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A UK survey commissioned by legendary British actor and comic Sir Lenny Henry indicates that more than half of all actors from ethnic minorities have dealt with racism in the workplace.
The survey, which consisted of just over 1,300 participants, found that 66% of those asked had experienced racial stereotyping during auditions, while 55% came up against racist behaviour at work. Additionally, 71% of people said that hair and make-up departments had been incapable of catering to their hair texture or skin tone.
Speaking on the findings, Sir Lenny Henry called the study’s findings “a stain against the entire industry,” adding: “This report finally brings into the open what many of us talk about, and suffer, in private. We all work in this industry because we love it, but we must do better.”
The Sir Lenny Henry Centre originally greenlit the report for the Media Diversity division at Birmingham City University. In particular, one actress from a Middle Eastern background said: “All the roles that were specific to my heritage were all stereotypical, including a terrorist daughter, immigrant and scripts written with broken English.”
The report said that racial stereotypes had infiltrated their way into the casting process, with Black actors often told to play it more “sassy” and “street”. Sir Henry’s findings align with a 2016 report by the British Film Institute, who found that actors of African and Caribbean descent were considerably more likely to be cast in roles connected to oppression. Roles that involved racism, colonialism, slavery, gangs, and others linked to the perceived “Black experience” were all too commonplace for Black actors.
“Every time we see a great actor like Thandiwe Newton, Idris Elba or David Harewood leave these shores to find opportunities denied to them in the UK, it is a painful reminder of why casting is so important,” Sir Henry added.
The report was concluded with numerous recommendations for the industry at large. One of the most notable advocacies from the study was having people of colour in sizeable roles with the opportunity to engage in anti-racist practices at will.