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black british

#WeCantBreathe

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

I try to limit my cynical posts to a minimum but hey – I am northern right?

I recently worked on a job that hurt me to my very soul. To my core! The hurt was so bad I really needed to talk about it to someone who understood…but then I realised there was nobody I could talk to about this kind of hurt. Some of my close friends/colleagues have never seen/experienced it, so how can they help or offer advice?

I knew there MUST have been others who had experienced this – but this kind of hurt is NEVER spoken about. There are those who pretend it doesn’t happen and ignorantly/blissfully take it in their stride. Then there are those who know EXACTLY what it feels like and also know that ‘if you wanna ever work again you better keep your damn mouth shut’.

After what happened to me on that job, I realised it wasn’t just THAT job. It wasn’t just THAT incident. It was the other 55,000 incidents prior to that 1 incident that made this feel like the sky was caving in. It had been those other 14 years of constant little ‘paper cuts’ that had made this last scratch – break the camel’s back.

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Acting and Drama is – and can be such a beautiful thing. Working creatively can feel so rewarding, like chicken soup for the soul. BUT, if I could live and be happy doing ANYTHING else – believe you – me – I would! I’ve tried! I and every other working-class actor there is has worked every job under the sun. You name it – we’ve done it. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Architectural Technology. I could be making a minimum of £50,000 a year! I chose that degree because it was my plan B and still – slightly connected to artistry and creativity, but I am NO office ‘grunt‘. (I have used the word ‘grunt‘ on purpose – stick a pin in it – we’ll come back to it).

I have spoken about this before and there is something in the DNA of creatives. We are wired up differently somehow. Creativity opens up a part of the brain and soul – that once open and active – can NEVER be closed and ignored again. I will never be satisfied doing anything else. I will do the 9-5 stuff alongside my creative endeavours (we’ve all got bills ‘n shit) but it will NEVER be instead of.

Now that has been explained and enforced, I will now reveal that the entertainment industry is the closest thing I can imagine to prostitution. In the same way that it can be literally soul destroying, you lose your self-respect/dignity, you feel dirty and need a bath of bleach. I have never been a prostitute or sexually exploited so forgive me if that offends and hang with me until I try to make my point.

Exploitation in the Oxford Dictionary is explained as: “The action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work”.

I can assure you that over the past 14-15 years of my acting career I have ABSOLUTELY been exploited,
treat unfairly, treat differently to other actors because of my race and all of this rather blatantly. (Don’t get it twisted – because I’m only 1/2 black I do not only receive 1/2 the BS).

It is the British way to revere tradition and ‘the way things have always been done’, whether the way they’ve been done is good or bad. The love, admiration and TRADITION of tradition makes the mistreatment of minority actors in the entertainment industry acceptable because ‘that’s just the way things are’, or ‘that’s how it’s always been done, know your place.’

Recently I was working on (another) job and found out that the men were paid significantly more than the women and I – out of my own god forsaken, ridiculous, ignorant mouth in all sincerity said out loud “Oh well that’s just how it is in the industry”. Idiot! This is the mentality and it even applies to me. For that split second when I responded so lazily,  I didn’t care. I made such an ignorant remark and didn’t care because it didn’t affect me directly. That’s the problem.

Why #WeCantBreathe?

There are lots of things afoot right now. (Afoot – love that word). And not to make a mockery or light out of any of the things going on in the US, as it’s all very serious and powerful stuff. The MANY recent deaths of unarmed black men/women/children by American Authorities has reached a boiling point and people have had enough.

There are protests left, right and centre and they are making waves! People in America are saying ‘this society is unequal and you have gotten away with killing us and treating us poorly for a long time…don’t push it’. Then it changed to ‘we have taken this inequality for too long and we know things aren’t going to change but you will NOT kill us anymore’. Then they started saying ‘in-fact you will NOT kill us and you will NOT continue to treat us like unequals anymore’.

This shift of consciousness has rippled across every country and every profession. People are now starting to talk about inequality in all aspects of life. Celebrities are now lending their name to making a stand and people are starting to feel safer about saying ‘you know what – this is eff’ed up too and I’m gonna point that out’. Whatever is going on in the world right now – inequality is up there as a top topic.

Side note here: If you think the entertainment industry/media has nothing to do with anything of significance – you’ve been lied to. Representation in the media says a LOT about what your country/community/authorities think about you/want you to think about yourselves and others.

Along with the resistance to poor treatment, there have been instances of home truths from others. Filmmaker Ridley Scott recently told us that he wasn’t about to hire no ethnic for a lead because he wouldn’t get funded in Hollywood. He was blasted for this, but I was like – yes Ridley yes. Tell us how you really feel. Tell us how it really is! I prefer a harsh truth to a beautiful lie ANY DAY!

