When I look back to why I wanted to become an actor, I remember the moment watching Degrassi and thinking, “I could totally be so-and-so’s friend, this show was made for me.” It’s only as I look back now at those re-runs that I realize what a diverse cast they were oh so many years ago.
That’s why I wanted to be an actor, to see “me” on TV. As a person of color, you see those amazing opportunities arise that totally fit your true ethnic background and you can’t wait to get that audition. Then the moment comes. Your dream role (or something close to it).
My moment came when I received an email from a casting director who was working on a pilot. She had included my name on a list of potential actors that was sent to producers and now it was time to send in an audition tape. After I regained my composure (I freaked out a little), it was time to work. I recognized the writer’s name, so I went to IMDB to see what exactly this project was about and who else was cast. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much information about it, so I had to make some choices. Time to open the sides, a few pages to seek insight into a potential series regular role. No I didn’t think of this at the time, it’s only in hindsight that I am noticing the gravity of the situation.
The sides were comprised of 6 pages with maybe a total of 2 pages of my dialogue. The rest was before moments to give you a sense of the place and characters. As I studied the sides trying to figure out what was happening; the “who” and the “what” were giving me serious problems. Knowing who the lead actress was going to be, the situation as it presented itself seemed wrong and inappropriate. Thinking this was a network show, I couldn’t in good conscience put that message out there in the world. I joke sometimes about having no morals and the lengths that I would go to, to get a part. But here I was presented with that exact scenario and I was worrying myself to death about what would happen if I actually got it. How could I face my community if I allowed these inaccuracies to see the light of day? Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not that delusional to think I can save the entire cause, but it has to start somewhere.
After reading the headlines from this week when American Indian actors walked off set, I wonder what their thought process was the day they signed their contracts. I realize that, like me, they may not have received the entire script, so they didn’t know the depths of “satire” that were involved and they were just trying to help portray our people with accuracy. But I also understand the torture that they are putting themselves through. “Maybe it won’t be that bad“, “They hired a cultural consultant, so it’s ok, right?” “If I don’t do it, someone else will”. After reading the same article from various news sources, one starts to wonder what the truth is. Especially after seeing the Instagram feeds of some of the movie’s stars, and seeing a large group of people in what looked like American Indian costume. Wasn’t there just a walk-out? Who are these people? Do they know about the script?
I ended up sending in my audition tape for the questionable role. I worked just as hard on it as I would for any other project. If anything, it was practice and I was being seen by producers.
I didn’t get the part. A heavy weight lifted from my conscience. But the possibility for it to happen again is always there and I still don’t know what I’d do.
How would you handle an uncomfortable scene? Would you push through? Would you wait to try and change it after you got the job? I’d love to hear from you.