Sir Lenny Henry: Poll Shows Racism Is A Stain
More than half of all ethnic minority actors have directly experienced racism in the workplace, a major new study revealed.
The UK survey of over 1,300 actors found that 64% experienced racist stereotypes during an audition, while 55% experienced racist behavior at work. Meanwhile, 71% said hair and makeup departments had been unable to cater to their heritage, hair, or skin tone. Sir Lenny Henry called the findings a “blot on the entire industry. The actor and comedian added: “This report finally brings to light what many of us talk about and suffer in private.
We all work in this industry because we love it, but we have to do better. Is the film industry keeping its promise on racism The report was commissioned by the Sir Lenny Henry Center for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University. Nearly four in five actors who responded said they had been asked to audition for a role that potentially stereotyped their ethnicity. Only 39% felt they could turn down those auditions.
One actress of Middle Eastern descent said that “all the roles that were specific to my heritage were all stereotyped including a terrorist daughter, an immigrant, and “scripts written in broken English. An Asian British actress in her 50s said that “eight out of 10” of her auditions were for an “Indian mother / aunt, etc., with an accent,” and she often spilled outdated ideas about sexuality and interracial marriage.
“[It’s] like my generation of Asian British has been completely forgotten, but we are the ones who left home and defied convention,” she said. “We studied Shakespeare and Ibsen and went to college in the UK … but we just don’t exist. The report said stereotypes were embedded in the cast notes, and Afro-Caribbean actors were often told to “act more daring, urban and street-wise.”
In other examples, actors of various ethnicities were asked to “do a Middle Eastern accent” or to “sound” more Asian. The findings correlate with previous studies, including a 2016 report from the British Film Institute, which found that Afro-Caribbean actors were more likely to play roles related to slavery, racism, colonialism, crime and gangs. Sir Lenny said the lack of diversity in the cast was “one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.”
He wrote: “Every time we see a great actor like Thandiwe Newton, Idris Elba or David Harewood leave these shores to find opportunities that are denied to them in the UK, it is a painful reminder why casting is so important. The report also exposed specific problems related to hair and makeup. that people of color play substantive roles with the power to actively participate in anti-racist practices.
“The few black hairstylists I worked with knew not only how to tend to Afrocentric hair texture, but also Caucasian and Asian or thick Hispanic hair. But I have yet to work with a white stylist who knows how to treat African-American centered hair.” wrote one respondent. I usually wear my own foundation at work because I’m not sure if the makeup department will be used to dealing with my skin tone,” added another.