Ethnicity & Acting: My Personal Story & Insights

oncrystalstill.12293203_large I have been acting since I was around 8 years old. I started in community theater productions, acted throughout high school and college, and transitioned into film at the age of 21 while still a student at Saint Anselm College. I am of Italian and Irish descent. There might be other things mixed in there too, we think maybe some Greek. Maybe. When looking at me, you mostly see the Southern Italian/Sicilian and never would guess a drop of Irish blood would be present. However, people rarely guess correctly when trying to decipher my ethnicity. What I find most interesting in mainstream media, is the uproar over someone playing a different ethnicity from their own. Granted, there have been many instances where playing someone of a different race is completely awful and racist; what I am talking about is something more subtle. I’m talking about the fact that someone like Al Pacino, a fellow Italian/Sicilian, can play a Cuban immigrant in Scarface; or the fact that when Jennifer Lopez (of Puerto Rican descent) was cast as Tejano superstar Selena in the now famous bio-pic of the same name, the Mexican and Mexican-American communities were outraged. I also find it funny that I am rarely brought in or cast as Caucasian. I am Caucasian. I’m of Italian and Irish heritage who has played more Hispanic and Latina roles than I can count. In the film, On Crystal, I play a Puerto Rican girl who is mildly mentally challenged. And today, I just got called in for another audition to play someone of Hispanic heritage. In a weird twist of fate, that character’s name also happens to be Crystal. Weird.  In my day job in retail, I have had customers blatantly question my ethnicity to my face. I’ve had people think I was Iranian, Egyptian, and even bi-racial.  I’ve gotten called names because of the way I look. And I’m not even the ethnicity that they assume I am. Maybe I should be flattered in some sense.  Maybe it harkens back to when I was in the fourth grade and someone asked if my dad was African American because I was so tan. When I see a breakdown now, and it says “All-American” or “Caucasian,” the sad thing is, I rarely submit for those roles, or go in for the EPAs. And if I do, sometimes I am the tannest Caucasian. BUT, if I go in for a more ethnic role, I fit right in. Awkward. Weird. Again, this is just my personal experience, everyone’s is different. And that’s okay. We as people can’t help the way we look. As Lady Gaga would say, “Baby, you were born this way.”

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