Around one in three Black, African, and East Asian respondents in a major B.C. performers’ union census reported experiencing “race-based mistreatment” in the past year. UBCP/ACTRA represents more than 7,800 B.C. performers and 38 percent completed its questionnaire.
About three-quarters of the members self-identify as white or European or say they can pass themselves off as white to secure more work opportunities.
“While Black or African performers make up only 8% of the membership, 35% of those surveyed said they experienced mistreatment on the basis of race,” the UBCP/ACTRA report states.
A chart in the report states that people of East Asian ancestry accounted for nine percent of respondents, whereas four percent self-identified as either Latin American, Indigenous, or Southeast Asian, while three percent were of South Asian ancestry.
According to the report, 31 percent of those of East Asian ancestry reported experiencing race-based mistreatment over the past year. About 16 percent of survey respondents stated that they had observed race-based mistreatment.
UBCP/ACTRA says in the report that there are “more open casting calls available to performers of any ethnicity”. Moreover, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour performers are “finding more opportunities to play roles that reflect their cultures and communities”.
However, some BIPOC members of UBCP/ACTRA stated that producers need to engage genuinely with them to avoid tokenizing and stereotyping.
“While there has been progress, BIPOC members find themselves playing one-dimensional roles, such as ‘oppressed Middle Eastern woman’ or ‘Nerdy Asian guy’,” the report states. “They believe that the continued pervasiveness of these kinds of roles reinforce harmful stereotypes.
This UBCP/ACTRA panel discussion last year addressed equity in hair and makeup.
UBCP/ACTRA members cite hair/makeup problems
In addition, members identifying as BIPOC “described significant problems” with hair and makeup departments. Some said they bring their own products to work or do their own hair and makeup because the departments on-set “are ill-prepared to work with darker skin and textured hair”.
For example, a 31-year-old female member of Middle Eastern ancestry revealed that the makeup department always wants to make her look darker-skinned. This is so she would look more stereotypically Middle Eastern.
“I’ve felt uncomfortable,” she stated. “It’s bad enough for me, but from what I’ve heard it’s a complete disaster for Black actors.”
The union’s census survey also included sections on LGBTQIA2+, age, and disability inclusion, as well as gender equity.
Four in five UBCP/ACTRA respondents reported being straight/heterosexual and no more than four percent identified with any other individual category of sexual identity. Four in 10 of self-identified LGBTQIA2+ members stated that they would be uncomfortable revealing their sexual identity on-set.
These performers also cited “a lack of genuine LGBTQIA2+ roles”, reporting that these characters often go to straight performers.
“While only 1% of members reported that they identify as non-binary, these performers made up 10% of those who reported gender-based mistreatment,” the report notes.
When it came to gender equity, 12 percent of members stated that the had observed or heard about mistreatment. Women also reported difficulties finding childcare, saying that this forces them to turn down auditions and roles.
“Reports of sexism during casting and on set are not uncommon, and some reported a pay discrepancy between men and women performers of similar status,” the report states.
UBCP/ACTRA posted this Indigenous roundtable discussion on YouTube.
Ageism and ableism persist in industry
Performers aged 50 and over cited fewer work opportunities due to the lack of scripts developed for that segment of the population. And performers over the age of 45 reported the highest levels of ageism.
“Some members reported a ‘limbo period’ where they are too old to play younger characters, but not old enough to play more senior roles such as grandparents and therefore experience diminished work opportunities.”
Meanwhile, 20 percent of the respondents reported having a mental or physical disability, whereas three percent cited a mobility or other physical disability. More than one in five stated that they’ve experienced mistreatment due to a disability.
“Members with either visible or invisible disabilities often choose not to disclose their disability status, because of the common associated stigmas,” the report reveals. “They shared that they avoid disclosure because they do not want to be seen as high maintenance or difficult to work with.”
In the coming months, the union will be partnering with the Geena Davis Institute on “a comprehensive review of representation of equity-seeking groups in the film and television sectors”.
“The study will involve analysing over 400 hours of film and television productions and will measure the percentage of screen and speaking time by gender, race, ethnicity, age, queer identity, disability, and body size of characters,” the report states. “The results from this project are expected to complement the member census.”
The union states that it learned from the census that many members experience financial hardship throughout their careers, forcing them to take a second job to pay all the bills.
“This is something we want to change,” UBCP/ACTRA says in the report. “Moving beyond our census, we would benefit from learning more about what our members do for work outside of the industry, whether they are members of other unions, and how those earnings stack up against what they earn as performers.”