Why This Women’s FEUD made every woman weep

Bob: There’s room for both of you to succeed.
Joan: In this town? Are you nuts?
Bette: Fuck off, Bob!

I’ve just finished binge watching the utterly incomparable series of Feud by FX Networks (the same people that brought you American Horror Story and more). Created by writer Ryan Murphy, the series focuses on the long standing, real life feud believed to have developed between Hollywood giants Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in early Hollywood. A feud that was only exasperated when the two began to work together in 1962 on the critically acclaimed movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

“Feuds are never about hate, they’re about pain”

Without ruining the plot, the story touches on what it was like for women in Hollywood in the early days. What it was like for older women, women with ambition, women with ideas, women who were at the top of their game and also, quite inadvertently, women of colour.

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I stan for Jessica Lange at the best of times, I just wanna see her in everything. I find her an incredibly skilled actor, (I say actor rather than actress because as I think either Sigourney Weaver/Susan Sarandon once said – we do not say dancer-ess for a female dancer, or musician-ess etc). I have loved Jessica all the way since Tootsie up until American Horror Story (which, by the way, needs her to survive so….)

As someone in the industry, it is rare that we can just sit and enjoy a movie or episode without analyzing the work. The direction, the lighting, the text, the edit, the soundtrack. We look at everything! I find Jessica to be a wonderfully accomplished technical actor. She has a unique, trademark style. A style some find a little expositional, however we have to look at film history to understand this. Her technique lends itself well to the style and genre of the piece. Feud and AHS are not naturalistic by any means.

Feud, set in old Hollywood, when naturalism and ‘method’ was still in it’s teething stage. then we have American Horror Story with aliens, ghosts, witches and vampires… what about that in particular screams naturalism?

In old Hollywood, actors understood the purpose of ‘pictures’. It was no secret that they were intended to be used as a psychological tool to improve the mindset and morale of the masses. America had gone through the Depression, World War 2 and were just getting into the Civil Rights movement. Heightened drama, heightened glamour, heightened acting was then (and in many ways still today) used as a pain killer for the masses to escape their ordinary lives. Back then it was big everything, Jessica understands this and uses it.

Then we have another acting giant Susan Sarandon who has cleverly realised that branching out from movie to episodic is the future. (By the way can I mention Susan is apparently 70! – like girl! Get ’em). From ‘girl-next-door’ Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show, to Thelma and Louise, to Grandma Lynn in The Lovely Bones. What an utterly amazing actor and who on earth better to play the razor sharp Bette Davis? Politics aside coz 😌, politics aside, she is truly one of the best actors of her time.

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So why the boot lickin? Feud, as Baby Jane, to me was perfect and timely because it shows exactly what happens to women in the industry. How we are made to believe (more so then than now, but it still happens) that there is only room for one of us at the top. Even today men vastly outweigh women in the media 4:1, both in-front of and behind camera and this doesn’t even touch on men and women of colour. Although great efforts and now being made, the ratio is still not representational to our society. Davis in Feud goes on to say that ‘as soon as money was involved in Hollywood, the women were pushed out’.

It touches on the different ways women have tried to advance in their careers. Some using the only tool that was acknowledged – their feminine wiles and others using their sledgehammer talent. It also shows that after a certain age women become invisible and the struggle for women to get their fair share of the pie, especially behind the camera with female directors still being astonishingly low, (nothing to do with talent & black female or male directors or any other race being almost non-existent).  Ryan Murphy makes a habit of casting older stars and using female directors for this exact reason, because the problem still applies today and I for one am glad he had the foresight to do so. Feud has quickly become my favourite FX series and is sure to be an actor’s ‘Acting 101 manual’ for a long time in the future.

I also want to give props to Maidie Norman here too. Maidie most of you may know from American series Good Times but Maidie was another accomplished actor, (with over 100 film credits to her name), whom is often overlooked when talking about Baby Jane but, Honey let me tell you… She acted the SHIT out of Elvira. Her character is the only one who goes toe-to-toe with Jane (Bette Davis) and almost wins. Elvira was omitted from the story in Feud (ironically as many POC often are). She’s not in the film ‘Baby Jane’ much either but, she absolutely shines through.

