FOR THE SAKE OF REALISM

I’m not sure Olivia Colman is a ‘genius’. I think she’s a regular White lady who has talent and is impressive in some ways, but wholly complicit with The System in others. I once met a Black girl who was cast as an extra in The Crowd. Why do we accept that “To be in The Crown, you have to be cast as a (subjugated) African”? According to film professionals, film differs from theatre because they make it as “Close to reality as possible,” but by continuing to depict the world “Exactly as it was,” the same machine is creating the same stars who have the same skin colour, recreating the same race and class apartheid as before. The reason this continues is because ‘we’ (PoCs) are allowed to ‘create our own stories,’ so long as this happens in a vacuum that doesn’t disturb The System. I was working as an extra on the set of The Personal History of David Copperfield, and this was the first time I’d been cast in a 19th century period drama. I was surrounded with frowning individuals, all complicit with The System: “Of course this has to be fantasy,” one White man said. “There weren’t this many Black people back then,” a mulatress agreed. But I know this was an important moment, as it interrupted The System and valued ‘talent over colour’. They will delude themselves into thinking it’s an ‘amusing spin-off’, but will never see it as part of The Canon. I understand this method of thinking because I participated in it myself: the best is always ‘The Classic’. A director told me that I could not be cast in her production on the life of a pre-war writer, because “There weren’t many, if any, Black people at Cambridge at that time.” I sat with this, saddened, for weeks. But we spoke on the phone weeks later and before hanging up, I shared why I know this is wrong. Her response chilled me: “I’m a purist at heart.” Where does a belief in ‘purity’ lead? I performed a scene from Anna Karenina for a Bulgarian friend: she tittered and said “Imagine YOU playing Anna Karenina. You just so don’t look Russian!” What does “I don’t look Russian” mean? Are you telling me that my friend, born in Ukraine, lived in Moscow, as Slavic as he is African, doesn’t ‘look Russian’? Are you going to tell me now I “Don’t look British,” but a person who is ethnically German and raised in this country does? Mulattos are as much a part of British history as they are Brazil’s, before you try and erase my identity as a Kenyan Celt, raised on The Wirral and in Wigan, and tell me I look ‘Brazilian’ (you’re focusing in on my delicate, refined little White nose, aren’t you? Eyes up here.) Why is a woman who doesn’t have a single drop of Slavic blood given the go ahead to play Anna Karenina? Or an Australian woman who spent no part of her upbringing in the British Isles permitted to play an English queen, at a time before her home country was even colonised? Why are people from Scandinavia embraced into British society and are given roles as English aristocrats? And a girl raised in England, who happens to have African parentage as well as Anglo-Saxon, will be automatically barred from such roles for the sake of ‘realism’? If we are expected to ‘use our imagination’ and assume that ‘English Rose’ is speaking Russian in one role, German in another and French in the next, why can’t we use the same imagination and imagine we live in a world where the colour of a person’s skin is not a preventative buffer to the world seeing them as a human being? If we’re sticking to the rules of ‘The Classic’, they’ve already been broken when you change the language from the original. Because for as long as we tell the stories of the past, present and future ‘as they are’, which in reality is a living dystopia where the purpose of the Cult of Whiteness is to spread self-hatred and the denial of the right to be human, we will continue to perpetuate our living nightmare.

Post-edit: ‘High Culture’ is not ‘Their Culture’. It’s ‘Our Culture’.

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