The Struggles of Being a ‘Neither’ in the Entertainment Industry

As a U.S. citizen of 35 years, I've been excluded from acting roles because of my race and age. I am writing this piece to encourage younger generations of “Neithers” to fight for better industry representation.
entertainment industry

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January 19, 2023 08:22 EDT

I have been a US citizen for more than 35 years. I emigrated from India to the US – legally – almost 50 years ago. I received an MS and a PhD from the University of Maryland, becoming a rocket scientist. 

I also delved into acting as a hobby. So much so that I became the first Indian American to become a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) in the mid-Atlantic region section in 1993.

A call for representation

Acting roles in this area are cast first by announcements from the Washington or Baltimore region casting agencies. The announcements require you to be of a certain race, gender, and age range. 

They may call you in for an audition if there’s a fit. They select a few and call them back for a “call-back.” Then they’ll choose the actor for the role. Most union roles are for day-players and comprise just a few lines. Major roles are cast in Hollywood or New York.

These audition calls from SAG and SAG/AFTRA (now) always had a race requirement for the roles – but called for African Americans or Caucasians. What about us who do not fit into either category, folks? Needless to say, I complained to the unions but to no avail. 

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Hollywood in Black and White

In theory, a union such as SAG/AFTRA should be the most open to all. In reality, it has been quite the opposite. How does that make sense? Having waited 30 years, the age range requirement, less than 50, has become the killer. But while I am out at this age, this piece is for the benefit of the younger generation of us “Neithers.”

The erasure of in-betweens

I still am made to feel that I am not part of this country despite the tremendous hard work I put in to become and be an American. Earlier, I was made to feel unwelcome by conservative Republicans when I came here in the 1970s. This persisted for a few decades. 

Now, I am made to feel unwelcome by the so-called liberal Democrats, the Hollywood engine, and the media. Indian Americans and many such minorities are between a rock and a hard place. They do not fit into the dominant categories that define American politics and society. It is time that the media took this on.   

Is this country made up of only blacks and whites? An alien coming here and watching TV or movies would think so. Almost 50% percent of the commercials on TV have African American faces. Until a few months ago, 40-50% were white faces. 

According to the last census, this is a slap in the face of Hispanics and Asian-Americans, who make up 20% and 7% of the population, about twice as much as African Americans who comprise 13%.

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Hollywood Does it Again

Do the media executives and Hollywood head honchos think we do not exist and that we  are thingamajigs who do not count? Or do they just want us to spend the money on their products and remain behind the scenes? 

Do these bigshots wish to avoid seeing our faces on your TV and movie screens? Or is it that if they cover, pay attention to the two extremes in skin color, the black and white, that they feel they have done their duty to be fair and that they can now brush the equitable representation off their jacket sleeves? Should all others, the in-betweens, go to hell? Are media bigshots that thick-headed?

Time for Limelight

Decreasing the white actors from 60% to 50% affects them marginally as a group. Increasing African-American participation almost doubles or triples their participation. This development is welcome. It is positive. However, should this take place at the cost of us Neithers?

We just get squeezed out to zero. Can’t anyone see that? Our representation would make for a fairer representation of the country. Also, wouldn’t that make the media scene more interesting?

This lack of representation of Neithers is a clear case of open discrimination in employment by race. All actors’ jobs are paid, and no such discrimination is allowed by law. A small variance may be an accident, but this conspicuous absence of Neithers clearly indicates systemic discrimination in the media.

So, I call upon media bosses to open our living rooms to Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians, as you have done with African-Americans. Give these Neithers space and acceptance. No, Hollywood, you damn well have not solved the race problem yet. There was more acceptance, curiosity and admiration for Eastern and Latin cultures 40-50 years ago than there is now. Hollywood, you have regressed and left us Neithers in the shadows.

Are all people in this world Blacks and Whites? If you think so, you are an ignoramus and not at all a globalist as you want to pretend to be. Asians and Latin Americans comprise almost 60% of the world’s population. Do not be obtuse. If you think so, your movies will not sell worldwide – with half the revenue coming from international showings. 

How many Asian-Americans do you know who can be counted as celebrities, as huge role models? And compare that to how many African-Americans or Whites. Then look at the percentages of the population in this country, let alone the world, and see if it makes any sense. 

Yes, we can come here, and many even are born, but we have to remain in the background, by your surreptitious designs. Wake up and smell the tea; it is also quite popular worldwide!

[Conner Tighe edited this article.]

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