Each year the Oscar Awards are given to individuals who were nominated as Best Performing Actor followed by all those in other categories for their excellent performance and achievements.
Having directed sets, plays and teams, I am cognitive of the hard work each individual contributes in efforts put forth to ensure that recognition didn’t happen because of just their singular part; that it happened because they were a part of the team.
If anything cannot be stated enough throughout this essay, it will be this very sentence just written; emphasis on the importance of any participant’s collective work of art or act of force, in their role to deliver an exemplary outcome, cannot be undermined and only happens when everyone respects each person’s contribution.
In a few weeks in an upcoming conference at UNF, I will be sharing thoughts on the slow process the media plays in addressing public representation as well as misrepresentation of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Questioning-Intersex-Asexual (LGBTQIA).
I don’t want to detract or undermine the efforts of actors who – on stage -as well as – on sets – come prepared after agonizingly studying their character roles, to ensure they deliver, as convincing as possible, without having to appear convincing at all, the character they portray.
While I recognize that actors are acting and aim to have a strong connection to their characters, even going as far as portraying the character building throughout their work and personal life, all in an effort to strengthen their identities to the character they portray, I know that it is through developing, practicing and shaping their roles in character studies, which will deliver an outstanding performance and that it is a lot of bloody, hard work.
Why is it that those of us who are transgender and/or gay persons, belly ache rather loudly about cisgender persons taking on roles of those who are transgender or gay? Why do we sound angry or unappreciative? Is it because we are not even considered capable and therefore, leave others who cast actors in these roles, to feel culpable? Is it that we are disqualified because we are transgender or gay persons? Why are we passed over?
Some of us feel it is an injustice to impart roles to cisgender persons when these could be played by the very party who represent us or any particular population for that matter. An illustration dates back to just a few decades ago when white actors portrayed Native American Indians. I must say that their performance wasn’t all that convincing since it felt off somehow, (not meaning any disrespect) but, I think the same could be said of the white man portraying an African American, African, a Middle Eastern, Mexican, Latino and Asian character.
As someone who has performed the roles of characters, I know that it is hard bloody work. It is even harder work for the minority actor to perform, because of all the cultural practices of the misunderstandings, misappropriations, misogyny and the long ties to cis behaviors, within a binary world, whose players participate in marginalizing a population – directly affecting the minority individual – cast in the role representative of them. The minority among the majority has been examined time and time again by sociologists, interested in the field of study, including preschoolers of the minority functioning within a native group. Studies show that they have behavioral problems unique to their culture of which there is a correlation between socio-economics and psychological factors stemming from the first generation of immigrants. One such study referred to as the Generation – R study from the Netherlands included 7925 participants. This study was not in anyway including or pertaining to LGBTQIA, but rather to any minority race and culture. “When considering generational status, we found that the risk was particularly increased in children of first-generation immigrants, though the second generation also presented more problem behaviour. A potential explanation for this finding is that immigration risk factors such poor proficiency of the native language and cultural barriers, more common in first than in second generation immigrants, can lead to social isolation and associated stress in mothers, which may affect children’s behaviour [1,34].”
We can say the same about our culture since many cisgender persons simply do not understand the language binding our sense of who we are as much as how we live and practice. When some of us are asked why we dress like men, when we are women, we have to explain ourselves. When we are asked why we don’t hang with our gender, we have to explain ourselves, once again. When we are asked why we emulate certain characteristics, we have to remind those posing questions and seeking clarification that we are who they see and that emulating is cross-sectional throughout history as much as it is in the world of cisgender persons. We have to continuously explain ourselves even to the detriment of exhausting ourselves. We have to step out even among some of our subcultural groups, who seem to also fail to recognize differences.
