Caught In The Middle

Fact: The entertainment industry in SA is still Black and White. Where does that leave the coloured performers?

I had an interesting conversation with a young Facebook friend recently about succeeding in the entertainment industry. 

The young guy was quick to point out that he is coloured and has always wanted to be on TV. Unfortunately, according to him, there seem to be a limited number of coloured entertainers who are making it big in SA.

Though at first glance one might think that this boy's perception of the coloured community in our industry is ludicrous as we have the likes of Marc Lottering, Denise Newman, Shaleen Surtie Richards and Renate Stuurman, to name but a few who seem to be doing ok, there is more truth to his perception than meets the eye.

Carlo McFarlane
If you look closely within the industry you will notice that it's very rare that we have breakout stars who are coloured. Once in a while someone will come along like Carlo McFarlane who seems set to be the next big thing and just as quickly as they come they also seem to fade away. 

What's Bianca LeGrange upto these days? Looking at the public broadcaster, for instance, one finds that currently there is only one show that has an all coloured cast and that is Rasdien on SABC 2. 

Which begs the question; Are coloured performers not afforded the same opportunities in the industry?

I have said this many times, that we might want to turn a blind eye to the fact that our industry is still divided by race but that's a reality we need to face. We still very much have a black and a white industry within ONE entertainment industry. 

You can see it in our media coverage of the industry and awards shows we have. Now where does that leave the coloured community?

As Afrikaans is the coloured community's first language they tend to watch and follow Afrikaans shows. Sadly those shows are mainly white so the coloured characters always seem to be the supporting cast. Take 7de Laan for example. 

The show is dominated by white characters with a few coloured and black actors, Isidingo is pretty much the same with only 3 coloured actors and Generations is the worst with NO colored actor in the cast.


Then there is TV's most boring couple Tino and Erin on Scandal who are not doing much to aid the situation. I don't know if it's the storyline, the characters or chemistry between the actors but I always feel like switching channels everytime they come on. 

Now with a wedding in the pipeline, I have to brace myself for more stale scenes between Lorcia Cooper and Clint Brink. (((Sigh)))

Repugnant as the situation may be one needs to look at factors that may be contributing to this. As I stated, the coloured community mainly supports white shows thus leaving black producers not interested I having coloured characters in their shows.

Sadly the white shows they support has very little room for them as well as their target market is white. In the end you have a situation where coloured actors always end up with few roles and of those few roles majority are stereotypical characters hence the type casting of many coloured actors.

The other issue, especially for Coloured actors from outside Joburg, is the accent. Unfortunately many in our society still see a heavy coloured accent as somewhat “low class”. Many young coloured actors struggle to loose that accent making it difficult for them to get roles. 

Take Pam Andrews, her role on Rhythm City is pretty much the same as the role she played on Backstage. She sound and looks the same. Now you take someone like Kim Engelbrecht (Lolly in Isisdingo), she has been able to sustain a viable career in the industry. 

Controversial as this may sound, she doesn't have the accent and that has made her more acceptable in mainstream media. The same can not be said for Maurice Paige (Isidingo's Kyle). Poor boy has been getting a lot of flack for his accent.

While as a viewer you might find yourself hoping that there would be subtitles when Maurice Paige speaks on Isidingo even when he speaks English, the future of young Coloured actors seems bleak. This was more evident for me with Class Act last year. 

Week after week, Danny Ross was criticized for his heavy accents. Time and time again he was told that his accent will limit his opportunities in the industry. Six months later since Sdumo won Class Act it looks like of all the guys who were in the top 10 Danny is the only one who is struggling to find work. 

The other boys who haven't been able to get work in SA productions have been able to get it on some international productions.Simply put, being coloured and having a typically coloured accent will hold you back if you want to be successful in this industry.

On the other hand a solution to this problem could easily be that the coloured community should start rallying behind their own. Everybody is doing it. Instead of being caught in the middle of Black and White maybe it's time for coloured writers and producers to start telling the coloured community's stories. 

This industry needs diversity. We need to see more young coloured stars on the covers of Drum, You, Move, etc especially on Huisegenoot since they support it.

Having Trevor Noah as the only coloured young celeb holding the flag out there (not that he doing a good job at it anyway) is not on. Ok, that was not a shot at Trevor but lets be real. The brother is black when he is ranking in big bucks on gigs from ANC and BEE events and white when he is sucking up to DSTV. 

Then again, I hear he is half xhosa, half white... well I guess you stuck with Pam Andrews, Lawd help you!

On a serious note, the buck starts with you. To think the industry will just go colour blind just because I am writing this or you moaning about it is just grasping at straws. The change rests with the coloured community. Use your buying power to turn the tide.

Having said all that I think I should give props to 7de Laan's Christo Davids who plays Errol in the show. What a brilliant young actor both on stage and screen. I love watching this guy act. 

There is something about the authenticity with which he tackles the characters he plays that just sets him apart from all the other young actors in this country, of all races. Pity he doesn't get the same attention as the Generations actors who can't act to save their lives. This guy deserves a SAFTA.

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