It is at this time of the year many people reflect on the events of the previous year, whilst also looking towards to the future.
As a female, as a British East Asian what does 2017 hold in store? Well, for one thing, a new job that was totally unexpected, but most very welcome. I’m now in rehearsals at The RSC for Snow In Midsummer. What a joy this is and I realise I am so incredibly lucky to be included in this company which is comprised of all British East Asian actors!
But with everything that is going on across the globe and the shift in, not just national, but international politics. Where do I stand? Where do I place myself in a new Britain that is now seemingly blindly shuffling its way towards, well towards what, we don’t quite know yet, do we? America a country that I have always loved, will this country now allow me to enter freely?
Central Europe is in the grip of its own self, doubt, grappling with the ideal, but having to face some of the grim realities, that free unfettered movement can enable other unwanted movement and actions.
“…this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England
Shakespeare Richard II, Act 2
But the UK has shown itself to be less than a paradise and not as blessed, a refuge, as perhaps was once thought. Brexit has scratched the country’s surface and our collective mindset. What it has uncovered is the dark, unsavory and toxic ideals of the extremism. The right-wing have sentiments, it appears have never really left us.
Britain is not alone in this “discovery.”
I feel fearful. Not of being dragged from my bed in the dead of night, but I am fearful that the spread of this below the line extreme right consciousness will inveigle itself once more into our institutions and national structures. I hope that I am just being paranoid and overly anxious. I am not a politician or an academic. I’m an actor, a writer, filmmaker and at times when needs be, a bit mouthy about issues that I am passionate about.
As a person of colour, as a disenfranchised, culturally, dislocated and isolated person, I am finding it more and more difficult to see how I fit into Britain.
The social and cultural progressions that have been made since the late 50s early 60s when I first landed in this country, as Hong Kong Chinese foundling, have been truly remarkable. The diversity and variety that can be seen, heard and experienced in most major cities and towns across the land, is the jewel in Britain’s crown.
So why do I still feel excluded from British society?
Quite simply because I seldom see myself represented in my own culture – British culture.
As a professional artist, it is rare that I even get the chance to be considered to represent my own ethnicity, let alone see the Britain that I grew up in, recreated on TV, film or in the theatre. In April 2013, I presented on the unrealistic artistic mirrors that I was faced with in the media as I grew up during the 60s. It was part of IN CONVERSATION – A Snapshot of Chinese Cinema Today.
Whilst there have been great strides forwards for British East Asians (though to be fair we lag far behind colleagues from other British minority ethnic groups). We still have not been able to break through the entrenched, almost subliminally embedded Victorian perspective of what an East Asian should be. In spite of several high-profile productions, since 2013, that have had a majority or completely all British East Asians casts. On the small and big screens in the UK, British East Asians are hardly ever to be seen. Now when I say British East Asian, what I mean is roles and story lines that don’t cast East Asians as the outsiders, the immigrants, speaking English with a heavy accent. Roles that see East Asians as British. The girls next door, the cabbie, the Doctor or the local shop owner. We are far from being there. Which brings me to the casting controversy that The Print Room, an independent (i.e. privately funded) fringe theatre in West London. The Print Room finds itself in a racist casting controversy. And their response to, Yellowface casting, has been found seriously wanting. In 2017, a production is being performed using Yellowface. So for those that may have stumbled across this blog, maybe wondering what on earth I am on about. Why the hell am I complaining about not being included, I should be grateful that I live where I do. Yes, I am lucky that I live where I do. But that’s part of the “problem” isn’t. Here we are in the 21st Century and in Britain, a group of British citizens have been edited out of British society and culture. To the point that we are not even able to participate in the re-telling of our own story (fictional or factual). We are neither British nor in some cases East Asian. Relegated to cultural servitude. As coat hangers upon which others, many of whom see themselves as the innovators and arbiters of art; and are, by and large, the dominant group in society (politially, culturlaly, financially and socially). They dangle and exhibit their artistry, from our history and cultural lineage, exploiting us, but in the same breath, deny us access and any hope of participating in our own culture.
Why am I complaining? Didn’t I open this blog stating that I’m now in rehearsals with an all East Asian cast a the RSC? Yes, I did and yes it is fantastic beyond belief. AND it is A FIRST (I hope the first of many). But this is a FIRST, and it is 2017!
I am more used to the following –
Whether it is ridiculous fancy dress costumes,
Take a moment and think. Would you be happy constantly being depicted, in the media and on stage as
No matter what the drama
add to this the representation of these White British stereotypes are only portrayed by Black or Asian actors never, or seldom, a white actor, wouldn’t you begin to question your place in British society?
Never seeing a protagonist in any drama portrayed as a white person. White people stripped down to a basic racial and cultural cliche.
Not once, twice but every single time you turn on your TV or go to the cinema, rent a DVD, stream a new TV drama, or listen to a radio play? Wouldn’t you begin to feel ever so slightly irked? Imagine how you might feel after thirty or forty years of this, welcome to my world.
So 2017 has started on the one hand with a huge positive but at the same time with a huge retrograde negative. I hope that there will be more positives and that Britain will truly embrace its own diversity and the benefits that equality and inclusion can bring.
Wishing you all health, happiness, prosperity, and peace.