You can argue that he would have an audience – having an audience once the film is made is one thing but, how can he get an audience if he cannot make the film? He basically told us what we in the industry all know. That some ignorants believe that there is no incentive to them or the entertainment industry to treat minorities fairly, just read what the leaked emails of SONY Exec Amy Pascal and TOP Producer Scott Rudin said!

 

Because inequality in the entertainment industry is ‘the norm’, for the past 14-15 years I thought I was going mad. Or as I was told at drama school ‘had a chip on my shoulder’ because I was black/northern (which ever suited them at the time). Anybody who knows me knows I’m not easy but I have endured an inhuman amount of ridiculousness for my career. Shit I that would NEVER fly in my personal life or in any other profession for that matter. Behaviour that is rarely experienced by my non minority actor mates.

I’ve had agents that have told me to ‘put up and shut up’. I’ve had Directors, Producers and other people in authority (and even those with none), literally be disrespectful and rude to my face in front of others, because they know they can get away with it – because who do we tell? Who regulates it? I’ve had drama teachers (very innocently) tell me ‘this is your stage ‘type’ and that’s all you will ever be’. I have had jobs where people in high authority would bully me (I did not stutter), in the workplace and we tell NOT A SOUL. Why? because like that silly agent once said – we should count ourselves lucky to be working at all and if you wanna work in this town you will ‘put up and shut up’. And to a certain extent that’s right. There just isn’t the work and representation is bad.

I don’t believe that this is an inherently racist problem.

This is an institutionally ignorant problem.

A tolerated laziness.

Read Chris Rock’s honest interview “It’s a White Industry”

So you’re asking why do I stay in this industry? If it’s so bad why don’t I do something else? Well as explained before I have tried. There is no ‘something else for me’. What’s awoken cannot be un-woken and believe it or not, 1 in every 20 jobs is the job of your dreams. The work that feeds the soul. The people you work with are cool as shit. Everything about that 1 job is everything in the world – it is your entire soul in existence. And if it’s not that, it’s because the money is great. Money – the reason you put up with so much shit, in a similar way to why people stay in abusive relationships I guess.

You can argue that in the US representation in the entertainment industry is getting better. You can argue that in the UK its getting worse (See the Act For Change statistics). There are millions of pounds spent on new initiatives  …

 
 
Twenty-Something Living

each year in the UK to tackle this issue. They’ve all been lip service so far, until now. Now people are opening their eyes. People have had enough and those few blessed souls in positions that are able to help are starting to speak up too. Recently the Arts Council told arts organisations ‘Get diverse or loose your funding bitches!’ (They didn’t say ‘bitches’ but the sting was still the same).

After my own recent experience I cried, I felt worthless, I hated myself for not opening my mouth at the time or not walking off set and I wanted to quit. You know – the usual (if you’re a minority you know).

Then I remembered just how much blood, sweat, tears, money, relationships, strength, brawn, self respect, liver health – I’d sacrificed for this career and NOBODY – not no-one, not no-how will ever push me. If I leave/stop it will be because I’m ready- not you. I wont stop/leave but neither will I ‘PUT UP AND SHUT UP’ anymore. Those days are over.

You see we don’t want SPECIAL treatment. We don’t want more work than others, we don’t want more money than others (although some might), we don’t want rose petals scattered at our feet as we walk. We don’t want assistants to help us wipe our asses in the latrines. We just want to be TREAT THE SAME!

I treat everyone with respect and professional courtesy, however from now on if I am not returned the same consideration, expect there to be a problem – Mmkaay?! Don’t make me draw for Lenny!

We are calling you out! We are tired of it! We are not your “grunts” (as I was called by a very well known and loved Actor). We are done being treated as second class citizens. That way of working and thinking is over. We have taken all that we can take and we ain’t taking NO MORE!

I am NOT taking anymore.

Get ’em Lenny!

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Y’up Mush! (Change Your Accent Part 3)

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

“Y’up Mush!” colloquial Bradford slang for ‘Hiya mate, how’s it going’?

‘Mush’ – An old Romany word, meaning “my good friend”.

“He’s a right Chava/Chavo” – colloquial Bradford slang for ‘he’s really common’.

‘Chav’  – has its origins in the Romani word chavi meaning child/youngster or chavo meaning boy.

