Opening The Door : East Asians in British Theatre
Positive Discrimination - would it be a good thing to press for?
Paul Hyu - 12 February 2013
REPORT DETAIL“We should lobby ACE to impose a policy of POSITIVE discrimination for EA actors to get us through the glass ceiling”.
A lively debate ensued where I made the case for this somewhat provocative point of view, arguing that the black and Asian communities had already benefitted from this policy back in the day and that if we as East Asians were ever to gain parity (and the experience required) to be able to stand on a stage shoulder to shoulder as peers with our black, Asian and non-ethnic colleagues, there will have to be a short period of quotas and positive discrimination to achieve this. I suggested as a concrete example a policy should be lobbied for, whereby all major theatres in receipt of ACE funds (RNT, RSC, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Rep etc) were compelled to cast at least 4% (1 in 25) of their annual actors from the East Asian sector.
Making the case so well (ahem!), 9 out of the assembled 9 agreed with me, and were shocked to learn that this positive discrimination idea had always been dismissed out of hand whenever I have sought to raise it as a serious policy at Equity, the RNT or elsewhere. The point was made that in the absence of this policy, the current situation had been allowed to flourish, and that the blank canvas of “East Asians” was able to be commandeered by those with a racist agenda. ie the lack of a role model for East Asians leaves the community undervalued and easy to overlook and ignore.
It was agreed that while we don’t want to be seen as a special case, what else would work to help us catch up with the rest of the world in UK?
When the realities of the policy were drilled into, however, Greg from the Royal Exchange admitted he would not be happy working under such an edict, telling him whom to cast. The assembled mass had to concede this was not ideal and Greg suggested it would be quite a burden and probably embarrassing for the token Yellow actor sticking out like a sore thumb. David Yip supported this point and stated that he didn’t want to see a token face if that face was not good enough. It became clearer that this was not such a straightforward workable policy after all.
When we discussed what might be a good compromise policy to lobby for, it was suggested that “Accessibility to be Seen” by these theatres would be less burdensome and more acceptable. Greg agreed this could and should be done and that furthermore, he would not find the notion of ethnic monitoring for auditions a huge burden.
It was a lively, interesting discussion, some of which I believe was captured on film and it meandered in a very interesting fashion.
I believe that the conclusion of this discussion, that we should press ACE for compulsory ethnic monitoring of auditionees (and that 4% of the total auditionees at the major theatres need to come from the East Asian sector) is actually a very workable and sensible solution. I urge all East Asians to support this action point and to lobby if not for actual positive discrimination in casting, then for a modicum of positive discrimination in the audition process. Something needs to be done to right this historical wrong and this is not a bad solution.
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