I’ve heard this question too many times.
I’m, frankly, tired of explaining myself (ourselves).
The following is a response I had to a post regarding lack of performers of color in Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow casts.
TL;DR: It’s not our fault that we feel unwelcome, and we can’t fix this problem alone.
“Hey! Actual person of color here. I have a lot of thoughts on this so I’m going to break this down:
I’m a woman of color. I am a founding artistic director of an organization dedicated to the representation of Pilipinx-American theatre artists in San Diego, and I am part of a group spearheading the discussion and implementation of EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) in the professional theatre sphere. I’m also a regular at Rocky.
The question of “How do we get more POC to join our arts group?” comes up very frequently, and the answer, of course, is not simple. But there are things that can be improved.
1) First off, how many people of color are commenting on this post? Has an effort been made to include us in this conversation? Obviously, I’m here giving my input, but only because my friend reached out for a voice of color specifically. We can’t be expected to fix this problem if we’re not even in the room to discuss solutions.
2) PWI (predominantly white institutions) are the way they are because of habit. White institutions stay white if you do nothing. Sure, you can include equal opportunity disclaimers on casting calls, but that doesn’t mean we’ll feel anymore welcome if all we see are white bodies on stage. Active, real outreach has to be done to attract more diverse artists, especially in less diverse geographic areas. There are definitely theaters I don’t audition at because I see they only cast white faces. There are spaces where I’m the only brown person in the room, and that’s never a good feeling. An all-white cast is always a choice, even if you don’t “mean it.”
3) Don’t generalize all POC (or ANY marginalized group) into one big, Othered category. We’re not all the same. Some of will hate Rocky, some of us love it, some of us have no opinion, some of us have no idea what it is. The population of people who are not white is HUGE, so I don’t think the content of what you’re trying to cast matters. There is ALWAYS someone right for the role. There is ALWAYS someone who is willing. We are here; you just have to open the doors for us.
Rocky is about inclusion and fringe groups and the underrepresented. All the names roles in the film, however, are white. In order to progress forward, we have to acknowledge the fact that Rocky could be considered a PWI, and that major efforts need to be made by the (White) people within the institution to utilize their privilege for the balance of power.
It’s not our fault we’re not showing up. We either don’t know or feel unwelcome. Reach out to your friends of color. Reach out to COMMUNITIES of color. Reach out to groups outside your own, because echo chambers do nothing and help no one.”