Somewhere between when the birds start chirping and when the sun comes up, the incessant chime of a phone alarm begins to echo through a dim bedroom. A slumped over figure grumbles and shuffles across the room to find the light, as he hits the switch. Not only is the bulb illuminated at the top of the ceiling in the square room but so is the spark that fuels his day.
Just as quickly as the alarm startled him awake he is soon outpacing even the harried commuters, flying down the sidewalk tugging at the scarf that is struggling to keep up. He comes upon a door, nothing particularly striking about this door yet it could be considered insurmountably important, but only time will tell.
Not a single moment of hesitation has affected him until the instant his hand touches the cool brass of the handle. For an unnoticeable amount of time his fingers linger and his eyes shut. The pause comes and goes before even he has time to realize.
In this case it’s a worn wooden staircase with a sign-in sheet at the top. He scratches in his name, Robert Lewis, and takes a seat next to all the others. The others are dreamers like him. That’s when the anxiety washes over him. Not a wave. A wave would fade away. This is a flood and the waters are rising. He peers down at his own hands sitting in his lap, then at every other pair in the room. The flood of anxiousness has now reached its peak as he then turns from hands to faces. They are nothing like the face he shaved and splashed with water this morning.
Robert Lewis is a 21 year-old son, brother, student and aspiring actor. But his struggle does not lie in these traits. The color of his skin has become an unexpected road block.
“Let’s say I audition for the lawyer…Just because I’m black, I can’t be the lawyer; I have to be the criminal. I’m just going to work my way to the top until I don’t have to just be the ‘drug dealer’.”
As highlighted by the most recent Academy Award ceremony boycott, the ratio of black to white actors working in the theater or the cinematic industry in the U.S is disproportionate. That is why as Robert sat in that room full of unfamiliar faces he was standing up to more than just that handful of people. Everyday he auditions and shamelessly promotes himself, he faces an institutionalized racism.
According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, “minorities will become the minority within a few decades. Although minorities posted small to modest gains in several Hollywood employment arenas since the last report, they remain under represented on every front.”
The Hollywood Diversity Report states that for every two non-minority film leads there is one minority lead, for every three non-minority film writers there is one minority film writer and that for every six broadcast scripted lead there is one minority scripted lead.
“They would probably choose me as the drug dealer instead of the
cop. I feel as though that shouldn’t matter if you’re talented. Show them you can portray that intelligent doctor, something and show you can do it.”
Prominent black doctors, scientists, artists and politicians exist yet these characters are almost never portrayed by black people. Robert is learning to cope with this and overcome it and he’s also aware that he’s not the only one with a struggle.
Shows like Empire,Scandal and Blackish have shown that minority actors can play a variety of complex roles meanwhile,receiving the ratings for their networks.
“You have to go out and do it. It’s like that for women too, they can’t be the lead.”
Robert draws his inspiration not only from the need and drive to break down stereotypes, but also from his past and upbringing. Like many millennials that have not strayed too far from home or haven’t found a job that provides enough to leave their childhood bedrooms, Robert is close to his mother. This closeness goes beyond what a lot of young 20 year-olds with overbearing parents have though. It’s a closeness that many might not wish to have.
“My mom had me at seventeen. We pretty much grew up together.”
Meanwhile,Robert has little to say about his father, except “he was never in my life. In and out of jail.”
This is what might truly fuel the fire of creativity and breaking down barriers for Robert. Everyday he sets foot into a room full of unfamiliar faces and auditions for the part of the lawyer his past is a part of him.
Close friend Alvaro Ramirez remembers watching Lewis’ first show.
“I was definitely proud and it was just a surreal experience. Made me really believe in him.”
Lewis, is currently working on a short film and is studying at The Roger Simon Studios and the Marc John Jefferies Acting Academy in, New York City.
“I want it to satisfy my needs to act. I want to satisfy myself through acting. I don’t really care about being famous or being in the biggest movie, even though it would be nice.”