What a year 2020 has been so far. Between natural disasters, global pandemic, societal unrest, and economic meltdown, you could be forgiven for wanting to hide under the bed for the duration. However, out of all the major upheaval that has been occurring around us, some positive, much-needed changes are also emerging, none more so that the hard scrutiny of certain long-held, unchallenged beliefs – such as the unconscious presumption that the majority of people in Britain are white and male with RP accents, and that those who fit this category should be considered first for work.

While much of the focus at the moment has been on race in the sense of ethnicity and color, what is less well known is that the official definition of race under the Equality Act 2010 includes "colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins." In other words, discriminating against someone because of their nationality or national origin is against the law, notably in the workplace. And yet, it would be a good bet that the vast majority of us AAUK members will have at one time or another (and probably multiple times) been barred from auditioning, being submitted, or being considered for a role because of our nationality.

Unlike other industries where the lines are perhaps more defined, the acting industry has always uneasily picked its way through a troubling gray area when it comes to such delicate matters. It is admittedly a question fraught with complexity, balancing the desire to be "true" to a story and best represent its themes, against a talented actor's ability to skillfully create multiple characters. In some cases it is clear cut: for example, an English language teaching video contrasting American and British accents would indeed work best with native speakers of the different versions of English. In most cases, though, it is less obvious: Why does the role of Puck the fairy in Midsummer Night's Dream necessarily preclude an American accent? There are proponents for both the "genuine" side and the "creative" side, but the hard fact of the matter is that whether leaning toward "authentic" or leaning toward "creative ability," the industry by and large currently seems to favor the same small group of performers for both. And herein lies the core of the issue.

We all have certain skills which are innately strong due to our background and upbringing, and then skills we have acquired through training or life experience. Why is it, then, that only a few selected actors are allowed to use both sets of skills? How many of us have been told we are "not right" for a British role due to our nationality (presumably because only a genuine born and raised Brit could play the part), but have then later seen a British actor in an American role and been told that it’s the actor's performance, not their nationality, that matters?

Casters and agents counter with all sorts of replies. "How would we explain you?' "Americans can't do Shakespeare!" "You wouldn't fit in with the rest of the cast." "That director likes to work with people he knows." "You are a little niche." "You're lucky, there are so many American roles. You should be grateful." "Why don't you go to LA? Or Toronto?" And perhaps most bizarrely, "You would have to put on an accent, and since you already have an accent, that won't work." Comments that in many other industries could lead to an employment tribunal,  in ours are taken as unassailable givens by sheer force of repetition and actors' understandable reluctance to push back in an unstable, freelance industry.

None of this is news; indeed, it is the very reason this organization was founded back in 1997 to support and promote those of North American nationality and origin working in the UK acting industry. However, in the current climate of examining the status quo, our situation, along with that of other foreign nationals working in the British acting industry, is rising to the surface once more and there is a movement to make changes.

Triggered by a motion to the London Area AGM which was passed unanimously, Equity is in the process of setting up a Non-UK Born Artists Network to support and promote foreign national members of Equity. An inaugural event was held via Zoom on July 16 with hundreds of attendees, who shared themes that would be familiar to the AAUK membership: only being seen for roles within a single nationality; roles representing stereotypes; comments on accents; being blocked from representation or auditions because of nationality; and so on. Out of the heartfelt discussion, though, also came ideas as to how to move forward in a more positive manner, which will be the future remit of the network.

The network is open to any non-UK born member of Equity. Those who wish to join should either email Amy Dawson at Equity at adawson@equity.org.uk or fill in the following form:


Whether or not you join the network, do remember that discrimination because of your nationality or national origins is illegal, no matter what industry you are in – so if you feel you've run into problems because of this, please contact Equity, which can offer help and guidance.