Guest Blog: Anyebe Godwin, Actor
Identity is something that we all struggle with. It’s something we are born with and into, given to us by parents, by the midwives and doctors who helped bring us into the world. With identity comes a given set of ideals and rules you’re meant to abide by. We are all given a toolkit of rules whether moral, religious, cultural and political. The latter falls into the former three.
Me, myself ‘Anyebe Godwin’ full name Anyebe Godwin Oluwatosin Oluaseun Anteyi I have had different debates with identity through life and my career. All my names are either from namesakes — whether uncles or grandparents — or from the circumstance of my birth or my family at the time of birth.
Anyebe means Salvation, but at a young age I was embarrassed that my name wasn’t Anthony or Andrew. At one point in Year 5 when I had moved from North London to South East London I told everyone at school to call me Andrew out of embarrassment at having a Nigerian name. At the time I was 9 years old and had already been taught probably from the playground or football that my name was difficult, a burden to everyone else to say, and a burden to me that I didn’t want.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and as an actor I find that although I know my identity, the industry at times has also made it clear what I should identify as. I am Nigerian. I am British Nigerian, I am a Black British Nigerian man. These are the facts, however in which order these facts are listed is down to how I identify with myself and cultural upbringing. At times it has changed depending on who I’m around and with. Now I accept I am who I am and although it doesn’t change, the order can change, but I am always all of the aforementioned.
When I first started acting I almost started calling myself Godwin Anteyi, but soon realised Anyebe was my name and the name everyone pre-acting knew me by, so I settled on Anyebe Godwin. This wasn’t a deed poll change, just a change mentally and in terms of how I was to be introduced and effectively marketed.
As an actor, you see people who look like you, and people who don’t. I am Black and I am an actor. At times when you see castings, they will specify they are looking for a Black, Asian or Bi-racial actor and at times they won’t specify. I have played roles where me being Black was needed for the story we were telling, whether it was about a Nigerian family with British Nigerian grandchildren, or whether the characters were black in order to talk about the Black British experience. I have played characters where there wasn’t a specified race but I happened to be cast. I have also played a character in a show where traditionally the family are white and I was cast as the son and brother to two white women. As someone who lives in London and has seen colourblind casting in a lot of productions, I see this as normal; however I was quickly reminded on tour by the digs owners or in some reviews that not everyone understands colourblind casting.
One review stated: ‘Abraham who is white, also plays Katherine’s daughter Lucy. Anyebe Godwin, who is black, plays her equally young brother, Charles. Colour-blind casting is generally a good thing, but a play set in Victorian times really needs a line to cover the distracting lack of family resemblance.’ That review reminded me that identity is something that others can put upon you, even when you know who you are. The fact that a reviewer could buy into a middle-aged man physically transforming into a younger more dangerous individual (this was in Jekyll and Hyde), but couldn’t believe that I could be the son and brother of the two women mentioned earlier, said a lot.
Ultimately, identity to me is your true naked self plus layers of clothing given to you by others. The vest given to you by family, the shirt given to you by education (teachers and friends), the jumper given to you by family again, and the coat given to you by yourself, friends and society. And that clothing is interchangeable depending on who you’re around, and who you decide to reveal those layers to. It is complicated and it is not one thing.
I know now that I love and choose to wear the layers given to me by myself and loved ones. And I hope that as we move towards the future, the industry as a whole gets better at understanding these layers, and styles us with nuanced clothes that compliment our complex and layered identities.