 

Go watch Feud, watch Whatever Happened To Baby Jane – watch them both… at the same damn time!

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Uncle Sam – Expect Us

Samuel L Jackson broke a few British hearts this week with comments he made about Black British Actors possibly being less equipt to tell historically African American stories. British Actors everywhere were enraged and the discussion has been on-going on social media since.

I think Sam has a point and a right to his opinion. He is not the first to feel this way, it’s not a new phenomenon and this is a conversation we needed to have. Hear me out, whilst I give a little history lesson on Uncle Sam:

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In 1966, the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1968, when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for holding board of trustees hostage for two days, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum, stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was MLK Jr.’s own father MLK Sr. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement. “I was in that radical faction.  One day my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he told Parade.

I say all this to say; Uncle Sam has BEEN in the struggle and working in the trenches since before many of us were born, of course he’d want to play MLK over a Brit, it goes without saying! Though I’m sure his comments didn’t come from a place of malice, he is however wrong.

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Britons have not been interracially dating for over 100 years ‘en mass’. Although there is evidence that people of colour have been in the UK since medieval times, this mixed race melting pot he speaks of isn’t true:

“The most recent Census in 2011 highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of the population were white British. South Asian ‘groups’ made up 6.8 per cent of the population; black groups 3.4 per cent; East Asian ‘groups’ 0.7 cent, Arab groups 0.4 per cent and other groups 0.6 per cent”. irr.org.uk

Hardly a mixed majority Sam. In fact my Caribbean father came to England in the 50’s  (he’s 72 and still looks not a day over 40). I heard about the things my parent’s went through before I was born in the 80’s. Even as a mixed child, I haven’t been exempt from racism in UK.

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Denzel Washington – For Queen & Country

Sam’s argument was ‘not everything is universal’. A trope that’s often told to actors in training is that ‘I don’t have to be a drug addict in real life to understand and play addiction, or have had a sibling die to understand and play loss. As an ex (or current) drug addict, I would have a unique advantage, insight and affinity to the role but, would that make me act better? I dunno.

Because American systematic racism is hyper-visible across global media, it’s easy to say that the rest of the world hasn’t suffered like they have. This still doesn’t stop me knowing, understanding and playing suffering.

As many have mentioned on social media Americans have been playing British and other foreign characters for the longest

  • Denzel Wshinton – Cry Freedom/For Queen & Country (yikes!)
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus
  • Whoopie Goldberg – Sarafina
  • Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
  • Dennis Haysburt – Goodbye Bafana
  • Derick Luke – Catch  a Fire

The list goes on and even more so when looking at non-black Actors playing other nationalities. Would African Actors have loved those roles? Sure!

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No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

He also said we were cheaper, which really got people’s goat, because cheaper read to them as worthless but guess what? In some cases…we are cheaper.

  • Having an unknown British Actor play a lead, rather than a known Black American Actor = Cheaper
  • A ton of productions are filmed in Europe or South Africa. Europe = No Visa issues = Cheaper
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Ira Aldridge

Then last but not least; he said that the industry gatekeepers in Hollywood think we are better trained. This is true. I’ve been to Hollywood and had this said to me.

The idea of a quintessential, classically, drama school trained Actor is hot over there. Hollywood doesn’t have the same drama school history we have in UK, they have some top class practitioners but, the schools aren’t the same. Our schools have been around for over 100 years churning out stars. The course/class structure here is also very different.

They also admire UK theatre history and rep training (whether we have done any personally or not). Hollywood has virtually no theatre and Broadway is a closed shop.  “They’re well-trained. They came through on the stage not on a music video or whatever. So their acting’s impeccable and then they go into films.Spike Lee

People have rightly pointed out that Uncle Sam should be mad at the system and not us. I think that’s what he was saying, if not somewhat haphazardly. Non-white British Actors ‘can’t get arrested’ for love nor money in our own country’s industry and Hollywood is the film mecca, so it’s only natural that many of us are migrating.

To even get a US Visa we have to prove we possess “Extraordinary Ability” in our field of work and then we have to prove it in the audition and as I’ve told you  in What is Pilot Season, the US audition system is much more vigorous than the UK system, so those of us who have been cast in US productions have frikken earned it.

