‘White privilege’ suggests you enter life with a head start, and as an Asian you’re expected to be smart and work hard to keep up.
It’s the stereotype. I’m Korean—originally, Zaza was scripted as Chinese. [The character was changed to Korean to reflect this]. In my whole professional career, I've only ever auditioned twice for two Korean characters. Everyone else is Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese—the end.
I’ve played a few different ‘Asian’ characters but there are no roles for me. I can't play anyone that looks like me; I play roles where the cultural background doesn't matter to the character. In the play I get to be a Korean-Australian woman, I get to be myself. Name me an Australian new work that has starred a Korean person. It’s not a thing.
On screen, people of colour are often pressured to pretend to be the next closest thing—Koreans pretend to be Chinese, brown people get cast broadly as Indian, Latinx, or even black. This completely erases their own identity. For the three of you in How To Rule, your characters are going through their own individual struggles. How do you think people of colour should team up in the real world?
There is this argument within the play that you can lose perspective of what you're fighting against and who you're fighting for. You don't have to be aligned with just one kind of thing, like something is just ‘feminism’ and that's your thing and that's the end. You can be supportive of different, marginalized communities. It’s about remaining open and supportive of your fellow people of colour. We have a bit of a shorthand, anyway.
Some people need to recognise within themselves their own prejudices and bias. Nakkiah and I have talked about it, people are more outraged about being called racist than they are about actual racism itself. It's mindblowing. It’s about being supportive, listening, remaining open and not presuming anything. That’s the best way to work together and move forward.
You can be defensive, or you can say, “okay, a person of colour just told me I’m being racist—why did they say that, what could I learn from this?” Being defensive and shutting off is not going to be helpful to anyone.