nothing to do with their ethnic background.

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