The roles are given to actors who portray people from other classes, rich or poor; other populations and subcultures among cultures; race, creed; blind or deaf etc, in no way make the actor a lesser human being. In fact, their role requires some really hard efforts in character studies; the study of history, the study of subcultures within the culture, as well as the study of current affairs in order to understand the character role they portray. It is doubly hard for the minority; simply because, the majority truly doesn’t really “experience it through our eyes and ears” – for lack of better words – Living a life of a minority everyday, every waking hour, calls within us an alert state; at a heightened level, which we cannot afford to reduce to a low hum and not because we don’t want to, but rather because when we do, it is then that we are at risk in falling prey to the misogynistic and homophobic/transphobic practices by those who think it is their place to stand against or for us without realizing their role and how they affect us on a level impossible with which to connect, because in their daily life they are not having to defend themselves. Why is it that in the Dutch study and many others like it, the minority are classified as having behavioral problems? Pathology assigned and we are labeled as disturbed in some way. Is it any wonder that we appear angry? The studies are done to protect the minority in efforts to reduce the pitfalls of any minority group not well understood. We implement practices and hope that we can actively legislate on behalf of the minority who are victimized and often lack representation across all realms.
Efforts to improve LGBT health include:
- Curbing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with interventions that work.8
- Implementing antibullying policies in schools.9
- Providing supportive social services to reduce suicide and homelessness risk among youth.9
- Appropriately inquiring about and being supportive of a patient’s sexual orientation to enhance the patient-provider interaction and regular use of care.10
- Providing medical students with access to LGBT patients to increase provision of culturally competent care.11
If the actors, as a collective measure, stood their ground on behalf of those from minority groups, who are not given these roles, or stood their ground on pushing for talent agencies and scout agents to seek individuals representative of the minority group, that would shed light on efforts made by everyone to ensure that the measures were taken to insist that these roles are filled by those who could best portray the character.
Is this being done? Are we assuming that it isn’t being done?
The worst representations were of those who as whites performed as Africans. Makeup artists had to work hard in producing a convincing outcome. Not quite.
What about those who pass? An illustration of someone who passes is the person with sight and hearing who portrays a blind or deaf character. Do we bellyache about the lack of representation when casting blind or deaf characters? Do the blind and deaf actors complain? Do we ever hear, see or read about any of the blind and deaf actors complaining? Pause … yes. They have and had to prove even more so than those with sight and hearing that they are exemplary at acting. Why is it that we have to “pass” at all?
What about Down Syndrome characters? We now have Down Syndrome actors who portray a character with their genotypes. They are not portraying themselves. They are performing the role of a particular character.
Is it fair to state that a really superb actor could perform any character of any population? Yes. We would say that this person had to work doubly hard to be convincing without appearing this way. Do we even understand that it is even harder for the minority to portray someone from their group? Do we understand that the minority are inside the borders of the majority? Do we “get this”?
Is it fair to state that the marginalization of a population hinges on participatory efforts by those who are unaware of the role they play in real time opposed to the role they should be playing? They could turn down the role. Right?
Actors earn a living. Inside the borders of the entertainment industry is a world comprised of shareholders, bankers, board members, producers, etc., who play an even more powerful role and in a twisted sort of fashion could end the careers of many individuals. I, therefore, am reluctant to bash an ensemble, who as a collective force, participated in delivering their contribution to bringing a successful outcome.
I am one of those individuals who wants to affect change in the way our industry, repeatedly casts actors who replace those from the very population they portray.
Some of us even have felt this way about efforts put forth by allies who should be giving the LGBTQIA the platform but, who stand in place of all these individuals representing us as if we are incapable of representing ourselves. We know we need allies! Not anyone of us denies the strength in collective bargaining tactics. We understand more than anyone outside of our borders that we must align with the forces of those who stand up on our behalf to show support as well as encourage others of their group to do the same. Political strategizing consists of a number of principle practices without participating in criminalizing or marginalizing minority populations. Yet …, we experience the counter-intuitive.
I will not bash actors who performed the role of you or I. I will criticize their speech delivery in not addressing the issues and why acting the role of a minority is a privilege. Many actors have stood up and made political statements as the world looked on. Last night would have been a successful evening if a transgender person could have performed a speech right alongside Jared Leto on behalf of transgender persons. How about Janet Mock?
I think what many of us, who have opinions about the Global Awards feel, is that the privilege of playing the role of a minority isn’t exactly recognizing that LGBTQIA are a minority, and it feels a bit as if we are removed from the human element. Even comedy has a place at the political helm. Otherwise, we are behaving entitled. We fail to underscore the messages. We fall short of our human side when it becomes all about accolades and very little about the roles of human suffrage.