ACTING vs RELIGION and MORAL BELIEFS
Tales have been told of actors who have turned down acting gigs because the roles assigned to them does not sit well with their religious beliefs, moral standings and society’s expectations of them. Talk about the man who has grown up being totally against rape and here he is years later being asked to play the rapist; Or the staunch married Christian who is now being told she is required to be half naked or make out with another man on set; Or the Muslim lady who cannot remove her hijab because her religion dictates she must have it on at all times.
What do you do when caught between your religious or moral beliefs and your acting career?
Well first off, you need to go back to the basics. Why did you get into it? Most actors along the way tend to forget the reasons why they started this or do not have good enough reasons as to why they want to become actors. When they say acting is one of the hardest trades there is, they mean exactly that. Those moments when your moral fiber is put to the test. When you are at your lowest point and nothing seems to go right for you and are on the brink of calling it quits, go back to the basics and ask yourself WHY did I get into this? Was it for the fame, money and all those other funny answers clueless wannabe actors give? Or was it that undying desire that they call passion? Do not get me wrong, nothing wrong with wanting fame or money but your success as an actor will always be measured by those and trust you me, your happiness won’t be as long lasting as your passion. Your passion is what will keep you in the game and moving forward.
Secondly, understand what acting is. Different people have different explanations but for the sake of argument, I’ll work with Oxford dictionaries definition which states that acting is “The art or occupation of performing fictional roles in plays, films, or television”. Fictional being the key word here. Depending on the acting technique you pick up along your career, you must remember it is not YOU who’s life you are going to portray but a fictional character assigned to you. Sounds simple but I believe we have all found ourselves in situations where you question your character. It is totally natural though advised against. The minute you start putting your personal emotions and moral beliefs into a character, you immediately lose that character’s trueness. Instead, understand your character and what their needs (not yours) are. Yes, you are allowed to draw from your past experiences or personal views but not extend your personal feelings into the character you play unless it is going to help your performance.
The actors who turn down roles because they don’t see themselves being a watchman, house girl or whore, are actors who have forgotten the fundamentals of what acting is. They are actors who judge themselves before even getting their work of art to the world. It is not your work as an actor to judge your character but the audiences work. It is not your work as an actor to feel what is right or wrong but the audiences and society that we portray our work of art to. That is something that needs to be reminded to you every single time when faced with a role that doesn’t sit well with your beliefs. Yes, our audiences still have a problem differentiating between the characters we take up and who we are in person. That can lead you to thoughts of “what will my mother think of me when she sees me acting drunk or smoking or spotting that short mini skirt she has always told me is bad’? Well, part of being an actor is not only taking that risk but to also shun away friends, family who do not understand what it is you do despite explaining it to them. Plus, you will not always play “safe roles” in your entire career.
Lastly, religion is indeed a sensitive topic to handle for the sole reason we have many religions and each religion with their own believes. Below for example is a message I received from a young Muslim girl lamenting that:
“My talent is killed because I am a Muslim and I am an actress but I can’t be auditioned in my scarf because I was told it doesn’t work that way. Really why are you killing what I am passionate about? Hata naogopa kuja auditions za acting sasa. I am really sad. Very sad indeed. I am a kenyan just like anyone else.... my headscarf can’t be the reason for me not to act and I can’t remove it.”
Well, truth is, no one is killing what she is passionate about, if anything her religion is killing her dreams. Acting has rules. One of them is when in front of the camera; your face has to be seen. If your religion does not allow you to remove your scarf then that means you are not fulfilling the casting directors’ demands. So it is either the Casting Director accommodates you or they look for someone else who will do as told without any limitations and there are many other people who would gladly take up the opportunity. It is the same when actors audition with glasses or hats on and are asked to remove them. It is nothing religious it is just a matter of “your whole face needs to be seen”. I cannot however advice someone to drop their religious beliefs, actually I would depending on how strong your acting passion is keeping in mind you are portraying a character and not yourself, however, if your faith and religion doesn't sit well with the acting role assigned, it is totally understandable and you don’t have to do it. The choice is totally yours; your acting career or your religion?
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