Today I had an audition for a Canadian sitcom for the part of a terrorist. All I had to go on were two script pages, which had 3 short speeches, (really 3 lines), for my character. And there was nothing in the script that suggested they wanted something other than the stereotypical middle Eastern terrorist type.
So I'm faced with an existential dilemma. Do I perpetuate a stereotype in order to get a gig, or do I take some kind of stand?
I face this dilemma almost every time I get an audition because as a minority, I am seldom offered parts that weren't expressly written as a minority. (Unless it's as a doctor. I've done 29 doctors. I could cut a reel of my doctors to the stars. No stereotyping there!) In an earlier post on this blog, I noted how Canadian shows usually want me to have an accent - I guess in the interests of multiculturalism - and American shows usually do not - the American audience can't abide accents, I guess.
In trying to figure out what to do for this latest audition, I contemplated doing it with a Canadian accent - we do have home grown terrorists, after all - or maybe another unexpected accent, upper class Brit or Parisian, perhaps. Anything to not be party to perpetuating a stereotype, and yet being available for work - and not being labeled a troublemaker and being blackballed like other actors have been when they took a stand against stereotypes. (The great Canadian actor Tony Nardi became famous for refusing to audition for Italian mobster parts.)
But I also need the gig. That's just the reality of my career. I can't afford to turn down work - or worse, alienate a network for being "difficult."
When I arrived at the audition, my suspicions were immediately proved right, when the casting director told all the actors waiting to audition for the part to please "throw in an accent." We all knew what she meant, but I just couldn't help myself from confirming what we were being asked to do. So I asked "What kind?"
Silence from the casting director. Then, "uh, Arab?"
Now I really can't help myself and laugh and say, "Any reason this part isn't a stereotype then?"
The casting director now glares at me. I realize it's not her fault, this is what the producers and network have told her to find. I'm just a hassle at the end of her long day.
I was gratified when the actor who went in before me thanked me for saying what I said.
But this is my CAREER! My life! I am the one who would be on TV, not the producers, network executives or writers. The actor takes the hit from the public. (I often get asked in interviews how I choose my roles. As if actors had a choice. Maybe Tom Cruise, but most of us choose our roles when the network chooses us.)
So I did the audition avec accent, (East Indian sitcom). The casting director didn't want another take, which I suspect was her way of telling me, "Yeah, you won't be on the final selects we send the network. Have a nice day."
I really wish TV writers and networks could find a way to be funny without perpetuating racial and cultural stereotypes, but it looks like we're not there yet.
Another day in the life of a minority actor.