Thursday, August 11 2022

Like many young people growing up, I dreamed of being an actor. As my family can attest, I spent countless hours of my youth pretending to be my heroes, be it Michael Jackson or Bob Marley.

As I got older, while the dreams of my peers may have faded, my aspirations to play only became more ingrained in my goals for the future. I continued to dedicate my life to this journey, eventually graduating from college with an acting degree. It was during this time that I discovered black actors like Sidney Poitier, who inspired me with their grace and dignity on screen despite a society steeped in racism and prejudice.

These images of black excellence cemented in my mind the idea of ​​an acting career that involves playing roles that fit me rather than generalized versions of something as superficial as being a “black man.” “. But when I broke into the industry, it became clear that wasn’t the reality for an actor of color like me. For us, there are obstacles we face that are simply not faced by our white counterparts. As we go through the normal day-to-day stresses of casting calls and auditions – relentlessly reading lines, trying to ignore pre-reading nerves, figuring out how to set ourselves apart from other actors – there’s an extra layer. of difficulty; for almost all black actors, we must navigate spaces where we are placed in boxes that restrict our opportunities and talents.

I have seen this problem first hand. Sometimes casting agents who aren’t people of color often make suggestions about my performance and audition choices that are rooted in stereotypes.

I am made to appear as a caricature intended to align with a biased perception of darkness. Over the past two years, discussions of these issues within the industry have begun to be taken more seriously. Following the murder of George Floyd in the United States in the summer of 2020, calls for racial justice and equity began to make waves in all walks of life.

This was especially true for the entertainment realm, with more and more people pushing for diversity on screen. While increased on-screen representation is certainly important, it’s clear that the fundamental issues I’ve seen over the years persist. Despite the fact that more and more black actors and people of color are being cast in television and film, I have continued to struggle with the issue of resourceful roles being cast for myself and my peers – roles that reinforce harmful stereotypes about the black community. The reason for this stagnation can be attributed to those behind the camera: executives, agents and other industry decision makers. Because of the top-down structure, many of the decisions made that allow these problems to persist are due to the people behind the scenes, many of whom are typically white.

In my recent interview with Dr Clive Nwonka, Lecturer in Film, Culture and Society at UCL’s Institute for Advanced Study, he discussed these structural flaws. “Let’s make sure there are people of color who are in stakeholder positions in the institutions who can embrace some kind of change within that framework,” Nwonka said. “Let’s make sure there are people off screen in roles above the line who are cinematographers, writers and producers.” Unfortunately, these discrepancies can largely be attributed to systemic inequalities related to both race and class. Due to the barriers that stand in the way of many black people’s success in the entertainment industry, it’s hard to find a set where true insight into representation can be offered.

In order to combat this problem, it is crucial that the industry seeks to expand representation not just on screen, but in all aspects of production. Not only does this allow for more organic inclusion, but it also creates safe spaces for black actors who might otherwise feel excluded in the mainstream setting.

Tobi Bakare played JP Hooper in the BBC One series Death in Paradise

When we are in these positions, it is easier to seek out and help other black artists.

“My skin color doesn’t tell my story,” said Death in Paradise actor Tobi Bakare. “What tells my story is my story, my culture, my family.” Talking to Bakare made me realize that a person’s status in this industry doesn’t matter, many of us face the same challenges.

As someone who has experienced many of these issues, I find it important to push for change. I never sought to be a spokesperson on issues of race and representation in these spaces. But as I went through my own challenges of finding myself as an artist and not being able to have certain opportunities due to systemic issues, it forced me to use my voice and my platform so that I could help inspire and to pave the way for change. On-screen and off-screen diversity should be the real end goal and not just symbolism.

Ricardo P Lloyd is a British actor and presenter. You can follow him on Twitter @RicardoPLloyd and Instagram: ricardoplloyd.

Radio 4’s My Name Is Ricardo P Lloyd is on BBC Sounds. If you’re looking for something to watch, check out our TV guide.

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