A Black American Actress shares how it feels to be asked in an audition to try to "be more Black."
Read The Transcript
I am a black, curly haired Afro dancer, filmmaker and American actor.
I was having a conversation the other day about realization of otherness, and especially in the times that we're living in right now. Seeing a visual depiction of otherness and I think as an actor, it was something that I had become numb to aware of, but maybe not something that was in the forefront of my mind all the time. And seeing the separation of what's happening, it really brought it back up from. My experiences as a child and experiences growing up in the arts and really feeling other and really feeling like I wasn't able to communicate with those around me and help them understand exactly how I was feeling, I think as an actor, I have really taken a notice to when something is described, a character is described as black and how sometimes that can be a very specific stereotype and how that can feel so incredibly enclosed and boxed in without me or even some of my friends realizing that it is a box.
And I grew up in a very eclectic family. We're a clan box of people. None of us are related by blood, but we all eat at the same dinner table. And I think that. Seeing people describe me as one type one experience of black was really difficult for me because in my in my experience, I've seen a thousand different perspectives, not even not even that like I've seen so many perspectives and experiences as black people and not even scratching the surface of what that's like.
And it always. Made me stop for a second. It wasn't necessarily troubling, but it always made me kind of. Take a moment, and when somebody asked me to be black or be more black or be quote unquote urban, I would go to whatever that stereotype was that I thought that they were talking about in order to give them what they wanted, as uncomfortable as it was for me, because in my skin and in my bones, it feels like a mockery of my.
My history or my life or people that I know, and yet there is also people that did that do live those lives and do live in those experiences. So I know what that is and I do have that in my space. So I am able to draw on that. But that's just one perspective. And so this friend and I were having this conversation about really feeling pigeonholed in the experience and in this idea. And when we see something that just says open ethnicity or just we don't know like we don't know what who we want this person to look like, but we know what we want this person's story to be.
And then whatever shade that comes in is what it's supposed to be. And that has really become a lot more clear to me in the past couple of years of the importance of that, because then it kind of releases the. Idea of of trying to be something that I am not like as an actor, like that's our whole job, is to step into the shoes of someone else. Yet when the shoes are not your size, like it's hard to fit your foot in it.
So or maybe it's too big. So it's hard to, like, try to make that work. And and I think that. Personally, I've really come to see when things feel good in the work and I'm able to connect with them despite if they're waiting for a black person or they're written for we're looking for this character when there's the freedom of that and when it's written also to when it's written from a black perspective, I realized how much easier it is for me sometimes to to relate and to get into the space, because I'm able to connect, of course, and.
So, like that being said, I think that as I continue in this journey and understanding that and now hearing so many other actors talk about.
That as well, it's really come to the forefront of my mind of like, oh, like again, the same friend and I were having a conversation about when we're in auditions or when we're in class and why. It's a little bit more difficult for us to step into roles that were written for. Caucasian people like that's a lot harder. It's. It feels a little less uncomfortable, a little less comfortable, because we're stepping in to a on an experience that we don't have so as much as we want that to happen.
Personally, I would always experience some kind of just like.
Not getting it, I wasn't feeling up feeling like I was getting it right, like I wasn't able to deliver or get that euphoric feeling that like acting rings for me, which is like what I search for every single time I pick up a page, like just being able to dive into this person and understand them and have empathy for them and and and learn from them in some way and become them to tell that story. I was having such a hard time like.
I was having a hard time sitting in to that experience or those parts, and we had this conversation years ago and he was like this because it's not written for us, like it's not like so how are you going to expect to be comfortable and fluent in the language that you don't speak, like straight up like it is not your experience. And the reverse is also true. Like, how are you going to have a white person try to have the same experience that that that we have?
It's it's it's not going to happen because it's not your experience. And also to at the same time, it's like, well, thank God we have different different experiences. The world will be so boring, like it would be so incredibly boring. But that was so incredibly liberating for me because it really took off the shackles of expectation. Like, it really removes me from being like, oh, like the reason why I like the people, in my opinion, that move me on screen and that and that I've followed for watching their art and being so inspired by their art is because they have the experience to draw on in that role to make it not only just believable, but make you say, oh, yeah, like I I understand that perspective.
I get what you're saying. I, I can feel that from you because there's a place in you where that exists or you've talked to someone or you have a relationship with whatever it is, you're able to draw on that and be able to bring that forward. That's why I like to me like the stories that like Lena Waithe and Ava and Viola and like all these people are telling are so incredibly through and like true and specific because they're talking about their own experiences and at the same time talking about other people's experiences through the lens of the culture.
And it's not coming from a culture or an experience or a lens that isn't theirs. And so that being said, that was like incredibly, incredibly liberating for me because I felt like I was trying to fit into a box that just was like I wasn't going to. And again, thank God I wasn't going to because that box is meant for someone else, like in a positive way like that is not supposed to be for me, which is why for me, I truly believe that there is like.
There space for everyone, like there is space, especially in like in the acting industry, like I believe myself that there's space and that there's a role for you and that there is a script for you, there's a project for you. There is whatever it is that you like, there's space for that because the people that are writing for your perspective and your lens exist. And if they don't exist, then it's your responsibility to do it. And so I think that what I'm learning in this phase of my life and my in my art is releasing that, becoming aware of the perspective and the voice that I want to share, the voices that I connect to, and then making sure that my friends who don't have the same experience as me and don't have the same lens as me are watching those projects to be able to understand and have empathy.
And and the reverse is true for me with them. And yeah. So I think that that's I don't know, that's just what's been super important. It's been illuminating, I think for me and in this past couple of years, just to be able to see like, oh, there's a specific perspective from everyone in all of those things need to be celebrated. And the fact that if you don't feel like you fit into the specific idea or like whatever, that's OK.
Like. Keep going, keep going. There's like. I think that that's that's important and I think that we're finally moving out of, like, stereotypes. I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that we're moving out of stereotypes and we're moving towards people like just telling people stories, because it's it's so much more compelling to just watch people experience life than trying to like trying to stereotype someone to have a life that you think is stereotyped based on the media or based on whatever.
No, I think that I feel like I'm starting to see more and more. Material and more like art that is just representative of people's lives and representative people instead of just something in a box.
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