Actors respond to agent’s complaint about BAME actors with #VaVaVoom

An agent’s complaint that black, Asian and minority ethnic actors were putting “talented white performers out of work” has led to a social media backlash under the banner of #VaVaVoom.

Book now for Dreamgirls starring Amber Riley
Amber Riley in Dreamgirls.

Gemma Hamilton of leading actors agency Lowy Hamilton Artists posted the comment in a private forum but it was soon shared, eliciting widespread condemnation. It was followed on Friday by a public apology in which Hamilton said she was “very sorry” and admitted her behaviour was “unprofessional”.

However, actors and other creatives across the theatre community have been using the hashtag #VaVaVoom to highlight the need for diversity and champion the talent of black, Asian and minority ethic (BAME) actors.

VaVaVoom Layton Williams
Layton Williams

Amber Riley, who starred in Dreamgirls in the West End, tweeted: “Dear Actors who happen to be of color, you are NOT taking up a white person’s space when U work. U DESERVE to be there, and don’t let anyone’s intimidation of your #VaVaVoom tell you any differently!”

Actor Layton Williams, currently in the UK tour of Hairspray, tweeted: “Funny how when I search the #VaVaVoom hashtag all I see is talented and beautiful performers who‘re SLAYING the industry…

Raj Ghatak

Raj Ghatak, who is starring in the UK tour of The Kite Runner, also backed it, noting that their show had “plenty of #VaVaVoom”, mentioning some of the other actors in the cast, Jay Sajjid, Jo Ben Ayed, Oliver Gyani and Soroosh Lavansani.

Also sharing the hashtag, actor Kadiff Kirwan commented: “The search for equality can seem like inequality to those accustomed to privilege.”

Other responses included Michele Austin, Shaniqua Okwok and Jason Barnett, who are appearing in Instructions For Correct Assembly at the Royal Court, “sharing our #VaVaVoom”.

It has been taken up by Act For Change, the campaign for greater diversity in the live and recorded arts, which stated: “We are here for your va va vooms. If you’re performing in a show at the moment please keep all those va va vooms coming in.”

Others backing the social media campaign include Daniel York, Cynthia Erivo, Tyrone Huntley, Susan Wokoma, Obioma Ugoala, Reece Noi, Danny Lee Wynter, Wendy Mae Brown and Anjli Mohindra.

Casting director Andy Pryor commented: “This recent unpleasantness reflects badly on all of us and what we can learn from it is that the case for inclusion has never been stronger. #VaVaVoom

In her original post, Hamilton complained about a casting call, writing: “I’m bored of breakdowns asking for BAME actors. Casting them because of the colour of their skin because it adds that va va voom to the cast list, or their skills in performance? And now I see a breakdown for BAME only that are actor/musos. It’s putting talented ‘white’ performers out of work. I think it stinks.

In her subsequent apology, she wrote: “On reflection, I’m very sorry that I came to write such a hurried message which has caused so much upset and I take full responsibility for my unprofessional behaviour. It was a moment that, on reflection, the comments were made in circumstances that I didn’t think through sufficiently at the time, and to whom the comments were made.”

She continued: “I absolutely recognise and am totally at one with the importance and need of increasing the diversity in the arts – in performance, in the creative and also the management sectors – and with due respect to all I have taken this opportunity to resolve to think long, hard and also to work towards how I can play my part in how this can best be achieved.”

After her post first became public, actor Shobna Gulati tweeted: “Historically excluded for our appearance, not even a chance to show our ability. Now is the time to appreciate our inclusion into casting calls. Give us a fair crack. It’s not been equal and now there are initiatives to make things better. Welcome it.”

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