Benedict Cumberbatch has been moaning about being typecast as a posh boy because he’s a posh boy… Naturally he sounds like an entitled little tosspot. Every problem is more important than being stuck in costume dramas. But he’s telling the truth. In the industry someone is bound to not cast him in something because of a prejudice they have about his class… or his face… or some other thing I don’t know about. And being thwarted is always an ordeal.
Recently I saw the novelist Pat Barker interviewed. It took her till her late 30s to get published and she thinks it was because she internalized all the prejudices against working-class Northern Women that the London-centered literati have. And she’s right. Regardless of whether the London literati have an issue with the North or not – she had internalized that belief. And it inhibited her writing.
It’s how the world works.
Gatekeepers – the people who decide who gets work and who doesn’t – have all sorts of biases and sometimes it’s unfair. And everyone in the Arts has at least one thing they rightly or wrongly assume is holding them back. It could be class, accent, location, looks, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity…. we all obsess about it. It’s so unfair! Socialism says we’re all equal and capitalism says we should follow our dream. How can it be that we get rejected for ‘stuff we can do very little about’.
I earwigged the following conversation between two female black theatre practitioners at the Edinburgh Festival :
Woman One : ‘How was the reviews?’
Woman Two : ‘Terrible. It wasn’t black enough. It wasn’t guns, gangs or riots. It was middle-class black professionals facing professional dilemmas.’
Woman One : ‘They never get that’.
Woman Two : ‘the reviewers wanted it to be about race – not class. I think class is more important than race in determining your life choices, but it’s ok to make black people victims and not ok to have them make decisions. A black theatre company has to only represent black people the way the white-dominated media wants to see them… and yet we claim to be in a post-racial society or to be against racism… All we can do is raise awareness of issues that only black people can face in Britain or we don’t get any funding. There only is one issue only black people can face in their opinion and that’s their treatment by white people… They know nothing about black people. They’re very ignorant’.
This is both a disgusting injustice and true and wrong and tough luck.
Someone has to be a casting agent, or a director, or a producer or a publisher or a reviewer or a reader… and they have to make choices based on criteria… and they might hate comedy and love anything set in Ireland… or they might hate everything set in France and love Tragedy… or they might want a protagonist just like them, or definitely not like them… We don’t know and it’s hard to legislate against it. Especially when it takes your own prejudice about their prejudice to perceive that anything prejudiced is happening at all.
And on the bright side – we can always console ourselves that it was their evil intent and not our evil lack of talent that caused our abject failure.