My name is Asha, which translates to "life" in Swahili. I like to imagine this means I encompass everything that shapes the human existence. I experience and feel it all — the good and the bad — and I am moving through the world as a wanderer and seeker on my own journey of self-realisation. I was born with a soul as deep as the ocean and an imagination as vast as the sky, and I discovered at an early age that I have a burning passion to sing, act, and write in an attempt to awaken the greatness in others that I see in myself.
This is why I will not be defined by your limited idea of what it means to be Black.
I have never considered myself a side story or a one-liner, or worse, silent. I am the daughter of Jamaican parents who migrated to Canada in their early teens. My Afro-Caribbean lineage is filled with rich history and I am a compilation of all those stories rolled into one being. My story did not begin in slavery. It began with great warriors, empires, kings and queens. I am tired of seeing myself only represented in shackles. I am tired of the limited, thoughtless portrayal of what it means to be a Black woman. I was not put on earth to simply support white characters through their woes, and I was not put here to add sass to a storyline. I have more to contribute, so I am speaking on it.
We can be our own heroes. In fact, we already are.
I want to challenge the trendy notion of what it means to be "diverse." It seems to me that everyone wants to be a part of the "diversity club," but not many take the time to actually consider what this looks like, or what this even means. So here is my perspective, as a young African-Caribbean actress who has been a part of this industry for the past eight years. Here is the perspective of a young Black woman, who is in love with all that she is, and refuses to feel less than for it.
Being diverse does not mean creating ethnic characters around the stereotypes of who you think we are. It does not mean that you insinuate flawed, conditioned archetypes into the fabric of your stories. We are not your musical break or your snappy remark before a commercial break. We are not your click-bait or your quota fillers. You don't get to use us to lure your audience into a "diverse" experience that does not deliver. Being diverse does not mean that you fit neck-rolling and finger snapping into your narratives in an attempt to "represent" us.
Here's what it could mean. You create authentic, three-dimensional characters who have the opportunity to explore the very essence of what makes them human. Characters that live, breathe, and bleed in the same way that you do. Characters who go through life, living and feeling in the same way that you do. Characters who get to cry and experience pain, and characters who get to laugh and experience joy. We don't have to be the best friend or support system on a white character's journey to give our lives meaning and purpose. We can actually be the ones at the centre of that journey, the focal point of the story, experiencing the ups and downs of an imperfect life.
We can be our own heroes. In fact, we already are.
I am not your angry archetype. I have more to contribute than standing in the background to support your quota agenda.
Being diverse means that you give everyone a chance to be seen, heard, and considered. It means that you write the same story, but cast someone who historically hasn't been seen in that role. You do not need to change their mannerisms or add a bit of attitude in an attempt to make it your toxic idea of authentic.
I've been cast as the "Black best friend" more times that I can count in more projects than I would like to remember. I can play that role with my eyes closed. The problem is that I am simply tired of supporting Caucasian lead characters as if there is any less validity to the triumphs and downfalls of my own life. I am just as interesting, and my soul is just as much a vital fabric of this universal experience. I will not stop until my existence is celebrated, instead of tolerated.
There was a time in which I was so desperate to be included I would have taken any role. I was so desperate to represent all the little girls who looked just like me. I wanted to be given a chance to share my gifts with the world, and so I was happy to play the Black best friend and the sassy, rude Black girl. I realise now that the images I was so comfortable portraying are just as damaging as not seeing myself at all.
So yes, I have a problem with you reducing me to an eye-roll. I am not your angry archetype. I have more to contribute than standing in the background to support your quota agenda. I am not just your shoulder to cry on. Do not include me to silence me. Do not include me to take away my right to expression — my right to my own humanity. I am more than a prop. I am a living, breathing being with a heart of gold and a soul on fire. And I speak for many other people of colour who plan to kick down doors and inspire millions of little girls and boys of all races and classes.
I am not enraged; I am frankly quite bored. I am bored of the same thoughtless, uncreative rhetoric that people of ethnicity are asked to conform to. It is not, and has never been, an accurate reality of the world we live in.
So, I challenge Hollywood to do better.
I challenge my fellow artists and industry members to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and create deeper. Explore new topics and get to know someone who doesn’t look like you. You will be better for it. Our world will be better for it.
You see, when you deny my right to exemplify a three-dimensional, nuanced existence, you deny your own.
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