The picture for this blog was chosen for its ambiguity. I googled the term “Yorkshire person” and out of the top few images that came up not one of them looked like me. This has been something that I have lived with most of my life. Not to say that there aren’t people in Yorkshire that look like me – there are! Tons! There are many descendants from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, Africa and now more recently other parts of Eastern Europe but, if we were to go on what we are being or have been shown in the media, you would sill believe that the biggest county in the whole of the UK is full of Seth Armstrong types living on farms.

http://www.emmerdale.org

If you read my posts regularly you will know I speak of ‘type’ a lot. For the longest time in my career as an Actor I was trying to figure out my ‘type’. Where was my place in stereotypical society? What was my niche? As a novice in the industry I clung to the most obvious ones with the most obvious and cringe worthy names such as ‘urban’ and ‘street’, to which I’m sure I probably still belong, but as I got older and more experienced in my career, I began to realise that actually – there ISN’T really a stereotypical media ‘type’ I fall under. It is in fact a mix of a few that I have fused together in my own head. The ‘type’ I thought I belonged to, as far as Acting goes, doesn’t really even exist!

In my mind I would fall under such umbrellas as: urban, street and gritty. You know all the crappy terms that describe poor black culture/art. But then I would also fall under: northern, working class, brassy, ‘salt of the earth’, common. You know, all of the usual stereotypical terms that describe poor white culture. So for image I’m one box and for personality I’m the other, which is a big problem for casting (by today’s standards in the UK).

Now forget for a second that I am of dual heritage and focus on the ‘of black descent’ and ‘northern’.

Now I’ll give you 30 seconds to think of 10 people in the media  (Actors, Sports Personalities, Musicians, Presenters etc) that are of  ‘black descent’ and ‘northern’. Get ready – no cheating – GO!

 

Now whether you used the timer or not I bet you had a difficult time naming 10. You probably got 5 tops and most of those were from Xfactor, Corrie or very recent Olympic winners? Am I right? And even they were mostly very light or mixed race females am I right?

I reckon I’m almost right! You see on the whole northern ‘people of colour’ don’t seem to exist in the minds eye of the media. We have the ‘urban, street, gritty’ poc people of the south on one hand. You know your Top Boys, your Kidulthood’s that kind of thing. Then we have the working class, common, ‘salt of the earth’, white people from the north on the other. Like Trollied etc. Two separate entities and as it seems never the twain shall meet.

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c/o whatsontv.co.uk

There is still prejudice against northern accents and a ‘north/south divide’. I get asked all the time – by southerners “do you ever have to change your accent?” or “are you keeping your own accent?” It always makes me laugh and sometimes I ask back “yes, are you keeping yours?” The look on their faces is a picture! You see it would never occur to someone with a southern accent to change theirs unless the part specifically required it, yet with northerners its often expected, required or not.

There is an unspoken tradition/train of thought that a northern accent is bad, undesirable and low class. An expectation that I should somehow be ashamed of my accent and try and hide or alter it as a southern accent is more desirable and has connotations of high class.

I’m so adamant about keeping my accent and being a pioneer for northern performers standing by their accents, that I almost go Seth Armstrong myself when I’m working. I first noticed it on ‘Kerching!’ I was surrounded by southern accents, some cockney even, which is just as regional! Hearing these and my flat, broad Bradford accent at the side of theirs, I realised that I had unconsciously started making my accent even stronger. As if my mind was staking a mini protest that my accent was here and staying. Luckily the people at Kerching! embraced my northern-ness and even incorporated it into the show, but not everyone is as forthcoming.

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c/o www.cartoonstock.com

In Bradford we have a huge melting pot of so many cultures, especially for a small city. All of this has had direct influence on the language we use, our slang and the way in which we speak. And as everybody else does, we speak differently depending on who we are speaking to. We all have a ‘phone voice’ and a ‘speaking to our nan voice’ etc. Amongst others, a big influence on some of our language has come from the travelling community, so words like mush, chava, cushti bari will mean nothing to most of you but most of my Bradfordians will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Slang, accents, colloquialisms all take time to be established. Unlike with the world of twitter and facebook, traditional slang took lifetimes to be passed down and rooted. There is history in the words, there has been struggle and there is meaning. Accents have history and a story behind them. For someone to assume that we have no history, no culture, story or presence because we don’t have a southern accent, is ignorant.


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http://www.guardian.co.uk

So whats my beef?

Well my questions started when I saw this picture of Jessica Ennis and her family. I saw her dad and saw a black man. A black man who was probably born and lives in Sheffield South Yorkshire. A region of Yorkshire that has a strong accent. Then I realised that we STILL have hardly any black northern personalities on the TV. Yeah we can assume that Jessica’s father is from a Caribbean background and has a way of speaking that is both bits of patois and standard English, but there is still going to be some ‘Yorkshire pud’ in that talk. Where are the men like him on our screens? Where are the women?

