Dear Members of the Haberdashery Theatre Company,
My name is Marilo Nuñez. I am an actor, producer, playwright and director from Ontario. I am writing to tell you why I think casting non-Latino/a actors in the roles of the three Latino/a characters in your production of Motherfucker With The Hat is doing more harm than good, to our theatre(s) and to our community. More harm than you may realize.
Firstly, you deny trained, professional Latino/a actors from performing in plays that feature Latino/a characters in the leading roles. Plays in this country usually do not feature “people like us” in main roles, and therefore opportunities to play leading characters are few and far between.
Secondly, what kind of example are you setting for younger generations of Latino/a artists who may be thinking about entering the theatre/film industry? That it is okay for non-Latino/a actors to portray Latino/a characters? You are inadvertently saying that Latino actors aren’t good enough, talented enough, or big enough names to be able to portray these characters.
We are living in a time in history where you can no longer ignore that there is a huge inequity in the theatre and film industry in this country. Canada’s colonial past can no longer be ignored and the number of people from other parts of the world is rapidly becoming the majority. We are still invisible, no longer the minority, but invisible nonetheless. Your actions definitely underline this invisibility. Just so you are aware, we, as actors of “colour” are never given the equal opportunities to be on Canadian stages as white actors and we are constantly relegated to playing secondary and mostly stereotypical characters. This practice does not make for an impressive example for young artists who want a chance to become actors in this country.
My biggest question to you is why do you want to put on this play in the first place? What about it made you choose it? You may answer in several ways: you like the play, you think the characters are well written, you, as actors wanted to dive into playing these amazingly complex characters, or, it had five rich characters and there are five actors in your company and this play fit all of your requirements. I would then ask, but why would you choose to do a play featuring 3 Latino/a characters if there are no Latino/a actors in your company? Was it to make a political statement? To test your acting abilities to see how well you could portray a character not of your ethnicity? To challenge yourselves as actors because you believe that it doesn’t matter what ethnic background you are? What matters is the talent you possess?
This is where I begin to have a problem. In most industries, this would be considered cultural appropriation. In that, you are actively choosing to put on an accent and physicalize a character from a culture that you do not belong to. You may respond by saying, “Yes, I am an actor. This is what I was trained to do.” But then I would point out what I outlined in my second paragraph, which is, you are denying trained, professional Latino/a actors from playing characters that they can portray with a much deeper understanding of the role because of a cultural and linguistic connection to it.
Apparently during your casting search you did make a concerted effort to find Latino/a actors. Apparently you searched across Canada to find the right actors but could not find any, for whatever reason. Perhaps availability? Perhaps money was a factor? You do not have the money to bring in actors from across the country for an indie production? I can understand this. But I will say that when Carmen Aguirre and I were looking to cast The Refugee Hotel in Toronto (which featured 8 Latino/a characters by the way) we did so 2 years in advance of the production because it was of the utmost importance to hire appropriately- culturally and professionally. Actors sent in tapes from across the country. And I produced the play all by myself, on an indie budget.
I am a trained actor with over twenty years of experience in the theatre. I was not approached to be part of your production. As the founder and artistic director of Alameda Theatre Company, one of the only Latino/a theatre companies in the country, I would have been more than happy to give you access to my database of Latino/a actors. I was not approached on either front. I am disappointed and frustrated, once again, by this industry that is supposedly so equitable and fair. Colour-blind casting is a band-aid solution that denies everyone their culture and their race. We are living in 2015 and I still cannot believe that these practices happen in our work. If this were to happen in any other industry, there would be a far more impressive outcry. But instead of reconciliation and remorse, we are faced with anger and a denial of our truth. Once again, we are being made to feel invisible.
I leave you with this poem, which sums up all of the reasons your casting procedures and choices for your production of Motherfucker With the Hat are doing so much more harm than you realize. Please try to read it with an open heart.
Casting Call by Magdalena Gomez
(US Latina playwright)
Yes, of course you may audition for the role of an Asian if you are willing to walk down the street and have somebody’s nine year old give you his version of Jackie Chan as Mommy gushes over his cuteness.
Yes, by all means let a white man play Paul Robeson, a white woman play Ma Rainey; no problem. However, you will be expected to understudy for all accusations, ridicule, exile and lynching, verbal, political or otherwise. Yes, let’s have an all white cast of Fences wait in the wings for the moments when you will have to get out of your jogging clothes and into a suit to withdraw money from your own bank account without being wrestled to the ground, or followed when attempting to buy socks. Be prepared to get pulled over for the insolence of driving a Lexus or any car with a working muffler.
First Nation Peoples may be played by white acting students. They must be willing to submit to public interrogations on the status of their Indian-ness, be poked by curious index fingers and greeted with HOW. They will be expected to heal canker sores and hemorrhoids with a rattle, impart wisdom to the New Age rich, and respond when called Pocahontas, regardless of gender. It would be my pleasure to have white actors play Arabs as long as they are available for extended runs in prison camps, and be on call for career ending cameos and extended solos that will separate them from their agents, families, friends, and union reps.
I myself would prefer to be played by a white man as long as he is willing to undergo my yearly mammogram, pap smear and be paid much less than he’s worth. Oh, yes, he must be willing to be called a Puerto Rican whore with a chip on her shoulder when he disagrees with anyone who was born with clout and thinks the Great White Way should stay that way.