Culture Column 2: Ami Jones
AMI JONES writes a race-y article for the second ever Culture Column.
Each week The Tab publishes a personal experience of culture in Cambridge. Our second installment is by Ami Jones, The Tab‘s Theatre Editor. If you’ve got an idea for the column, email a pitch to [email protected].
I used to be white.
Sort of. I was born to a white British father and a Japanese mother, and grew up in Hong Kong. For the formative years of my life, I was regarded as a white girl. A gringo. A postcolonial expat. Or at least as white as I now appear Asian to the British – which, from what I’m told, is quite a bit. And that’s actually rather fun. After the initial slightly boggling paradigm shift I had to undergo, I’ve grown to enjoy experiencing what is closest to actually being able to switch races every time I board a flight home/back to Cambridge.
Except I’m an actress. Or try to be one. And nowadays, every time I check the list of ongoing auditions, I consider three things when assessing my chances: 1) Size and reputability of the production, 2) Whether I’d suit any of the roles, and 3) How likely it is I’d be cast above a white girl of the same ability.
I don’t really know how I should feel about this. Should I be angry? I’ve always despised minorities who blame all their problems on imaginary racism. And at the end of the day, well… it’s not anyone’s fault. Not really. I’ll admit: were I to direct an elaborately designed, uber-naturalistic, decadent Renaissance period drama and I had two actors of equal ability, one white and one ethnic, I’d go for the former. The only twinge of conscience I’d feel would be down to the fact that I’ve been in that situation, not really any objective sense of morality. And which should win? Artistic integrity or nitty-gritty morals? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
To date, I’ve been lucky. There are enough surreal(ish) plays/fairies and suchlike in Shakespeare and enough modern plays in Cambridge to accomodate me. But then again there are still enough productions where I get the sneaking feeling as I prepare my monologue that, well – it would probably just be a bit more, ah, appropriate to cast a white actor.
Obviously it would be ludicrous to go around accusing directors of prejudice. I have no way of knowing how much, if at all, my ethnicity has barred me from roles. And actors (especially female) are used to winning or losing roles partly on the basis of looks. You can be too fat, too thin, too youthful, too grizzled, too short, too tall, too blonde, too student-y, too anything. And on that basis, why not include too… er… racial?
It’s a general symptom of an entire industry, and you can’t fight an entire industry. In fact, it’s a symptom of an industry which stems from a symptom of an entire society, but hey – let’s not go there.
At the same time, it can be frustrating. I love the theatre. I love being on stage. And it’s tough enough as it is. There are half as many roles available to women than men in all media – theatre, television, film – and drama schools openly enroll more male students on this basis. There is pressure to stay slim, be pretty and remain youthful. Add the elements of the luck required and, of course, talent, and I begin to ask myself, why bother? Another crippling stumbling block is in my way.
And on top of it all, I am just as white as I am Asian. It is strange to know something about yourself which other people will never quite come to terms with. Which, again, I accept as simply logical – you are distinguished by what makes you different from the majority, fair enough.
But ah well, what can I do? I just hope the aspiring Eurasian actress fifty years, a hundred years, however long it takes from now, spares me a thought. Because I’m sometimes jealous as fuck of her.