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September 10, 2018

What’s It Like Being a Women of Colour in the Acting World?

She’s beautiful, brilliant and a total badass. She’s Diana Bermudez. A British actress of Colombian/Native American descent who kindly let us ask her a bunch of questions as a woman of colour in the acting world. Get ready for some honesty, insights and wise words in our exclusive interview.


GirlDreamer: So Díana, we would love to know more about you and your journey into acting?
Diana: I’m a British screen & theatre actress of Colombian/Native American descent. Unlike many of my peers, I never dreamed of being an actor from a young age, in fact I was very much the opposite. As a child I was a shy and very studious bookworm but a teacher pushed me into a theatre project in which I was cast as one of the lead roles. I was hooked. I begged my mum to let me continue with weekend drama classes but as is the case with many immigrant families, my mum was adamant I focus on my studies. Although I continued with drama throughout school and college, I went on to study French and Spanish at King’s College University. However, my passion for acting refused to subside and within a year I was touring Italy in an English theatre company, and I haven’t looked back since.
GirlDreamer: What has been the biggest highlight and the hardest challenge about choosing this career path?
Diana: The biggest highlight for me has been working with some amazingly talented actors who I’ve been able to learn so much from. Last year I worked on The Death & Life of John F.Donovan, where I had a scene with Natalie Portman. The thought of working with such an elite, academy award-winning actress was a pretty daunting prospect, however being on set with her made me realise that she’s a real woman – just like I am. Witnessing her incredible talent right in front of me was really inspiring and filled me with a lot of confidence.
One of the main challenges, inherent to any creative industry, is the instability of regular work, especially at the beginning of your career. Even a big actor like Freida Pinto said she didn’t work for almost 2 years after the Oscar-winning Slum Dog Millionaire, and that at one point thought she might be a one hit wonder!
GirlDreamer: Do you feel women are supportive of each other in this industry?
Diana: I think especially after the whole #MeToo movement there is now more solidarity between us. A lot of us have been taken advantage of or put in uncomfortable situations, so now there’s more advocacy for speaking up about issues we’re facing in the industry. There are a lot more groups popping up to support us, for example one which recently started entitled Actresses of Colour for those who want to positively effect the representation of women of colour and their stories.
GirlDreamer: Do you think there are enough strong female roles in film and tv? Particularly, women of colour?
Diana: The short answer – No. Things are slowly changing, there’s more agency nowadays for there to be stronger female roles. However, for women of colour it’s still very difficult. As a South American woman, I mainly see myself represented in the same outdated stereotypical roles: a maid, a cleaner, a prostitute, a bimbo, a drug trafficker’s wife. Women of colour are continually over-sexualised and pigeon-holed into these insignificant, often demeaning roles. We have far more interesting, complex and dynamic stories to tell but the industry continues to want to tell the same white male stories over and over again. I think it’s particularly more difficult being a South American actress here in the UK. There are rarely any roles written for us as we aren’t even recognised as a community here. When the odd role does come about, they’re often looking for the ‘white, tanned with dark hair’ version of a Latina. It doesn’t help when our own countries favour lighter skinned actors who bare little resemblance to the wider population and the indigenous people of the land. There is a shift happening in the industry but there’s still a long way to go.
GirlDreamer: What are some of the pressures female actresses face in terms of their body and general appearance?
Diana: Again it all comes down to stereotypes. Apparently, as I was told by a top agent a few years ago, “You have to be thin or fat, but you can’t be in between – so choose”. It seems ridiculous that again, for most lead female roles, you have to be unhealthily thin and abide by western standards of beauty. It’s not representative of the wider female population. Many of my peers have been told to lose weight, I’ve heard of actresses fainting on set because they’re not eating in order to look ‘good’ on camera. Although I do believe we have to keep ourselves fit and healthy to be able to work through the long demanding days on set, I think ‘healthy’ comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Why does the lead love interest in a film always have to be skinny? Even though I’m educated in how the media distorts our image of beauty, as an actress I very much feel the pressure to conform to this impossible ideal.
GirlDreamer: Do you find the film industry to be sexist? (If yes, can you give any examples/ stories?)
Diana: The amount of female gratuitous nudity and the gender wage gap shows how sexist the industry still is. Last year I made the decision not to do nudity on screen, to which I was told that there would be less roles available to me. It saddens me that this is the case as male actors do not go through the same thing. I think nudity is a very personal choice and if you as an actress are comfortable to do nudity, then that’s great, however I was getting tired of the amount of scripts I was reading that required full female nudity for absolutely no reason.
GirlDreamer: Do you think there is enough representation of ‘women of colour’ in film and TV? If not, what are some of the challenges women of colour will face that may differ to their fellow white actresses?
Diana: As I mentioned beforehand there aren’t as many opportunities for women of colour outside of the stereotypes. In the UK, historically, the majority of shows have been written for a white audience with white lead characters. This is now slowly changing with the boom of Netflix, Amazon and other on demand channels. I’ve been fortunate to work with an amazing agent who pushes me for non-stereotypical roles. Earlier this year I played an upper class boutique store owner in Stratford Upon-Avon for the BBC show Shakespeare & Hathaway. I honestly didn’t think I had a chance of getting it when I read the character brief so I was really happy to be cast in the role. The problem I see with casting is that when a character isn’t defined by any specific race, they are automatically considered white. There has been a big push for more inclusive casting in the last couple of years, so I’m now getting to play and audition for more diverse and interesting characters.
GirlDreamer: What’s the biggest thing you would change about the industry?
Diana: Colour and gender blind casting. There’s a strong-held belief that female-led or people of colour-led films won’t sell, however this myth has been continually disproven with box office hits like Black Panther, Girls Trip and Hidden Figures – to name just a few. A recent study by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) showed that films with a diverse cast outperformed those with a less diverse cast. The future is diversity.
GirlDreamer: It sure is! And finally, what would you advise any young women out there who are aspiring to get into film and TV?
Diana: If you truly have a passion for acting and performance, then my main advice is to get involved in it as much as possible. Go to the theatre, watch films, read scripts – there’s so much out there right now and it’s all so accessible. There are now so many opportunities for young people to get involved in under-25 projects at local theatres and often you can join for free.
The more you’re involved the more you’ll learn and the more opportunities you will have.
The film industry will not come to you!