It’s tough when there are so few opportunities for British East Asian Artists (BEAA) to see, not one but two opportunities being handed over to non-UK artists.
Not that I or the anyone from the BEAA community bear any ill will to our American colleagues. We welcome them and wish nothing but the best for them.
It still rankles.
Here in the UK where there is a paucity of representation of BEAs.
When we do see ourselves on stage or screen, invariably it is as foreigners with accents, outsiders, sometimes beings that are less than human.
We are most definitely not routinely seen as “British” or “normal” (whatever that might be).
Inevitably advocacy groups such as British East Asian Artists and BEATS.org are will call out this behaviour. Criticising the mindset that facilitates the erasure of BEAs from the UK cultural landscape. This situation is not helped when organisations such as Yellow Earth, an NPO funded theatre company; receiving UK tax-payers money, who’s mission statement says:-
YET advocates for greater visibility of BEAAs, but fails to say a single thing about the erasure of BEAs roles in UK productions, being given to non-UK based artists!
Instead prefers, it seem to use tragedy and social media to promote its own artistic agenda – or maybe I’m being harsh. But using the tragic death thirty-nine people of East Asian decent as a reason a theatrical production should move forwards was in my view at best insensitive and ill advised at the time.
Some of this “silence” this reluctance to speak out is historical. We have to shoulder some of the responsibility for not speaking out in the past. This silence has helped to facilitate the erasure of ourselves in UK culture. It has fed the paucity of BEA representation in the arts. It has enabled the privileged white lens to dictate and curate how BEA are represented. It has allowed the strangle hold on funding and made the position of the white privileged, middle-class, invariably male, oxbridge educated gate keeper almost inviolable.
But it’s 2019, I hear you say. Iit’s post Orphan of Zhao. We’ve seen the stage successes of Chimerica, World of Extreme Happiness, The Forgotten and Summer Rolls. The RSC employed an entire company of BEAAs for their groundbreaking production of Snow In Midsummer; it then beggars disbelief as to why not just one production but two (King of Hell’s Palace) in a short space of time would need to fly in actors from the states.
Detractors will argue and allude, its because those protesting have a chip on their shoulder. Most definitely not. I know that our communal hearts sing whenever we see that a BEAA has landed a role in a play or bagged a role on TV or in a film. We will support our fellow artists in any way that we can. Don’t forget that you can support a work even if you disagree with it, because supporting the arts does not mean you blindly have to agree or like everything.
We as a community have some hard questions to ask of ourselves.
There are many difficult conversations that have to be had.
Why do BEAs continue to be marginalised, side-barred and ignored.
Why do some of our own publicly funded organisations prefer to stay silent and play up to the “model minority” stereotype, instead of challenging and calling out working practises and unacceptable mindsets, that prevent BEAAs from being made visible and elevated.
There are no easy answers, these questions go to the dark underbelly of any group in society.
We are picking at historical biases that none one really wants to face.
We have to face and correct our own demons, we have to ALL lead by example.
We have to break the cycle which means changing the narrative from within as well as externally.