BY JENNIFER CHEUK  

 

We talk of representation, but is what we see on screen, on stage, really representative of the multiplicities of cultures, ethnicities, and people? Hollywood movies cast a Chinese girl or a Native American boy as a secondary character and we cheer, celebrating the diversity that has finally graced our screens. But are we really achieving theatre and film where we can say “this is someone like me?” Where are the mixed-race kids, the kids caught in limbo between two worlds, two cultures? Where is their representation?

Grace Bentley, half-Ghanian half-Pakeha is taking a performative step to represent more diverse voices. This is not just about saying “we need diversity!”. This is about actively making a change in our theatre industries. Women of Citrus is a solo performance that follows five characters with a connection to Grace: “Some from the Bay of Islands and some from Africa; from Ghana”.

“Experiences with race…is a really taboo subject. I’m bringing a voice forward, wanting to achieve more theatre with girls like me”. Grace talks about the structural racism that exists so pervasively in our society, but acknowledges that many POC youth feel it is a taboo subject to discuss. There is a level of fear when confronting the jokes, the comments, the snide remarks that POC receive on a daily basis. Activism is more often than not met with “stop being so sensitive!”, racist humour is met with “it’s just a joke!”.

Progressing towards a more accepting and diverse society needs a mutual conversation, a two-sided discussion where both parties are willing to change and grow and accept their differences. Through Women of Citrus, Grace hopes to inspire this discussion and to acknowledge that hearing different voices in New Zealand is important. And not just hearing them, but really leaning forward and listening to what they are saying, listening to what their experiences are. “I can talk about race as much as I want” Grace comments, “but people need to be able to listen and change”.

An important aspect of her performance concerns “the complexities of mixed race identity”. Although Grace admits that she is “not quite there yet!” in regards to feeling fully comfortable and content with her identity, she speaks of the growing need to perceive mixed-race children as more than just a dichotomy of two cultures: “Mixed raceness is about accepting you’re two different things but existing as one”. Race should be a conjunction rather than a disjunction: x and y, rather than x or y. Too often do we categorise people into one box or another. This narrow understanding of racial identity is extremely damaging to mixed race children and can lead to a “huge disconnect” of cultures. Shed your misconceptions of race and identity, of being “black enough or Asian enough”, of forcing mixed race kids to feel out of place and wrong in both sides of their culture. Grace states that “this narrow view caps our own potential, [we] put ourselves in a box”. The mixed race experience is a unique perspective that I am excited to see Grace explore, especially in conjunction with her exploration of womanhood. Grace feels that these two identities are inextricably connected. Women, POC women, mixed-race women will always have a shared space of experiences, of pain, of suffering: “You will have certain experiences separate from each other, but the same as each other as well”.

As a mixed-race child, myself, I am familiar with navigating the in-between limbo of race and culture. I am so glad that Grace is representing an experience that is not only taboo but historically associated with negative opinions. The mixed-race experience is necessary to discuss, with approximately 9 million people in (only!) America identifying as mixed race. I am excited to see Grace’s performance as a part of the growing discussion for representation, diversity, and acceptance.

 

Woman of Citrus is playing at Basement Theatre from 10-19 April. Grab your tickets here!

 

JENNIFER CHEUK is an English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books.  She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on Instagram: @selcouthbird.

 

 

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