A century after black British theatre and yet BAME actors are still struggling to take centre stage.

The lack of diversity for coloured and different ethnic people in the theatre industry must come to an end. It can be argued that opportunities for black and different ethnic British actors are a lot harder to find than the ‘average’ white-British actor. This can be from the way the public and the industry interprets the character just from judging their beliefs and race to the education to even be able to become a high-end actor in the theatre/acting industry.

The guardian stated with evidence that In London, where 41% of the population is black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), some theatres had a BAME workforce as low as 5%. Research for UK trade bodies last year revealed 93% of people working in theatres were white.” 

To today’s society, there is still distinct evidence that racism and judgment is a huge part of the UK’s theatre industry and as much as we try and show clear equality in Britain, the amount of discrimination in these environments negatively overlays it all. 

When being in an interview actor Steve McQueen spoke up about his perspective and feelings on the disgusting situation currently happening. He went on to call out the Uk as being “so far behind in terms of representation, it’s shameful”. He then ended his reflection saying “it’s not just about black people working on black films; it’s about black people working in film and television, period.”

McQueen is not the only actor to feel this sense of ethnic discrimination- actors such as Thandie Newton- who was turned down and not allowed to work in the UK because there were no minority ethnic and black roles in historical dramas- and David Harewood who has spoken out on how British public is quick to judge with hostility and how coaches are easy to dismiss opportunities for those that are redeemed as the ‘minority’, both come forward to fight against the toxic environment spreading within these industries. 

There have been many UK theatre works that have been criticised for their casts. In 2020 Aladdin was produced with an all-white cast in which caused protests when the two Chinese policemen were played by white British actors.

The majority of British theatre performances show that the industry has a problem with casting roles to actors that should be played by ethnic minorities. When researching there was a blog posted by someone who is involved in amateur theatre, who wrote that;  All White productions of Hairspray were allowed by the rights holders and therefore happened frequently, the part of Horse in Full Monty has been played by a white actor, despite him having a song called ‘Big Black Man,’ I have seen a White girl play Dannielle in Bring It On with a black wig and fake tan to try to hide the fact that she was as white as Campbell, as well as White actors play roles that were designed for Asian actors including Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, Ching Ho and Bun Foo in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Ching and Ling in Anything Goes.”

Though many can argue that this discrimination doesn’t cover the entirety of the acting industry just those of theatre- there is evidence that racism and discrimination occur throughout acting as a whole. Statistics show that 59% of Uk films do not feature a single black actor in any named character roles at all. All leading performances for black actors are clustered in only 157 films in the UK. Not only is it hard to get certain roles when being a minority in the UK acting industry but also trying to even get started can be a difficult process. The Uk films that feature black actors usually revolve around stereotypical subjects such as crime, civil rights, gangsters, religion, slavery, hip hop etc.

This isn’t the only case for films. One student who spoke out on the BBC said she was told to accept she would play a slave in her career because she had “inherited this trauma”, and was silenced when she complained.” This isn’t just a one-off; actress Thandie Newton got turned down in the Uk theatre industry for most productions and the ones that she wasn’t- she stated that her role was to be racially abused in it.

There are many sources that show that the Uk is a long way behind the US in terms of equality and a range of diversity on stage. In the UK David harewood worked on Romeo and Juliet piece where he mentioned that  “the British public was quick to question why a Black man would play the role of Romeo. There was quite a lot of hostility to us even having the temerity to do it,” notes the actor. “And that the reviews were snarky and dismissive.” Whereas, In the US- for example- in broadway George Washington was played by a black man.  

Overall, and what we can gather from all the pouring evidence of discrimination within British theatres, it can be summed up that the industry does not employ black people or allows black productions continuously and those that are stereotype the roles of the characters dependent on their skin colour and ethnicity. 

Generally, what is NEEDED on the stage is the genuine response and performance of black lives to portray their own aspirations and culture along with the history and relationships instead of reflecting this ‘stereotype’ and role onto white-British actors. What is needed, is for the audience to attend the plays seeing their lives being reflected on the stage realistically. Not what the industry believes to be ‘better’ for what they think is going to get more views and publicity. 

The fact that the BAME community are not being authentically portrayed in arts and entertainment is something that needs to be discussed and changed. As years go on and more justice is brought forward along with society showing more respect towards those who in the past was done wrong by us- this is something that needs to pull the acting industry into. 

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