Abigail Achiri Hustles For Minority Actors Around the World

Editor’s Note: Abigail knows what she’s up against, but she’s not deterred by it. If anything, it fuels her fire.

While trying to get her big break as an actress from Cameroon, she found out just how hard it is for a black woman to be cast in a leading role. Now she’s on a mission to advocate for minority actors all over the world, and it has some serious business potential.

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It sort of seems like being a “hustler” runs in the family. My mother is a single parent taking care of 6 (including herself) and maintaining an average lower middle class lifestyle. How she does it I cannot even begin to fathom, but I think hustle flows through the blood line.

A hustler is someone who may not have the means, but they have the passion, the vision, the goal and the ambition. I have the vision of becoming an actress – yeah, one in a million, I know. But not only am I one in a million, I may have even been bumped down to 1 in a trillion because the one in a million this year went to Nigerian Lupita N’Yongo, with her stunning appearance and performance in 12 Years A Slave.

I am from Cameroon (which is right under Nigeria). My family moved to this great country when I was a year and 3 months old and all my years growing up I was told “you will be a doctor so you can take care of people back home.” So I was set to become a doctor. It was not until I was 14 that I realized that doctors actually have to be good at math, science, biology, chemistry and all the other classes I opt out of if ever given the chance.

I found myself gravitating towards the arts, watching people on TV and listening to people on the radio expressing themselves through another person. This just captivated me and made sense. It was a hard thing telling my traditional African mother that I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment business. But to my surprise, she was for it.

So I entered this world of entertainment innocently and a bit naïve, and began with the thought that it was all fair and that talent was really all you needed. That just proves to not be the case. I got rejection after rejection and always watched the part go to someone “skinnier,” “prettier” and a lot of the time of the Caucasian ethnicity.

This did not really bother me at the time because I thought, surely there were no politics- this girl is simply better than me.
Then I received some personal feedback from a casting director after an audition: “I don’t even know why you wasted you’re time; being black in this business is absolutely worthless because nobody wants you, and if we do happen to, your character will be sure to die within the first 5 minutes of the film.”

I could not let that one slide, or roll off like I had done rejection and rejection before.

I began to do research and found that it was true. Besides the select few (Will Smith, Don Cheadle, Halle Berry, Gabrielle Union and a lot more), there were not many African American actors and actresses who starred in major feature films without playing the character of the best friend, the villain or simply dying within the first 5 minutes.

If it wasn’t any of the above, then they played the comedic relief or simply starred in an all black cast, which doesn’t do as well in the box office. I investigated further to realize that a lot of minorities aren’t represented as “just people” in many films, and on TV they are always the center of either comedy or evil.

This saddened me, because although I am talented, it is very possible that I will never be able to be represented or even put in the same category as Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts, and if I did that it would be rare for someone to think, “Man, she is a great actress.” That’s when I knew I had to do something.

I started to gather information and came to the conclusion that I wanted to help minorities be represented in films. Now, in saying this, I am in no way claiming that people of the Caucasian ethnicity do not deserve the awards they have, because I personally would not want anyone else to play Fantine in Les Miserables other than Anne Hathaway. It just upsets me that casting directors- an actor’s next step in making it in the business- can have the mindset of “you won’t make it because of your race.”

So my idea is still in the works, but here’s what happened: I decided to pursue a degree in business. With this degree I plan on opening a Casting and Production Company that does blind casting for film and strictly sticks and gives the part to the person who did the role the best. My dream is to have under me thousands of casting directors who share the same vision as I do.

When you apply to a job for, let’s say, a cashier, you’re always told that it is “equal employment.” That’s not the case in the entertainment business, and I think it’s time for a change. I am absolutely happy that Kerry Washington is the first African American since 1974 to lead on an American Network on primetime television, but that is only a stepping stone.

The world is changing, times are changing, and I think it is only fair to make the playing field even for people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. I hope that someday I can work with ABC, NBC and FOX and apply my same methods, ethics and morals for casting.

It would break my heart if anybody else had to hear the mean words I did on that audition. In starting this business I hope to not only change casting but also the view of Hollywood. Of course I know it’ll take baby steps, but I am ready, willing and currently taking the steps necessary to hustle and get what I want.

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