Ricardo P Lloyd: Diversity on and off screen should be the true end goal and not just tokenism
The actor talks about the necessity for diversity across the industry in his BBC Radio 4 documentary, My Name Is Ricardo P Lloyd.
Like many youngsters growing up, I had dreams of being an actor. As my family can attest, I spent countless hours of my youth pretending to be my heroes, whether it be Michael Jackson or Bob Marley.
As I grew older, whereas the dreams of my peers may have dampened, my aspirations for acting only became further ingrained in my goals for the future. I continued to commit my life to this journey, eventually ending up pursuing a degree in acting during university. It was during this time that I discovered Black actors such as Sidney Poitier, who inspired me with their grace and dignity on screen despite a society shrouded in racism and prejudice.
These images of Black excellence cemented in my mind the idea of an acting career that would consist of playing roles that fit me rather than generalised versions of something as superficial as being a "Black man". But when I broke into the industry, it became clear that this was not the reality for an actor of colour like myself. For us, there are obstacles that are faced that simply are not encountered by our white counterparts. While we experience the normal stresses of day-to-day casting calls and auditions – relentlessly reading over lines, attempting to ignore pre-read nerves, figuring out how to set ourselves apart from other actors – there is an added layer of difficulty; for almost every Black actor, we have to navigate spaces where we are placed into boxes that restrain our opportunities and talents.
I have seen this issue first-hand. Sometimes non-person-of-colour casting agents often make suggestions regarding my performance and audition choices that are rooted in stereotypes.
I am made out to be a caricature that is meant to align with a skewed perception of Blackness. Over the past couple years, discussions about these problems within the industry have begun to be taken more seriously. Following the killing of George Floyd in the United States during the summer of 2020, calls for racial justice and equity started to make waves across all areas of life.
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This was especially true for the realm of entertainment, with more and more people pushing for diversity on screen. Even though increased representation on screen is certainly important, it is still clear that the foundational issues I have seen over the years are persistent. Despite the fact that more Black and people of colour actors are being cast in TV and film, I have continued to struggle with the issue of ingenuine roles being cast for myself and my peers — roles that reinforce harmful stereotypes about the Black community. The reason for this stagnation can be traced back to those behind the camera: the executives, agents, and other decision makers within the industry. Because of the top-down structure, many of the decisions made that allow for these problems to continue are because of the people behind the scenes, many of whom are usually white.
In my recent interview with Dr Clive Nwonka, a Lecturer in Film, Culture, and Society at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, he discussed these structural flaws. "Let's make sure there are people of colour who are in stakeholder positions in institutions who can enact some kind of change within that framework," Nwonka said. "Let’s make sure there are people off screen in above-the-line roles who are cinematographers, screenwriters, and producers." Unfortunately, these discrepancies can widely be attributed to systemic inequities connected to both race and class. Due to barriers that stand in the way of success for many Black people in the entertainment industry, it is hard to find a set where genuine insight into representation can be offered.
In order to combat this problem, it is crucial that the industry looks to expand representation not just on screen but in all aspects of production. Not only does this allow for more organic inclusion, but it also creates safe spaces for Black actors who may otherwise feel outcasted in the traditional setting.
When we are in these positions, it is easier to look out for and help other Black entertainers.
"My skin colour doesn’t tell my story," said Death in Paradise actor Tobi Bakare. "What tells my story is my history, my culture, my family." Speaking to Bakare made me realise that one's status in this industry does not matter, a lot of us are faced with the same challenges.
As someone who has experienced many of these problems, I find it important to make a push for change. I never set out to be a spokesperson on the issues of race and representation in these spaces. But as I went through my own challenges of finding myself as an artist and not being able to have certain opportunities because of the systemic issues, it required me to use my voice and platform so that I could help inspire and lead the way for change. Diversity on and off screen should be the true end goal and not just tokenism.
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