Cannot Be What You Cannot See?

I usually never write anything too personal on this website. But since this major AH-HA moment pertains to my acting career, I thought I would share this important thought.

I had heard the quote, “You cannot be what you cannot see”, before but failed to see how directly it affected my life until now. A few years ago, I took a film class in LA where the teacher told each student which celebrity actor they reminded her of. She said that by identifying who we were most similar to, we could then follow in their acting career path. She told a friend of mine she was a Laura Linney. Another was a young Marlon Brando. And I remember someone was told they were an America Ferrera. She went around to each student and I remember when it was my turn, I was filled with optimism and hope. When she got to me, she paused and simply said, “No one“, and dismissed me. I immediately felt embarrassed. I looked at my classmates, who were all staring at the floor, and I felt like I was the odd one out. As if I didn’t belong in this class. I was confused, uncomfortable, and disappointed.

I left the class feeling disheartened. And then my AH-HA moment came. I realized, “You cannot be what you cannot see”. This teacher couldn’t see me and therefore she said I could not be. Let me break it down for you. I am biracial. I am both Japanese and Irish. And, I’m not sorry. I used to be filled with an apologetic attitude when it came to casting me. “I’m sorry I’m not quite Asian-looking enough for Miss Saigon, but may I audition?”, “I’m sorry I’m not quite your ‘girl next door’, but may I audition?”, and I was sick of the sorry attitude. I am biracial. And biracial actors are not only a reflection of America, but a growing one (don’t believe me? Take the NYTIMES word for it: It’s time the industry takes a look at all America has to offer. America Ferrera was one of the first modern day Latina actresses to be the star of a hit TV series, showcasing a woman of color and healthy body image. Halle Berry is the first African American woman to have won an Oscar for Best Actress. Kathryn Bigelow is the first female film-maker to have won an Oscar. Hollywood is making progress all the time, but instead of limiting its breakthroughs to first female, first male, first African American, first Latina, why not go even further with first biracial actor? Why not continue the progress by casting more and more actors of multiple color for the big screen? And the answer is, they are. But not quickly. It will take time, as all important things do, but it’s important to remember that  no one defines who you are. After all, our ethnicity are not the only things that makes us who we are. We define ourselves. Not teachers who can’t see you. Not three race boxes waiting to be checked. Not casting directors. And not Hollywood or Broadway. You define yourself. I define myself as both Japanese and Irish (I never say I’m half, as it sounds incomplete), an actress, an activist, a foodie, and a dedicated student to the art of performing. The definition of ourselves goes deeper than skin color and features. Hollywood will one day catch up and we will see all types of actors on the screen, reflecting the truly diverse people of America. I really look forward to that day. And until that day, don’t let the nay-sayers and your own Teacher from LA get you down. After all, they cannot see. But you can be.

So be and make them see.