This post may or may not get me in trouble but, either way “the trouble” will ultimately be a big release and the deflating of the elephant in the room.
I was very blessed to grow up on television. My longest gig was on the the show Degrassi: TNG where I had the chance to play the character “Hazel” for 6 seasons. I had an amazing experience on Degrassi, I was a teenager on top of the world! I traveled, I met fantastic people and I started to develop a fan base, there wasn’t much more I could ask for….
Actually I lied there was a few more things I could ask for and that was mainly to get a CHANCE. In my 6 year run of being on the show I only had ONE major story line around my character and all the other episodes I was the token dose of color or a glorified extra. This experience was incredibly frustrating for me. I was on the show when I was just starting to recognize my own potential and let my imagination run free and so the last thing I wanted was to be stifled creatively on a major platform. Whenever I would talk to the executives about ideas I had or expanding my character in any way, it would always get shut down or pushed to the side. I worked on an album with Universal Canada while doing the show, to get out some of my creative frustration out and suggested to some of the people at Degrassi to let me sing and instead they made my character a “bad singer” lol. It’s easy for me to laugh at the ridiculousness of that now but at the time it wasn’t funny at all! I used to think I was crazy while being on the show because as much as I would be included in episodes and advertising campaigns it always felt like there was another force trying to shut me out. I ignored it though, tried my best to continue to plead my case for why I believed my character should be developed a bit more and continued to do my best on the show and be grateful for the opportunity. So many people had pointed out to me that as black girl in Canada it was great just to see my face on the screen and so I continued on.
Recently I had a conversation with a filmmaker in Canada who had worked with me while I was on Degrassi and he unfortunately confirmed to me the feelings that I had always had but never wanted to admit to. Degrassi had an issue with my race. He told me how the writers and producers had no intentions of developing the story lines of my character unless it was to enhance the story of one of their other white characters. They had some plans for some of the other black characters on the show but their ideas were only to cover the usual stereotypes that we see of people of color on television teen pregnancy, petty theft, basketball, broken family homes etc and he usually had to fight with them to think out of the box with those characters to not have them go down the road of the usual cliches. He told me to get them to do the one major story line that my character had was like pulling teeth and after a few more years of working on the show he had to leave because of the blatant hierarchy system that they had in place and he couldn’t work with people who didn’t share the same beliefs.
This conversation, hurt me but it didn’t surprise me. I knew I wasn’t crazy all those years and it sucks to think that there are people who think like this and treat kids this way but unfortunately this is the world that we live in. I’m always offended when I read or hear someone say “Hazel was my least favorite character” or “Hazel didn’t do shit on the show” I recognize that “Hazel” is not me and I shouldn’t take it to heart but it always stings just a bit because I know that “Hazel” and myself never got a chance to shine on the show for very ugly reasons.
TV land and the entertainment business is a tough place. Its sad to think that we still live in a world where we have to fight for equal rights whether it be for marriage or just to get a story line on a tv show. At the end of the day, I would’ve loved to see some things done differently while I was on Degrassi but I was still grateful for my opportunity because it helped me in many ways for my career. The experience on that show has strengthened me and inspired me to keep fighting and working my damnedest to change someones perspective on women of color and it inspired a lot of my ideas for my web series “Black Actress”. No one said the journey was going to be easy and that’s what keeps it interesting, if I can learn to turn a negative into a positive I think I’m going the right way.
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