ITV flirt and pec fest LOVE ISLAND has been accused of undiversity, its stars drawn from too small a pool of ‘talent’, unrepresentative of the viewing public.
The indictment is that the narrow field of potential lovers negates the real life multifariousness of sexual attraction, reinforces body fascism, ableism, and a pecking order of desirability based on conventional looks…. And yet millions watch it, in spite of not being represented on the screen.
Listening to the panel on Radio 4’s Moral Maze tie themselves in knots over the issue last night- especially in relation to the BBC- its clear that theatre as a sector has done comparatively well in terms of diversity representation via Arts Council Englands’ initiatives, support for black theatre companies and writers, a new Spotlight style casting system birthed at the National Theatre for disabled actors and portfolio funding for a fistful of diversity focused companies but putting all things considered nonstandard (pale, male and stale is the on trend phrase) into the same pot leads to an odd homogenisation.
How can black representation be the same as learning disability representation in the arts? The obstacles for each contingency are very different.
Is the diversity label a way of ‘othering’ anything ‘non-standard’- a badge of difference, a silo?
JELLYFISH recently premiered at the Bush theatre, a witty and sparkly play by non disabled writer Ben Weatherill about the life experience of a woman with Downs Syndrome, played by the ever watchable Sarah Gordy. Joined onstage by a mesmeric Nikki Priest this work kept the idea of mainstream work featuring non mainstream actors alive, an important influence that its vital not to lose in the rush to label all work with nonstandard themes and characters as ‘diversity’ and therefore other and to happen somewhere else, with its own form, format and audience.
Bravo Artistic Director Madani Younis at the Bush Theatre for recognising this, its to be hoped that this hit production marks an active resurgence in the casting of learning disabled actors in general audience facing work.
Giving a play like JELLYFISH a ‘diversity’ label seems wrong. A piece of traditionally formatted theatre it defies labels as the best work does. Diversity as a branded position risks the groan, the perceived worthiness and at worst a dangerous invitation to reactionary politics.
The composition of the cast of LOVE ISLAND is perhaps less shameful than its content, dumb, bland and reductive as it is.
The specific shape we make in the world and the words other people use to describe us and our existence is not the stuff of great art.