Excuse My African
By Stella Demasus
I never had any issues with my being African, until I started living in the United States of America. That was when I realized that my kind of “African” is different. I’m not talking about racism between just white and black, but also from black to black. I realized that it transcends beyond skin color. It’s about the accent, size, culture, education, socio-economic class, etc. In every area of life there is racism. Even though I do not let such things get to me, because anyone who knows me knows that my skin is as thick as they come, but what about the other African men and women who are not as daring and non conforming as I am?
As an Actor, who happens to be an African immigrant, it has been weird for me especially in the casting rooms. I remember a particular audition I went for in New York City. I was so excited and so ready, as I had prepared for days. When it was my turn, I was asked to introduce myself. The moment I did, one of the casting directors looked at me and asked where I was from. I responded: “I am Nigerian”. She was seemingly doubtful of my response. Then, she asked where I was raised and educated. I told her it was all in Nigeria. Another guy in the room asked me to perform my monologue and half way through it, the same woman stopped me and said she was upset because I was either faking a foreign and sophisticated accent or I had been raised in the U.K.
I was totally confused. What did she mean by that? She started mimicking her idea of a Nigerian accent which sounded more like a Ugandan accent. Of course that’s all she knew because her only knowledge of Africa was THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND.
Wow! Does she realize that we have different countries in Africa and we almost have totally different accents? Does she realize that we have schools and a lot of us speak proper English? How could she think that African women are not sophisticated?
Her preconceived notions of Africa and the African woman could show in the way she reacted and treated me.
I am sure you are wondering if I really asked those questions in the room. Trust and believe that I did. Of course I didn’t get the part: it was not a ‘we will call you later to inform you of our decision’, but more of a direct ‘no you are not getting the part’. This was expected on my part!
After that experience, I joined several sites that send audition notices and that was when I started to see a particular trend. Each time they would ask for people of African decent and I’d send in my headshot, I would get the following responses “Sorry you are not dark enough”, “You don’t sound African enough”, and the best one yet “You are not African enough”.
Please can someone explain to me how African I should be?
They have made movies about the slave trade and told stories about various African heroes, but as long as it is produced by mainstream Hollywood, they would rather get American household name actors, who are even lighter than I am, and make them ‘speak like Africans’. I watch these movies/series and I am so repulsed at the way they make us sound.
One thing they have to realize is that African women come in different skin tones, shapes, sizes and attitudes. You cannot put us in a box and you cannot easily define us with your own words.
According to THEM, I don’t look African, I don’t sound African, I don’t act African, but I am truly more African than they can ever see.
So, EXCUSE MY AFRICAN because I love and adore MY AFRICAN.