Nick Ahad: Diversity must be more than just a buzzword

Viola Davis with the award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences at the Oscars in 2017. (PA).
Viola Davis with the award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences at the Oscars in 2017. (PA).
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News this week that a ballet company has joined forces with a footwear company to produce ballet pointe shoes that match the skin tones of black and Asian dancers.

Political correctness gone mad? No. No, it isn’t.

It’s an important step, point, step towards a society where anyone and everyone feels that the arts are for them and that self-expression does not belong to a particular class, race or creed. It’s a jeté in the direction of a world where inclusion is not just a buzzword, but something we truly have. These small steps are so important to demonstrate to people outside of the arts world, the ones who feel that they ‘ought’ to remain on the outside, that the doors to that world can actually be opened to them.

My play Partition is at Leeds Playhouse this week and heads to the Bradford Alhambra next week before touring schools around Leeds and Bradford. When it goes to schools I have been asked to take part in post-show question and answer sessions with students. I have asked specifically to go to the schools you might consider ‘challenging’. I want pupils at those schools to see that I, the mixed-race son of a Keighley bus driver, found a way into the arts. The creation of ballet shoes for black dancers and my desire to show young people who might look like me or share my working class background that you can make it into this world are two sides of the same coin.

As is another important step from the ballet world towards equality with the announcement that Misty Copeland will play a key dancing role in Disney’s long-awaited The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Copeland, the first black female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre will this Christmas look down on audiences around the globe from a 40-foot high screen alongside stars Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman. Little brown girls across the world will see a new heroine who looks like them. The importance of this cannot be overstated. If we don’t, as children, see people who look like us on stage and screen, we don’t think those worlds belong to us and we don’t feel we belong in those worlds. We do. People of colour belong on those stages and screens and brown children will look up this Christmas and see Misty Copeland looking back and some of them will think ‘I can see myself up there, doing that’.

Also this week while promoting Steve McQueen’s new movie Widows, Viola Davis described a sex scene she shares with Liam Neeson in the movie. She said: “He’s not my slave owner, I’m not a prostitute, we are simply a couple in love.” What struck me about the narrative is that I’ve not seen it before. “Sometimes,” she said: “The biggest political statements are the simplest.”

Like a pair of ballet shoes helping all of us take a walk towards equality.