Picture courtesy Bahia Watson. Design by Kayleen Dicuangco.

Welcome to My Story, a weekly sequence devoted to creatives of color and their paths to success. By championing these various tales and backgrounds, we hope that our cultural conversations will broaden and that respect for our variations will flourish.

“The stage is the actor’s area,” Bahia Watson was as soon as advised by an performing instructor, and the Winnipeg-born actress determined to make it her dwelling, enjoying roles like Queen Elizabeth I in Kate Hennig’s The Virgin Trial and Masha in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull for audiences in Stratford and Toronto. Of late, you’re extra prone to spot her on display. Watson simply started filming her fourth season enjoying Brianna on the Emmy-winning sequence The Handmaid’s Story, and in addition not too long ago appeared on a number of episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. Final week, The Archivists—a brief movie she co-starred in with Noah Reid a couple of dystopian world by which artwork and music are unlawful—premiered on the 2020 Toronto Worldwide Movie Competition.

We caught up with the actress to listen to about her numerous display roles, the necessity for larger variety behind the scenes within the leisure trade, and extra.

On how she obtained her begin as an actress…
I sort of stumbled into performing. I’d grown up doing dance and choir singing in Winnipeg, and once they began capturing movies there and commenced casting for extras, I simply determined to go. I used to be most likely 16 and didn’t know something in regards to the movie trade in any respect. However I began occurring auditions and took some performing courses, and realized I actually loved the problem of performing and the way private it was. I moved to Toronto to work as an actor and sort of stumbled into theatre. I ended up working with this one instructor who mentioned ‘you be taught to behave on the stage, that’s the actor’s area’ so I used to be actually inspired to do this. As soon as I obtained that adrenaline rush of being on the stage, I pursued it. I additionally write and create my very own reveals for the stage as a playwright.

On her quick movie The Archivists… 
A whole lot of the initiatives I find yourself engaged on are sort of futuristic and dystopian they usually all paint a really totally different image of what the long run would possibly seem like. However the story [about art being made illegal] is unquestionably not out of the realm of risk. I bear in mind in 2012 when music was banned in Mali. They’ve stunning musicians and music however due to the political state of affairs, music was banned there for a time frame. So it’s a actual factor that occurs and it’s a scary factor. I wouldn’t say the movie is a cautionary story but it surely does make us take into consideration governing and what it’s able to by way of limiting our entry to the humanities. Additionally, the function of music within the movie was attention-grabbing to me. I write my very own music so I used to be concerned with having the prospect to convey that a part of myself into my work as an actor. 


On the themes she’s drawn to as a playwright…
I’m concerned with identification. One of many initiatives I labored on with a good friend, Liza Paul, was all about Caribbean identification and womanhood and sexuality. My mother and my mother’s aspect is from Guyana and my sister was born there too. So with my very own solo initiatives, there’s so much about being a Black lady and identification and nuance. I’m all the time trying to create space for marginalized our bodies to be understood as nuanced people.  

On what wants to alter within the leisure trade…
The largest adjustments will occur when inclusion occurs within the writers room, and among the many administrators and the producers. It’s simple to simply add color to the actors and what’s proven on display, however I believe the most important house for development could be behind the digicam or offstage… all the best way to brokers, managers, all that stuff that you just don’t see, that’s the place lots of the ability lies and the selections are made.

On the issue with tokenism…
Even on crews on set, all of these arenas are very white. There must be extra of all people else. If there’s only one or two folks, you get locked into your identification. You need to be a consultant of your identification and also you don’t get to simply be a human being. As a result of there aren’t as many Black folks, Indigenous folks and other people of color in these areas, there’s lots of burden on the folks which might be there to do so much with their work, to resolve lots of issues, and to talk for a bigger group. My mother’s Black, my dad’s white, I grew up in Winnipeg within the Prairies… that’s a really particular expertise, very totally different than in the event you’re Jamaican and grew up in downtown Toronto. 

On being typecast as an actor…
Earlier on in my profession I positively did get [stereotypical] audition requests. The staff I work with now filters out lots of these issues however they’re nonetheless there. One in every of my initiatives, this play I wrote known as Shaniqua in Abstraction, began in response to being requested to audition for this character of ‘Shaniqua from the hood.’ That was the primary time I mentioned no to an audition and it actually fuelled my writing as a result of I felt that that was a manner that I may create characters and language that I may join with. There’s nonetheless lots of biases that exist. I believe that there’s lots of nicely which means individuals who see Black folks, Indigenous folks and other people of color as essentially totally different sorts of people or one thing. I believe there’s work to be completed there.

On her on-set experiences as somebody with textured hair…
I all the time felt like I needed to do my very own hair as a result of I simply have a normal mistrust of most individuals, like ‘oh they’re not going to know learn how to do it or they’ll be overwhelmed except I do all this stuff to arrange my huge hair and make it simpler.’ That’s been my expertise throughout the board in any present, theatre and all the pieces. Now and again you discover somebody who will get it and isn’t afraid of your hair and it’s like ‘that is wonderful, I can simply are available in right here like these different women and simply have my hair completed?’ It’s unfair. And the elevated voicing of that’s essential. Now folks can’t act prefer it’s not taking place. It reveals how essential how all of the [Black Lives Matter] protests are as a result of they’re pushing issues in all these little methods. All of the little methods by which we’re diminished or othered or excluded. 

On the surge of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020…
It’s been an intense time. I’ve had some tough conversations with folks. I’ve additionally been impressed by some folks and their willingness to step in to the sector of the race drawback in our society for the primary time and, nonetheless imperfectly, begin to do the work. It made me step again and reexamine lots of my relationships to energy—the instances once I was giving up my energy and leaving components of myself behind, disregarding sure issues and never letting the microaggressions trouble me. So it was actually irritating however surprisingly empowering, that collective voicing of everybody’s ache.

On one of many reveals I work on, The Handmaid’s Story, the lead began an electronic mail thread amongst the primary forged and began the dialog about how issues could possibly be higher on set and why our crew was missing variety. We mentioned what the obstacles have been and what sort of mentorship alternatives would possibly facilitate a extra equitable atmosphere that appears just like the world round us. It was good to speak in regards to the precise world we’re in exterior of simply our present. These sorts of conversations give me hope. 

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