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I understand Sam. This representation thing is a struggle and we only want to see our fellow artists do well. I can’t count the amount of times ‘posh’ southerners are cast in ‘working class’ northern productions (as northerners). The way we cuss every time!

That’s not to bash the actor at all, but we always wonder what a northern actor, who’s from that background (and is often overlooked) would have brought to the role. Especially when the reverse casting virtually NEVER happens; northern playing southern.  (see Change Your Accent pt 2 & 3).

Uncle Sam you have the work, we are coming – expect the very best of us.

 

“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”

He added: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

He also said of British actors: “I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.” Samuel L Jackson NME

 

When Both Sides Surrender – Reviews

Here are the critics reviews for ‘When Both Sides Surrender’

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🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Review from North West End

‘All in all, this was one of the most intelligently presented pieces of hard-hitting and thought provoking contemporary drama that I have seen presented on the Manchester Fringe in a very long time.’

 

🌟🌟🌟🌟 Review from The Reviews Hub

‘Unlike anything else in Manchester, in a good way’ ‘Bold and innovative’

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Review from Mancunion

‘A truly striking performance. Bravo Manchester’

 

Review from Actor/Audience Member Steve Garti

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When Both Sides Surrender – 53two Theatre Manchester

 

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‘And so the hours do circle themselves away, see how this morning drains dry the day. A single city plucked in a single night, such is the breath of rage.

And I like a prison replete with shame now do love these gentle drops of perfect pain Still you’ll call me saint if victory go the rebels’ way.’

When Both Sides Surrender’ – Today the home-grown flames feed upon the city for the police have shot a black man, no a boy, and while the debate rages ‘was he armed?’, ‘was he not?’ a riot, people wearing mayhem as their masks, have carved their way through the city. But the police are re-grouping and so the rioters’ rage on borrowed time. ‘When Both Sides Surrender’ is a ground breaking play written in a style described as Shakespeare meets Clockwork Orange. It is an image rich roller coaster that rewards deeply those brave enough to take a seat.

 BOOK TICKETS HERE 53two Theatre Manchester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Piece Of Silk – Hope Theatre

This Summer I played the lead in Piece Of Silk, a new play written by Ex Head of RADA Acting (and my own acting coach) the wonderful Jennie Buckman and Directed by Tania Azevedo of Giants Theatre Company. The play ran for 3 weeks at the Hope Theatre London, racking up an amazing number of 5 and 4 star reviews and sold out most nights.

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”You’ll f*ck us, but you hate us, right? ‘Specially if we’re “other”‘

Shaz, 19, has 1,213 followers on her Vimeo account, ‘Shaggytales’.  Sister Dunya, 17, drums, shouts but doesn’t leave the house. They’ve never met their older brother from overseas, who comes to keep an eye on them while mum’s away. He has only their best interests at heart. So why do they fear for their lives?

Inspired by The Arabian Nights and drawing on the shocking stories of women survivors of domestic violence, PIECE OF SILK proves definitively that ‘story-telling is a matter of life and death’.

Jennie Buckman, writer (RADA, BBC, National Theatre) and Tania Azevedo, director, worked with Southall Black Sisters, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights’ Organisation and artists from Not Shut Up Collective to create this refreshing, multi-media, new play.

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CAST

Tanya Vital

Samantha Shellie (ROH, BBC – Casualty and Crimewatch)

Devesh Kishore (Soho Theatre, Birmingham Stage)

Jack Bence  (BBC – Sherlock, The Interceptor, Bad Education, Peep Show; E4 – Misfits, Phone Shop)

Heather Coombs (BBC – Call The Midwife, Silent Witness)

CREATIVE TEAM
Writer & Artistic Director – Jennie Buckman
Director – Tania Azevedo
Producer – Alex Murphy
Assistant Producer & Marketing Officer – Diana Estrela
Casting Director – Leon Kay
Set and Costume Designer – Matilda Marangoni
Videographer, Sound Designer & Composer – Oddinn Hilmarsson
Lighting Designer – Clancy Flynn
Movement Director – Chloe Aliyanni