Netflix’s ‘The Get Down‘ has had little trouble making waves in TV’s realm this year thanks to a viewer-pulling performance by Jaden Smith.
Fortunately, according to its leading man Justice Smith, its impact extends further than ratings for him and people of colour.
Find out why below…
As a mixed kid, people want to categorize you as one thing or the other, and I’m proud to be black and I’m proud to be white, because I’m both of those things.I’m a biracial human being. I’m not one or the other. People will try to compartmentalize your characteristics, like you dance well because you’re black, but then you talk like that because you’re white. It’s like, No. I talk and act and dance and do this stuff because that’s me. That’s Justice. That’s how I was raised. That’s how my environment was. There are no biological characteristics that comes with race. We’re not a monolith.
Justice had this to say when discussing the treatment of biracial actors during an interview with ‘Vulture.’
He revealed that he is often told that he is not “black” or “white” enough to take on certain roles.
A lot of roles would come my way that were written for black actors and it would always say things like “addressing his dark skin” and I’m like, well, I don’t have dark skin. That’s why I wanted to do this project so much because I got a lot of roles like that in the beginning where all the roles for black actors take place in the ghetto and they all talk in African-American Vernacular English. They’re all talking about race relations and the struggle, or there are a lot of roles that are thugs and gangsters, which is fine because that’s part of the black experience, but if that’s all that we’re making and that’s all that we’re creating, then that’s all the mass of people are going to see us as, which is why we need to create diverse roles for diverse people and not just have “Oh, well I have diversity in my show because I have this black guy.
Why ‘Down’ is different?
I like this show because it’s set in an urban context and it’s about urban life and it’s about the ghetto, but the characters are not monolithic. We have an array of people of color and they’re all different types of people. Ra Ra is not the same as Boo Boo is not the same as Shaolin Fantastic. Books is a very sensitive; he cries and you don’t really see that often in narratives about urban life. I would get sent out for a lot of black roles that I don’t connect to. I actually connect to this white role, and they’d be like, “We can’t send you in for that.” When I walk in the room for these black roles they laugh at me because I’m this light-skinned biracial dude walking in the room, talking the way that I talk, and they’re like, “Why is he here?” I’ve walked in the room and the casters have said, You’re so cute. I’m like, I didn’t get this role. Or I’ll be right for the role, but I’m not dark enough. If that’s happening then why can’t I also be sent out for these white roles? My agent would always say, we know you’re not the right skin color for this, but there’s no hurt in going out for this role because casting directors can see your abilities. That makes a lot of sense to me, but why can’t you send me out for the white roles as well? If they’re not going to cast me regardless, at least they can see that I can act and I can portray this character.