Category Archives: black actors

Racist agitprop: over-representation of black actors in the theatre

Militant ruthless mediocrity is one of the prevailing cultural currents of our time

Dalrymple writes that black actors

are included in casts out of all proportion to their number in the population, and unlike such disproportion in football teams, it is not the consequence of superior talent or ability. It is obviously, but unmentionably, the consequence of policy.

He goes on:

When John of Gaunt is black and Bolingbroke is white, the audience is being bullied into pretending that it notices nothing odd when father and son are enfolded in each other’s arms. The audience is forced both to see and to deny what it has seen, being subjected to the kind of mental discomfort that was produced by propaganda in totalitarian countries, which was so powerful a method of cowing populations.

An entirely black cast of Richard II

would not be in the slightest disturbing, or even a production in which Richard II alone were played by a black actor. I once saw (about a quarter of a century ago) an excellent Macbeth in which Macbeth was black, in this case a very fine actor of superb diction. Any initial surprise was soon overcome and disbelief easily suspended.

But

it is harder to suspend disbelief when Bagot and Aumerle, John of Gaunt and Lord Willoughby are played by black actors, moreover without great distinction.

One is, Dalrymple notes,

in the presence of agitprop of a racist variety. The British stage is riven with racism, if by racism we mean the tendency to believe that race is and ought to be an important determinant of policy, for example in the allocation of jobs. And it is obvious that, lying not very deeply under the positive discrimination exercised in the casting of plays in British productions, is an attitude of condescension at best and contempt at worst.

You would never guess from the British theatre that

the largest ethnic minority by far in the country is of Indian subcontinental origin: it will be a very long time before you see a Bangladeshi Juliet or a Sikh Angelo. It might be argued that those of Indian origin are not interested in appearing on the British stage, but if so (according to a certain way of thinking) this would only be an argument for even more positive discrimination in their favour. More probably, it is felt that people of Indian origin can look after themselves: they need no helping hand up.

It is here, says Dalrymple, that we see

the implicit condescension or contempt in the positive discrimination in favour of black actors (of course, there can be no positive discrimination without negative discrimination). They are believed to be people who could not survive by their own unaided efforts—unaided, that is, by the intellectual keepers of our conscience. They are like household dogs that could not survive in the wild.

The mental contortions

that are required of us to be considered, and to consider ourselves, decent respectable citizens would be enough to baffle Houdini. Some demographic disproportions must never be alluded to or even noticed, others must be referred to ad nauseam, and the decent person must know by instinct which is which. Some disparities must be constantly measured, others persistently ignored. And you must never let your guard down in discriminating which discriminations are discriminatory. After all, received wisdom can change as quickly as the enemy during the hate sessions in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The inherent condescension of special funding of black actors

Give me the money!

Institutionalised racial discrimination

Hardly anyone, writes Dalrymple, questions the propriety of allocating funds on the basis of race. He notes that

visitors to the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company would be surprised to hear that black actors are underrepresented in the theatre, for in those companies’ productions, at least, they seem to be grossly overrepresented, presumably as a result of deliberate policy.

No one notices, either,

the inherent condescension of special funding of black actors and artists in other fields. There are no special funds, for example, for the Chinese, who are presumed able to look after themselves.