Dondrie Burnham

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

Who are you?

Who. Are. You?  Identity can be a funny thing for an actor.  Urban. Vixen. Vamp. Ingenue. Nurturing. Motherly. Stoic.  I have been all of these things. I am all of these things.  I am Curvy.  Beautiful.  Sexy. Heavy.  But what does that mean?  Doesn’t it all come down to whether the rich white guys in the studios want to fuck me or weep into my bosom?  Whether they fear me?  Doesn’t it come down to how many ‘followers’ I have? I have always had followers. I cannot curate my power for an online audience. I am authentic above all.   Is my authenticity irrelevant? Yes. For all intents and purposes I am invisible.  Perhaps I should make a funny video and end up on Ellen.   Give the people what they want.

 

I’ve been observing my fellow actors.  The girls with their beauty and fitness regimens, they are walking Glamour magazines.  The boys with the beer bellies and the charm, they are walking sitcoms.  I am bemused.  I call bullshit. I wonder idly, if people will buy my product?  If I wrap my charming beer belly in a Glamour magazine will I get a green light?  A well-respected director once told me I had given the best read for a Mamet role, but that he couldn’t cast me. He didn’t believe the audience would think I was sexy.  Don’t be mad at him.  He was right.  It was Texas and I was a big, black girl with a boy’s haircut. You’ve got to give the people what they want.

 

What do the people want today?  Breakdown 1: Sweet, calm, young woman.  Could that be me?  (Thinking: Christina Applegate/January Jones/Amy Poehler/Jennifer Aniston/Jessica Chastain)  Perhaps not. Breakdown 2: All Races. Beautiful, yet real.  That’s totally me. (Examples: Elizabeth Moss, Anna Karina, Audrey Tautou, Lea Seydoux)  Um. All Races? Kay.  Moving on….Breakdown 3: African-American.  Check. Gorgeous. Check. Chocolate Barbie Doll.  WTF? Abstinence until she finds the right man. (………..)?

 

I’ve watched the recent uprisings in Florida. Missouri. Maryland. California.   I’ve used #blacklivesmatter.  I’ve used #yesallwomen.  I’ve lent my two cents.  I’ve been outraged. Apathetic. Resigned.   Doesn’t it all come down to the rich white guys in the capitol building?  Doesn’t everything come down to some rich white guy somewhere?  When your livelihood, your law, your lifeline is decided by those who not only lack empathy, but also context, how do you exist?  Perhaps I should make an angry video and end up on CNN.  Give the people what they want.

 

What do I want?  I want to be seen.  I want to be taken seriously. I want to be paid fairly.  I want to be valued. I want to be challenged.  I want to be alive.  I want to matter. I am not a Chocolate Barbie Doll.  I am not Audrey Tautou. I am not January Jones.  I am just a talented black girl. I am Urban. Vixen. Vamp. Ingenue.  I am Nurturer. I am Mother.  But mostly, I am tired.  Who are you?

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