About three years ago, I had a conversation with Zawe Ashton. It was our first proper conversation together. I had always admired Zawe, and weirdly, I had just watched her in season eight, episode two of Doctor Who. So, I couldn’t believe that we were having and engaging in an in-depth discussion about Uganda (home), culture, race and all that jazz. The conversation then moved onto training and diversity. I tell her about all the diversity stuff I was doing at the time, and she leans forward and gives me the best advice, she tells me if I'm to carry on doing what I'm doing, I must never forget how hard it is for women of colour in this industry. “It’s tough.”, she said...
There's a high drive for the next person playing the infamous Time Lord to be female, and do not be fooled, come Christmas, I too want Peter Capaldi to regenerate into a woman, but I want Capaldi to be a woman of colour. Crazy? Bold move? Maybe, but why is that a bold move? When I heard that Newsnight had accidentally announced that Phoebe Waller-Bridge would be playing the role, I screamed (inside, of course). I know she’s poured cold water on the rumour and don’t get me wrong, I also admire her and what she’s done, but it was the idea that a white female is in the lead running of becoming the next Doctor. That scared me.
Why did it scare me? It scared progress. This season of Doctor Who has been a season like no other: Who producers cast Pearl Mackie to play Bill Potts, their second full-time companion of colour (Idc what you say, Ricky was part-time!). First openly gay companion who happens to be a woman of colour. Episode three, the Doctor lands in London 1814 and punches a racist. Also, Bill mentions how Regency England is “a bit more black than they show in the movies.” to which the Doctor replies “So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.” Episode six, we’re introduced to Bill’s date, Penny, played by the extraordinarily talented Ronke Adekoluejo (I’m a bit biased because I love Ronke), who’s also a woman of colour. The topics of race, sexuality, feminism and racism in this season were well addressed and well-executed. What a time to be alive! So when I heard about Phoebe, and the other rumoured to be Time Ladies, I saw all that progress go down the drain… Can we not be braver? Yes, I know at one point that Michaela Coel was rumoured but that was just one woman of colour, last time it was Zawe... is it a one at a time thing? Why is the thought of a woman of colour playing the Doctor bizarre? It’s a fricking science fiction show!!!
African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist, Sojourner Truth spoke at the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 and said, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me!” Here, Truth is not only stating the general male perspective of women seen as dainty, fragile or elegant, but she’s also saying that women of colour are not seen in the same way as white women; that they cannot be dainty or elegant. This idea still exists and unfortunately, has spread through into our society and also into feminism. Furthermore, Truth is also pleading to be recognised and acknowledged just like her white counterparts.
I love what Adele did when she won Album of the Year at the Grammy’s this year, "I can't possibly accept this award," she said during her acceptance speech, and later backstage, she added: “I thought it was her year. What the fuck does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”. That moment was iconic because it defined precisely what feminism is all about. So, when all my white feminist friends heard the news about Phoebe Waller-Bridge, they too should've said something similar along those lines. They should have said, “Thanks for that, but we have Christina Chong, Gemma Chan, Indira Varma, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Meera Syal, Noma Dumezweni, Rakhee Thakrar, Thandie Newton, Wunmi Mosaku, and Zawe Ashton.” (there’s more btw). We should not have celebrated the possibility that the next Doctor will be a white female. We have an extensive list of acclaimed women of colour waiting in the wings. What the fuck do they have to do to be on that list?!
Finally, let me make myself clear, I am not speaking for women of colour but simply with them, and I am using my platform as a straight black man to address such issues. I want to see my sisters represented. I want to see women of colour playing sophisticated, analytical and complex characters onscreen and onstage. "The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else, is opportunity." - Viola Davis.