Getting rich in the world of Native arts is like trying to fly while falling from a great height. You can pretend all you want, but eventually the reality of the situation will come rushing at you at tremendous speed as you're flapping your arms in vain, crying out, "Why isn't this working?" Of course, this could just be me.
I've also learned that should I ever wish to be a world-famous indigenous actor, I'd probably have to move to another country. It's because I don't look native enough. That's not a good thing in the Canadian and the American film industry (except for what's called the Val Kilmer effect). On shows highlighting the native experience here, darker is better.
When I was younger, I had a cameo on the television series Spirit Bay. Look for a blue jacket changing scores at an outdoor hockey game. I was also an extra in several films including the Cher/Liam Neeson/Dennis Quaid courtroom drama Suspect. I'm the blur over Cher's left shoulder as she stands in the courtroom telling the judge she's going on vacation.
The casting director had originally phoned me looking for a native guy to sit in the defendant's box. They looked at me and put me in the visitors' gallery. It seemed I looked too white to be a believable defendant. I guess I should be happy about that.
Over the years, I've appeared in a few public service announcements and stuff like that. I was in a native comedy improv troupe for a year, and I did one lone stand-up gig (with Don Burnstick and Charlie Hill) at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC, for the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. But that's about the extent of my acting resumé. No staring roles in Hamlet. No Death Of A Salesman. No North Of 60.
In countries like Australia, Mexico and India, the television tells a strangely different story. In Mexico, I couldn't help noticing that all the people on air, in soap operas and commercials, look very European. That is to say, very pale and very white. There seems to be a noticeable lack of Mexican-looking people on Mexican TV - let alone any representation of its indigenous people. With the sound off, you could be watching Canadian television.
Same in India. It seems the lighter you are, the better chance you have of a successful career in Bollywood.
The majority of the performers come from the Punjab, in the northwestern part of the country. That's where most of the successive waves of European invaders came through, lightening up the skin colour of the locals as they pillaged and plundered the land.
In Australia, I literally saw more TV programming about Canada's native people than about Kurris (Australian Aboriginals). The Kurri people I was working with said this was the state of Australian television. They practically do not exist except in period documentaries, where they have to shake a boomerang at the camera. Evidently, white is right.
Here in Canada, the opposite is true. Damn these blue eyes. It's not that I have any great ambition to be the next Graham Greene or Gary Farmer, but should I decide to explore this thespian career path, I would have to contemplate moving to Australia, Mexico, or India. There, these blue eyes would be an asset, not a hindrance. I could conceivably revolutionize Bollywood - introduce some inter-tribal moves to their dancing style.
There's a certain amount of irony involved here. Anybody who's worked in the video production industry knows that before the video camera can record, it has to be focused on a blank, white piece of paper. For some technical reason it sets the levels for the camera. This is called "doing a white balance."
I just want to know, where's the balance?