Ramy Youssef and Tessa Thompson are the latest celebrities to take part in Variety‘s Actors on Actors interview.
The pair discuss the role Hollywood plays in generating political change, the burden that comes with representing an underrepresented community, and more in the chat.
“Ramy” star Youssef says of Muslim representation on English-language TV: “My show is the only show in the English language that’s attempting to show Muslims or that is speaking Arabic. There’s an instinct to not want to take risks, but you have to.”
Thompson adds as Youssef asks “What level of responsibility do you feel, when you know people are looking at you as representing Black women?”: “There is a real feeling of responsibility when you’re the only one. There’s this burden of being exceptional. While I think you are exceptional and I hope I’m exceptional, too, I don’t think we should be the only ones.
“The work that we do should be inside a diversity of ideas around our identity, because Muslims are not a monolith, and neither are Black people. I try not to feel responsibility to be an ambassador, because I can only speak to my own experience. I as a light-skinned Black woman have a different experience than some of my counterparts.”
Thompson adds of why the term “diversity” annoys her: “When we’re able to speak from a place of honesty, we set people free, because there’s bound to be somebody that feels seen and understood in a way that they hadn’t before. I feel heartened that inside Hollywood there’s this idea around diversity, but I get annoyed with the way that the term is thrown around, because, for me, the thing that’s exciting is diversity of ideas.”
The “Westworld” actress continues, “You look at the way that Black and Brown people are portrayed in the media, and there’s a sameness — we’re obsessed with watching Black pain and Black and Brown criminality. I want for us to be able to exist in ways that we’ve never existed before.”
She goes on to say of the Black Lives Matter movement and the role Hollywood plays in generating political change: “I’m of the mind that political change is always preceded by cultural change. We have the ability to set the stage.
“When you talk about systemic racism and problems inside policing, one of the impediments has been cop shows that offer a narrative that the police always offer safety and comfort. We know, of course, that’s not always the case for Black and Brown people. Changing the narrative inside the stories that we tell — there is value in it. Gosh, I hope.”
Youssef adds, “A lot of networks haven’t thought about how unequal it is for people of colour in the industry until people started complaining about that. Hollywood needs as much protesting as the government does.”