Written by Maisie Richardson-Sellers
“So where are you from?”
“No, but where are you really from?”
I was born and raised in London, to a black Guyanese mother and a white English father. Both of my parents are actors, and the theatre was a crucial part of my childhood. I would beg to come to work with them, chatting away in their dressing rooms, then watching, enchanted, as the cast transformed before me. From museums to painting at home, to all forms of performance, art enveloped me from all angles. I was fascinated by its ability to evoke such intense emotional reactions and discourse. In many ways, my parents raised me as an equal, but with strong guidance. We played endless imaginary games, quests, and outdoor adventures together. I would always be at the table at dinner parties, avidly lending my opinion on any topic discussed. I was raised knowing that my voice mattered, and that art is a transcendental tool for connection. In our home, the Guyanese and English cultures flowed freely through the songs we would sing, the fables we would share and the delicious traditional dishes we would feast on, from pepper pot to Sunday roasts, to okra and salt fish. At home, it was impossible not to be proud of the skin I was in, and all the triumphs and tribulations that my family had overcome. However, I didn’t visit Guyana until I was 20. So from around 10 years old onwards, when faced with the frequent question, “where are you really from?” I would in turn ask myself, why was my being English so unbelievable? Was I more from a land I had never visited just because of the color of my skin?
This question has followed me throughout my life, particularly throughout my school years. I was so fortunate to have parents who valued the power of knowledge, and who fought tirelessly to give me the best education. Through bursaries and scholarships, I was able to attend a top tier private school with a heavy focus on both academia and the arts. Learning quickly enchanted me. My passion and curiosity were fuelled, and my education has become the most valuable tool in my toolbox. But it did come at a price, and that was that I suddenly found myself in a very white world. There were only a few children of colour in my year, and I was often the only one in my class. At around 9 years old, I remember noticing that amongst the role models pop culture was handing me, I rarely saw a face that looked like mine. It wasn’t long before I started trying to tame my hair into a more Eurocentric look. First through braiding and hair straighteners, and then later on with chemicals, as I aspired to the images and ideals that confronted me.
The “othering” of my identity has been a theme throughout my life. In different, nuanced ways. Affectionately or reproachfully, people have frequently tried to force me in boxes that make sense within their understanding of my identity. It was often made clear to me that I was outside of ‘the norm’. And my ‘private school’ accent, light skin and lack of black pop culture knowledge meant that I also wasn’t accepted as black. Some friends would affectionately refer to me as a Bounty (a coconut), and whilst I would laugh along, deep down I felt so ashamed that they could be right. My parents did all they could to empower me to embrace both sides of my identity. They taught me what the school history books left out. But outside of my home, society was telling me again and again that whiteness was desirable and the path to success.
At 14, I began questioning my sexuality, and despite my supportive parents, it took me years to come to terms with the fact that I was queer. At school, the general consensus was that being anything other than heterosexual was ‘gross’ and ‘weird’. There were no ‘out’ people in my year, and stereotypes about the LGBTQAI+ community were casually thrown around. So, I hid my truth under layers of shame. It wasn’t until I discovered the TV show ‘The L Word,’ at age 16, that I realised that being queer didn’t have to mean all of the negative things I’d heard. Seeing Jennifer Beals play Bette Porter, a proud, successful, mixed race, lesbian woman, changed my perception of myself immensely. The show gave me the confidence to begin seeking out community, and I slowly found an incredible group of LGBTQAI+ friends who helped me find pride in my sexuality.
We are beginning to see increasing diversity on our screens, but there is still so much work to be done. There are those in positions of power in the industry that are still ignorant of their biases, and of the damage caused by telling other peoples’ stories for them, without them. We often see a tokenised character with a marginalised identity, written as a one dimensional side-kick, whose main purpose is to uplift a cis, heterosexual, white protagonist. But there are so many transformative stories eager to be told, and so many unheard voices waiting tell them. This year, I started my own production company, ‘Barefaced Productions.’ In Guyana, ’Barefaced’ is an affectionate name for someone who challenges the status quo, who speaks out fearlessly and boldly. Barefaced Productions aims to do just that. We are creating authentic, nuanced, diverse content, focusing on bringing to life the stories of marginalised and LGBTQAI+ communities. Our crews will be just as diverse as the stories being told in front of the camera, with inclusivity at every stage of the creative process.
I was lucky enough to have a loving, accepting family and to grow up in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. And yet, I still found myself feeling like the ‘other,’ struggling with self-doubt, and experiencing shame around my sexuality. It is absolutely essential that we strive to tell stories that empower and uplift. Stories by and about people from all different backgrounds and identities. We all deserve to see ourselves represented, to know that our stories are valued, and that there are no limits on our dreams. So here’s to you. To your differences, your spirit, your stories, and the immense beauty of all the parts that make you.
STORY MAISIE RICHARDSON-SELLERS
HAIR MARJORIE LIGHTFORD
MAKEUP AARON PAUL
STYLIST KATIE QIAN
EDITOR ANNA ZHANG
Maisie Richardson-Sellers can be seen as “Chloe” in ‘The Kissing Booth 2’ on Netflix and as the pansexual, gender-fluid shapeshifter “Charlie” on DC’s ‘Legends of Tomorrow.’ Richardson-Sellers also recently launched her own production company, Barefaced Productions, to bring to life more stories of people of color and the LGBTQAI+ community. Through this endeavor, Richardson-Sellers co-wrote and directed her first short film, Sunday’s Child, which follows a young, isolated queer woman throughout her journey to self-acceptance.26 Loves