CHALLENGE: #HashtagLightie asks the audience to question their ideas
"IF IT wasn’t for race-mixing there’d be no video girls. Me and most of our friends like mutts a lot. Yeah, in the hood they call ‘em mutts.”
Those were the words of Kanye West, pictured below, over a decade ago, during an interview with Essence Magazine where he discussed the topic of race mixing and “mixed girls”. This offensive term for describing mixed women isn’t the first that strips them of their humanity and labels them as objects.
SOUNDING OFF: Kanye West
From “mutts” to “half cast” and “mixed race” to “lightie”, the concept of defining mixed-race people with one particular term has been a staple within our culture, and there is one play looking to explore the mixed race experience beyond these labels.
#HashtagLightie, a play directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE and written by Lynette Linton, explores the conflicting world of being a mixed race person in Britain, set in the blogosphere industry where image is everything — on the surface.
“The play focuses on a mixed-race girl starting a YouTube channel about skincare, beauty tips and all that,” explains Beadle-Blair.
“But what is meant to unify people of colour under a shared love, ends up creating a division so that’s what it explores – and that’s why I was so intrigued by it.”
The British director and actor decided to get involved with the play because of his love of nurturing young talent, like writer Lynette Linton.
“While I was writing at the National Youth Theatre, I met Lynette, who is a dynamo,” he recalls.
“We ended up working together on a previous play of hers called Step which I directed, and when she asked me to direct #HashtagLightie I was sold by the concept of it all. I’m passionate about mentoring young people, so I jumped at the chance to work on this play.”
SOCIAL COMMENTARY: Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE (photo credit: Q Movie)
The initial production process for #HashtagLightie began with a series of workshops, that gathered mixed race people in one room to discuss their journeys. According to Beadle-Blair, this experience really opened his eyes to the different struggles mixed race people not only face, but hide from the rest of the world.
“Mixed-race people are upheld in society especially on social media, with this concept that the lighter you are the better you are,” said the 59-year-old.
“So when you’re in that position no one really wants to hear your stories, but they do have a story to tell. During these workshops, the room was packed with mixed-race people and it was an extraordinary experience to hear people unburden themselves, because people carry issues of identity within but shrug them off in public. Once people got together, the stories started to come out and you got to hear the different experiences.”
Dealing with identity for mixed-race people is a touchy subject which #HashtagLightie is keen to address. In a world that defines you as either a white-passing mixed race person (à la Meghan Markle) or a one-drop rule believing Halle Berry, discovering your identity can be a rocky road.
“The great thing about this play is that it creates a space where mixed race people can just be mixed race,” says Beadle-Blair.
“Three out of the five actors are mixed and it’s exciting for them to be amongst their own and to identify as mixed without having to feel obligated to side with one or the other. Lightie also makes a statement about who can be on stage, and why and where.”
Creating a diverse space for minority groups is something Beadle-Blair specialises in. From developing a film on the Stonewall riots, to an upcoming play with an all transgender cast, he is keen to tell stories that focus on fringe cultures, which often go ignored in mainstream media.
“I think sub-cultures are becoming more assertive about their own art, and I think it’s important to tell these stories,” he enthuses.
“We’re at a time where we don’t need mainstream approval as such – it’s great if we can get it – but we live in a time where we don’t have to rely on the ‘powers that be’ to tell the stories that we want to tell.”
So far, #HashtagLightie has sold out at Theatre Royal Stratford East, and the cast and crew are excited to present their take on being young, mixed-race and living in the UK.
“For people who see this, they’re going to be challenged, entertained, and see mixed race people from different perspectives. You realise that there is no singular black, white or mixed experience in this world, and the play is very compassionate in exploring that way. #Hashtag Lightie isn’t telling you what to think, but is asking you: ‘What do you think?’.”
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