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Summary of Mar Meeting - 'Racial Equality in Casting'

14 March 2013

A great meeting - with 2 spirited & lively speakers  - passionate voices on equality & the still sadly narrow minded casting that still occurs. We have moved on a lot in some ways but not in others.

Bullet Points from both speakers as follows:

CLEO SYLVESTRE

  • 40 years in the business, working with Alec Guiness & Ken Loach. In the 50's & 60's very few black faces in the industry other than American imports or 'The Black & White Minstrel Show'. Careers teacher said 'Cleopatra there are no black actresses in England' only made Cleo MORE determined.
  • Worked at the National Theatre in Peter Nichol's 'Public Health' & with the company for 3 years. Only 1 other production in that tiime. 'They didn't know what to do with me'.
  • While at NT - in a MAJOR role - Cleo wrote to ALL the Regional Reps (around 40 at the time) only 2 replies '"if doing The Crucible - we will bear you in mind".
  • Also at same time in Crossroads - playing adopted daughter of lead part - ground breaking role as colour had nothing to do with the story - just another character. Reg Watson - producer made a bold & valid contribution as this was same time as Enoch Powell's 'River of Blood' speech. Helped the public see black people as people & not to be feared. Cleo felt very exposed when she visited Brighton from London
  • Biggest break was with Frank Dunlop at Young Vic - 1st director ro use integrated casting. Also in company - Black actor Tony Asoba & Chinese actor David Yip. Played anything & everything, Shakespeare, children.
  • Racial picture has changed hugely in 30 - 40 years in the country  BUT STILL A FIGHT AGAINST STEREOTYPING IN THE INDUSTRY.
  • Ethnic Committee used to be called CAC - Coloured Actors Comm....
  • Young actors must question the type of roles they go up for.
  • Only 3 black Casting Directors - this must be improved. - Any Black Agents?
  • TV - now far more represented but can still be stereotyped - has changed especially in Medical dramas
  • Black Actors & Actors with disabilities are often put in the same 'box' ie colour/disability blind
  • Younger black actors mainly going to America - that's where they see their future.
  • In Summary - Lots of leaps forward but need more awareness in writing - more black writers - to be fully represented of the society we live in.
  • As a child, used to be 2 weeks before I would see another black face - staggering to think that now.

DANIEL YORK

  • Daniel's  father came from Singapore & Mother came from England. Father had English name but only discovered at 28 was adopted so Daniel's real surname is in fact Lo.
  • As a child sadly did experience racial abuse at school but not until discovered his talent & love of acting that he realised 'where are the chinese actors other than David Yip (Chinese Detective - a ground breaking TV series in the 80's).
  • While at Drama School in Blood Brothers overheard 'that chinese actor does v good Liverpool' rather than comment on good performance. Also 'You'll be all right when they re-make Charlie Chan"
  • Daniel's big break was at The Royal Court with great reviews & then followed a stint at The RSC playing a Tahitian Miner in Moby Dick. Only 3 black actors & Daniel in the whole of the company at the time.
  • From then on got v difficult - roles on TV were only ever Mr Li or Mr Chan - very stilted dialogie written so encouragiing stereotyping: 'My Father is a very proud man' commonly used.
  • Often the feedback from auditions was 'Loved you but didn't think you were chinese enough' Image is a 'flowery oriental'. Daniel lost 2 days lucrative role-play work for 2 auditions for a tv to then find not Chinese enough.
  • While waiting for a casting at a well known Casting Directors - Daniel noticed 3 boxes marked 'Black Actors', Black Actresses' & 'Oriental Actors'  - 'I'm in this BOX!'
  • Have to challenge Stereotypical writing & programmes - 'Spirit Warriors' prime example
  • East Asian actors have not achieved what Black actors have - black actors speak out more, 'We must be put up for this' East asian actors more 'grateful'. Not good!! Need to be 'bold, brave & out there'.
  • Daniel got more vocally active & lead the campaign when RSC cast  all 3 asian actors as very very minor roles - dog, horse.
  • Caused a massive storm world-wide -
  • Open Space event ar Young Vic followed & Daniel at the head & major player & role model. Well attended by employers as well as actors including Wendy Spon, Greg Hersov, Erika Wyman.
  • Big rows on the internet ' Well maybe you're just not that good' - opened up the prejudice & racism.
  • Raised awareness & Daniel seen as great example of bravery & should be congratulated!!
  • Chinese community been in England longer than Black community.
  • Yellow Earth & Tara Arts - Daniel viewed as 'Ghettoising theatre' - does not challenge stereotyping.
  • Let's write & produce plays on Triads & gambling.

Q & A and Comments from the floor:

  • Companies including black actors can sometimes be accused of: We've ticked a box, don't need to go there now'
  • Plays must be cast colour-blind - production of 'Women Beware Women' - member in cast & his brother was played by a black actor - no comments from audience.
  • America SO ahead of Britain in integrated casting - we are WAY WAY behind.
  • Stronger Union - still have closed shop - Union can shut down writng & filming  - we have no teeth
  • Much larger black middle-class society in America.
  • There is no such thing as 'American' - America IS Multi-Culture
  • There are more inspirational black leaders & far stronger in influence than here.
  • England is NEW to multi-culturalism

 

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