The last part of advert below shows a guy called Desmond I think, and he was featured on a show called ‘Make Bradford British’. Didn’t watch the show because I didn’t believe in the agenda, but this is just one example of how 1 black Bradfordian speaks and guess what? He’s a proper Yorkshire pud! Yeah sure he too probably goes in and out of broken patois but he is as broad as the day is long.


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c/o channel4.com

I want to see more variation on the northern stereotype on our screens! I want to see a Rastafarian Landlord in the Rovers Return. I want to see my Aunty Regina sat on the checkout on ‘Trollied’ (not literally she can’t act). I want to see my mate Dermot teaching his kids on Waterloo Road instead of always drafting in a southern teacher (who would NEVER come up here to work on a northern wage anyway). I want to see Milky’s dad on ‘This is England’!

As long as I live I will keep my accent. Of course if a role requires me to adjust it I can and will but, beyond that nobody will ever make me feel ashamed or make me turn away from my history, my roots, my culture or my background.

If it’s good enough for Sean Bean – its good enough for me!

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Chicken Shop Shakespeare

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

A great friend of mine Lladel Bryant and some of his colleagues have set up a Theater Company called Chicken Shop Shakespeare. They capture “a series of performances from the works of Shakespeare, filmed in contemporary settings”.

They have taken the industry by storm having recently been featured on the RSC website and are receiving great acclaim from other well established fellow Actors. Below is a selection of their fabulous work and here is the link to their YouTube account.

I personally think this is a breath of fresh air, its innovative and just what this tired industry needed. Shakespeare can seem so intimidating as the language is very different to modern English, but somehow when acted out against a modern setting, the language seems to translate itself and becomes much more interesting and accessible to those who would otherwise not have bothered with it. I cannot wait to lay one down myself, although I do keep bugging Lladel to do one in his proper Yorkshire accent – we all know Shakespeare sounds better with a regional twang!

If you like the clips drop them a line or get in touch with them if you have suggestions for scenes/ asides/ soliloquies and they will endeavour to film them – contact the team at:  chickenshopshakespeare@gmail.com or at:  @CSShakespeare

Well done guys

KING LEAR A2 S2 SHAKESPEARE.

ROMEO AND JULIET A3 S3  SHAKESPEARE.

OTHELLO – A3 S4 – SHAKESPEARE

SONNET 1 – SHAKESPEARE

 

AS YOU LIKE IT – A3 S5 – SHAKESPEARE

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Change Your Accent Part 2

 Imported from old blog post at tanyavital.blogspot

So a strange thing happened after Part 1 of ‘Change Your Accent’. There was a HUGE controversy over a new children’s programme called ‘Rastamouse’. for those not in the know, Rastamouse is a mouse who happens to be Rastafarian) and he and his pals solve mysteries using intelligence and intellect. The programme is an offshoot from the original books, written in fact by a real Rastafarian.

Now there was a huge debate over how, if in fact at all offensive this mouse was to black people (which got my goat a bit since it was in fact written by a black Rasta) and whether it was poking fun. But what also came from the controversy was the fact that popular Presenter Reggie Yates was the voice for this mouse.

It seems that Reggie is of African decent and the fact that he was changing his accent to play a Caribbean role infuriated some people. . . . At first I wasn’t sure where I stood on this issue and then I began to think about my 1st ‘Change Your Accent’.

As an Actor I know that it is imperative at times to indeed change your accent. We are Actors and within this definition we pretend to be someone else. I myself have played and spoken with Caribbean, RP, American and Scouse voices. Did this make me a fraud or a phoney because I am a native Yorkshire lass? I believe not! I’m an Actor and the part required me to PLAY, to PRETEND.

I then began to look at other Actors, Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean) is Native London, Aml Ameen is in the US playing an American in Murphy’s Law, Idris Elba, Eammon Walker, Miss Joselyn Comedienne (in fact all comedians), Sean Bean, Ewan McGreggor, the list is endless!! These people all change their accent depending on the roles and have NEVER had as much stick as poor Reggie.

It’s a strange phenomenon and I’m not sure if it is a universal ignorance or one restricted to just the black community? I completely understand a need for a culture to be represented authentically and there are possibly a million Caribbean Actors who could have given Rastamouse an authentic voice, but I think this controversy answered my initial questions in ‘Change Your Accent Part 1′.

When it comes to Art and Play, I think we have to be a little flexible. For an Actor/Performer it may sometimes be necessary to change our accent, but as long as we do it as truthfully and as representative as possible, does it really do any harm? Answers on a postcard . .