I’m a BAME actor – who do I vote for in Equity Elections 2016?

Don’t just bin the letter from Equity with the candidates and your voting slip (like i have done every time since I joined in 1988)!  Get it out, scroll to the bottom of this and vote for the names listed!  You can vote for all of them.

For the first time, I have information for BAME members of British Equity, who would like to vote in the 2016 elections and improve the ethnic balance of the Council.

Laurence Olivier And Maggie Smith In 'Othello'
Laurence Olivier holding the hand of Maggie Smith in a scene from the film ‘Othello’, 1965. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images) . Picture also helps get people here from Facebook, who respond better to pictures

When Equity’s Council was last elected, there was nary a mention in any of the candidates’ statements about diversity – and every single person elected turned out to be white.  Hardly a big surprise, since there was not a single BAME candidate to vote for!

If you are a BAME actor, 100% white is how Equity has appeared historically (just look at the pictures on the walls of Guild House) and we have relied on good will, sometimes patronising, to make a case for diversity issues.  The slow-drip lack of leadership within Equity on this issue has led directly in my view to the emergence of Act for Change, a drop in BAME membership and the idea that Equity is irrelevant for BAME actors.

If, like me, you are a BAME actor who feels a trade union with over 44,000 members should not be irrelevant, should be more representative, and feel that the mere presence of BAME actors on Equity’s Council will improve matters, read on.

I complained at the time of the last election that there was no guidance available to help BAME actors know who to vote for.  I asked around; on Facebook and among friends, and no one had a clue who to vote for to champion diversity.  Not to say there was no one who did this (Charlotte Cornwell being a great pro-BAME and pro-Diversity  example) but who should we vote for, given no BAME actor had stood?

I discovered that there was a lot of politicking (with an exceedingly small p) that took place in these elections.  Factions exist within the union; encouraging people to vote for one group or another.  As far as BAME members are concerned this is like worrying whether you should be port or starboard on the Titanic.  (Equity’s answer historically is neither – BAME members should be downstairs in the stoking room!). It makes no difference to BAME actors, whether All-White team #1 or All-White team #2 are elected! Neither of the factions have much of a stance on diversity and it was left to us BAME members to choose which of the factions’ lists to follow – or to take random pot luck.   Equity’s BAME members mostly did not bother to even vote.

This year it is better.  After some positive recent changes in attitude and organisation, (Act For Change, Lenny Henry etc.) Equity has at last made some meaningful changes within its rules, so it can proactively stand up for diversity.  Thanks to the Ethnic Members Committee, Equity is now able to make a critical comment when diversity has been overlooked, and did so for the 1st time when it criticised The Rose Theatre’s War of the Roses production last autumn. The impact of this was enormous and has changed some BAME actors’ attitudes towards joining the union already (though it is incredible that until 2015 the union had never before done this).

Equity is still playing catch-up, but in another unprecedented change for the better in the upcoming elections there are BAME candidates you can vote for.  10 of them! Ten – in general seats – and there is still the protected seat, which could mean that BAME members could comprise 12 of the 33 seats if we all were to vote in a co-ordinated way (given that Abiola OGUNBIYI is already elected unopposed into the Young Members Seat).  I think that rather than have to guess which white actors have a pro active stance on diversity, (duh – no one is going to come out for racist casting!) and end up with it being overlooked (as usual) or ignored (as it was by more than half of the current ones when I emailed them directly about it) it is better for BAME actors to simply vote for those candidates who are BAME and intrinsically understand the issues.

Of course, being a BAME actor since the 80s, I remember well Equity’s then so-called, “Afro-Asian Committee” struggling to be heard.  In those heady days, each meeting descended into a shouting match and there was a lot of rivalry between BAME actors. The idea of coordinating BAME actors to vote for a specific outcome to benefit us all in those years was a long way down the line – but now do I feel we have a chance?  And of course, just because a candidate is BAME doesn’t mean they will represent your views any better than one who is not BAME.   Of course, you may know someone not BAME, who is standing and like them personally, and cant I vote for them?   Isn’t this just a big personality contest?   Yes, yes and YES! 🙂

However, the biggest problem Equity has had-  and for me why ACT FOR CHANGE even sprung up – is Equity’s appalling record on dealing with BAME casting and diversity.

At this stage, I feel that every BAME actor voted to Equity’s Council (and it is not a huge number of votes required to succeed) makes a massive difference to our union.  I am not saying you should not vote for your mates.  I am saying that if you are one of the many BAME members who thinks it makes no difference who you vote for, and usually don’t cast any votes at all, then just for an experiment, vote for all the members named here (AND THESE PEOPLE ONLY!).

VOTE FOR: (in the order they appear in the document)

  1. Paul Courtenay HYU (me)
  2. Somi De SOUZA
  3. Wesley GUREN
  4. Muhith HAKIM
  5. Maureen HIBBERT
  6. Martina LAIRD
  7. Sandra MARVIN
  8. Tanya MOODIE
  10. Daniel YORK

I  was under the misapprehension that you could vote online.  I was wrong about that.  Apparently it is something to do with trade union ballot law disallowing it.   What it appears we need to do is reach for the envelope, tick the names above, seal it and post it.

(I have simply guessed that the above members are BAME, by their picture and reading their biogs.  I may be wrong.  Apologies if so.  I may have overlooked someone.  Please let me know and I will correct.)

To clarify this post: you may know someone or want to support someone anyway – and that’s fine with me.  These are only suggestions for those of you, who like me at the last election, have no idea who best represents your interests as a BAME member and would otherwise throw away your vote, because Equity seems irrelevant to you.