Being a Mixed actor in the entertainment industry is a tough job. I’m not talking about the ones at the top of the Hollywood food chain – like Zendaya or Zoe Saldana. I’m talking about the working class actors. The ones who are in the beginning or middle of their careers. They are the recurring characters on a series or in smaller parts with a few lines on a consistent basis. Those actors are at the mercy of what comes their way and are the majority of actors in the industry. Often times, the opportunities they get don’t reflect the reality of who they are.
Especially if they’re Mixed.
I respect the craft of acting, because you’re film is nothing without great acting. It’s a skill that I both admire and am afraid of. It’s the only craft where you are asked to be your most vulnerable self. Knowing that there’s a high chance that your vulnerability will be rejected by a complete stranger – either a director of casting agent.
Working in Los Angeles, I encounter all kinds of actors and there are a lot of very experienced ones here. So what directors and casting agents look for – is the right fit for their project. And this fit, beyond the nuance an actor brings to a part, encompasses looks. Your look determines the type of parts that you get sent out for, and also what you end up getting. Most filmmakers and producers aren’t looking to really tell stories about the Mixed experience. So at best, they’ll cover one side of being mixed (usually involving racial trauma). Usually a character’s mixed identity will be present. But not really explored with any kind of nuance. Although I’m seeing more actors asking to have their Mixed experience brought into their characters to create some representation.
Most Mixed actors that I know end up auditioning for either stereotypical parts if they look non-White. If they look more Caucasian, the opportunities for auditions will certainly open up for wider kinds of roles. Even with the recent demand for more diversity. Most of the people in charge of casting actors are still White. So their perception of what kind of role a BIPOC actor can play can be limiting. And this can put Mixed actors in a tough spot.
Surviving as a working actor is a combination of having a job that pays your bills. But also still being able to take any parts that come your way. You can be working on a TV series for months on end. But right after, not have any acting roles come your way for an entire year. It’s about needing to be selected by someone else. So a lot of mixed actors get cast in roles that aren’t remotely close to their ethnicity.
This brings up a difficult choice – do I turn down the role or do I help my career? In the past, you just had to take the part and do whatever they told you. As parts for non-White actors were few and far between. But actors are now feeling more empowered to bring better representation into those characters they are portraying. Even ones that are completely different ethnicities than they might be. It’s not always an easy thing to do. And there’s a danger that an actor can be labeled as “difficult”. However more actors are feeling a responsibility to do right not only by their characters. But also the communities their character might represent.
Some life advice for Mixed actors (and actors in general) is to figure out what are some other passions that you have in addition to acting. I have a good acting friend, who during the pandemic, discovered a love for photography. She’s now launching a photography business that can help pay the bills in addition to acting. It’s given her a sense of peace, balance and also a creative outlet while looking for acting parts. While also helping her to approach the grind of auditions with a better outlook. This, combined with her directing and producing experience, has made her an even more invaluable asset to whatever role she gets casted in.
If you’re a Mixed actor in this industry – I have nothing but the most respect and admiration for your chosen path. You will often get parts that don’t align with your lived experience. And the lack of consistency can be paralyzing at times. But you have the opportunity to be an avatar for someone else’s. What will make you memorable is your ability to enhance what’s already on the page. So stand up for the rights of that character. Because in your hands is the representation of entire communities.