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Are Black Actors In The U.K. (And Elsewhere) Magically Hiding Themselves In Plain Sight?

Shadow and Act By Emmanuel Akitobi | Shadow and Act October 13, 2011 at 1:01AM

"The casting in Fresh Meat is ­brilliant. Where has Zawe Ashton who plays Vod been hiding all these years?"
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"The casting in Fresh Meat is ­brilliant. Where has Zawe Ashton who plays Vod been hiding all these years?"

This is the opening line of a post on Channel 4's new university-set comedy Fresh Meat that I came across yesterday in the TV section at www.mirror.co.uk.

"Where has she been hiding?!!" I believe the correct question should be, "Where have they been looking?" Because just here at Shadow and Act, Zawe Ashton's work has been recognized on several different occasions this year alone (HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

I can't help but wonder if black actors are somehow becoming selectively invisible in the eyes of those who are paid to watch them perform. I mean, I know we're a naturally talented people; but are we supernaturally talented enough to hide ourselves in plain sight?!! And from only certain viewers?!!

Or are black actors in the U.K. (and across the globe, for that matter) being ignored? That's likely the case, seeing how many of these actors enjoy eating food and having shelter. And that whole invisibility thing would just defeat the purpose, I think.

But if these actors are, indeed, turning themselves invisible for some reason, they haven't always had this Misfit-esque ability.

In June of this year, Ashton told The Daily Mail that "she stood out at school for two main reasons. One was because she had been acting since the age of six and her peers were seeing her on TV throughout her education – everything from Jackanory through to The Demon Headmaster."

"That was hard," Ashton recalled. "People think you reckon you’re something special. I will never forget walking across this deserted playground – I’d been on television the previous day – and this girl shouted, “Some people just can’t f***ing act.” When you’re 13 at a new school that’s like a dagger. I had people wanting to beat me up at the back gates."

Ashton's schoolmates obviously noticed her. I wonder why she didn't just hide from them the same way she's been hiding from U.K. television critics?

But, seriously though, I know that the whole "where has Zawe Ashton been hiding" statement was only a figure of speech. And I also know that my criticism of that sentiment doesn't apply to the U.K. media as a whole, because Zawe Ashton has obviously received some press coverage in her home country. But, for me, it really puts the "U.K.-black actor-exodus" phenomenon in a brighter and clearer perspective. True, this particular example represents the feelings of one writer. But a simple IMDb search would have informed that writer that Zawe Ashton didn't just drop out of the sky. She hasn't suddenly chosen to magically reveal herself. And, no, she hasn't been hiding. She's been right there; grinding it out with other black actors, likely battling for the same roles. I guess the writer didn't feel that Ashton was worth the effort of a little background research. I wonder how many others, who are in positions to recognize talent and alter careers, just don't make the effort?

Obviously, the situation here in the U.S. is not that much different than the U.K.'s. And I know the issue has been discussed and argued about ad nauseum in American media. But I can definitely understand the level of frustration that would lead an actor to pack up his/her entire life and try their luck elsewhere.

So far, Zawe Ashton hasn't had to resort to such drastic measures. And let's hope that, with the early success of her new show, those who didn't, finally do see her, so she never has to.

This article is related to: Television, Things That Make You Go Hmm..., WTF?


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