I CALL myself an actress. It’s what I’ve always wanted to be called, since the moment I saw Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and stepped out on stage at Newland High School for Girls in Hull as the protagonist in Dr Faustus. But now I’m told that I should be calling myself an actor.
It is in line with the ‘wokeness’ currently reverberating through our cultural and political life, and, like most of these awakenings, it has reason – there have been decades and decades of disenfranchisement to which we’re only just opening our sleepy eyes.
But what if I don’t want to call myself an actor? Must I suddenly feel that I’m fundamentally letting down the side?
I must learn never to question such politically correct decisions, and I will – given time. But forgive me if, now and again, I forget to where exactly the cultural goal-posts have been moved.
Must I despise actor Laurence Fox for airing his knee-jerk opinion and yet deny Germaine Greer the right to voice any of hers? Dare I voice my own? What about the Twitter storm, the incendiary quotes taken out of context?
Should I keep my mouth shut out for fear of causing offence? Probably I should, according to my daughter, who is protective of her opinionated mother. She reckons it hurts my career.
She is, like her late father, almost always right. But surely, on this small but universal issue, it’s up to me to choose how I identify myself within my own industry?
And why should I want to adopt the male moniker ‘actor’ when I am, to all intents visibly and contentedly, a woman? Do I really want to play Shylock, or Sherlock, or J Alfred Prufrock, now I’m in the real world and not an all-girls’ school? Wouldn’t I rather just play good women’s roles?
In any case, frankly, it seems to me that almost everything I see is female-led. Am I wrong or am I just watching a pink Netflix? Have you seen those dazzling young actresses in its series Sex Education? Be scared, young men, be very, very scared! The BBC’s Killing Eve – can you remember an interesting male character?
Ever since Men Behaving Badly, with Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey, male characters have been doing just that.
It seems to me that on TV now, the coroners are women, the comics are women, the super-heroes are super-heroines, the columnists, surgeons, vets, chefs, pop singers, dragons, special correspondents, new-intake MPs, darts players, boxers, the rabbis for God’s sake, are almost all women.
The patriarchal society is dying, long live the matriarchal one! And we’re in touching distance of winning parity, so couldn’t we please be noble in victory and cease the gloating and the bitterness?
The suggestion of all-female short-lists at award ceremonies is as short-sighted as an all-cockapoo Crufts. May the best person win, the most talented – not the most fashionably deserving.
Quotas were wrong when golf clubs and private schools held them for Jews, and they are wrong for election candidate lists.
When writers of colour and female writers produce more and more scripts echoing their experiences, the roles for minorities will rightly soar and awards will soar with them.
The truth is that showbusiness is full of inequalities and injustices.
Official Secrets (the true story of a British woman whistleblower at the time of the Iraq war) was a terrific film with a subtle, nuanced performance from Keira Knightley which figured nowhere in the recent Bafta awards ceremony.
With the greatest respect to the multi-talented Renee Zellweger – if you’re cast as Judy Garland, you always pick up the prize. Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March in Little Women was so quietly perfect that she was almost bound to come away empty-handed – she made it look easy, and that made it easy to overlook.
And of course Greta Gerwig’s reinvention of that film should have been nominated for Best Director, but not on grounds of her gender.
Face facts: more than half of the Oscars judges are blokes and Little Women is as chick-lit to them as the First World War movie 1917 is robustly male to the likes of me.
In the end, all awards are just opinions and all opinions are subjective. In my own experience of sitting on panels, the result has invariably come about because half the panel voted A, half voted B – so inevitably, C wins.
And now the awards ceremonies are dominated by the justifiable but currently overwhelming emphasis on redressing the cultural balance.
Joaquin Phoenix deserved his Best Actor award for Joker but his scolding to BAFTA about lack of diversity felt to me as self-important and unnecessary as Marlon Brando’s gesture at the 1973 Oscars when he sent a Native American girl to accept his award as a protest against the treatment of Native Americans. Boy, did that make a difference on the reservations.
It’s lovely to think that a celebrity can move progress along more swiftly; can be more-than-usually sensitive to injustice; can single-handedly shake up a complacent world. Of course we want to use our profile for the greater good but it’s never entirely free of ego.
I’ve done it myself and I’m the first to admit – it is always a touch vain-glorious. I’m probably doing it right now. The only way to make a real difference in the real world is to do what the great Glenda Jackson did for 30 years – become a grassroots politician and put your mouth where your money used to be. Like Labour MP Tracy Brabin, too – she of the off-the-shoulder remark. Anything else is naive.
But if my daughter is reading this: don’t worry, I’m sticking to my chosen career. And in my new, blue, sadly no-longer EU passport, my profession will be stated as ACTRESS. Because asleep or awoke, that’s the role for me.