“The industry is dominated by white, middle-class males, not just in front of camera” says Christopher Eccleston, in a tough-talking documentary now up for an award.
Eccleston is one of a string of established actors who tell it how difficult it is for working-class youngsters to break into the business in The Acting Class.
Peter Bazalgette, Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh also appear alongside Tom Stocks, who started campaigning when he couldn’t afford drama school.
The raw, feature-length documentary, is up for Best Research Film of the Year at the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research in Film Awards 2017.
“The stars wanted to talk about this because they recognise how bad things have got recently,” said filmmaker Professor Michael Wayne who teaches film and TV at Brunel University London.
“They brought great insights and a really important historical perspective about how things have changed. Imagine a cultural landscape today without the likes of Christopher Eccleston, Maxine Peake or Julie Hesmondhalgh. These actors all said that they would not make it under the current conditions.”
Only one in 10 actors come from a working class background according to a study from Goldsmiths, University of London. The Acting Class compares the privileges middle-class wannabe actors enjoy with the barriers less privileged people have to struggle to break. It asks why acting or any arts should be the preserve of the rich and what happens to our culture when they are.
“Class inequalities and their impact in the cultural sphere are something we want to push up the research agenda,” said Prof Wayne, who made the film, with Brunel colleague Dr Deirdre O’Neill. “Casting directors are an important cog in deciding who gets what roles” argued Dr O’Neill. “It would be great to see the industry find ways to challenge unconscious bias. It is after all about acting - being someone different.”
Their film was up against hundreds for the awards shortlists and winners will be announced on 9 November. “We are extremely pleased that both our film and the class issue is recognised by the AHRC,” said Dr O’Neill. “I hope this shows the role film can play in grappling with important issues like this.”
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations