Hollywood is often under fire for casting white actors in people of color roles, but that’s not enough for acting coach Lesly Kahn. The famous Los Angeles-based teacher has encouraged her students to use Spanish surnames and say they are Latinx to land agents and roles — and, unsurprisingly, people are pissed.
An audiotape of Kahn proposing that one student at her Lesly Kahn & Company school use the name Rosa Ramirez and take headshots that make her appear “more Latina” was posted last week by Hyper RPG host Dani Fernandez.
Someone slipped me this recording of an acting class by an apparently well known, popular acting teacher. Please do not do what she advises here. It is not okay to pretend you are an ethnic minority if you are not. This ( plus the comment about Armenians) is completely unethical pic.twitter.com/XKYJJoFC9o
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) February 25, 2018
“Any other ideas?” Kahn, asking her class for Spanish last name suggestions for the student, is heard saying in the clip.
“Fernandez,” a female student recommended.
“Ah,” Kahn says approvingly. “I can’t be the first person that suggested this.”
“Yeah, you are. I get ethnically ambiguous all the time. I took a 23 and Me, and I’m 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. … But, yeah, no one’s ever told me to change my name,” the aspiring actress responds.
“I 100 percent thought you were Latin when we came here,” another student says.
“Yeah, I get that. I’m Armenian,” she replied.
“F*ck the Armenian, that’s not going to help you,” Kahn said. “The Latin could actually get you interviews for representation. Just the fact that your name is Rosa Ramirez is gonna get you a meeting. … So you might try it. … Go to the headshot shop and tell them you’re Latin. Wear something f*cking red. Wear some f*cking sparkly earrings. Change your goddamned name, and let’s just do an experiment. You know what I mean? Just f*cking come up with most Latin name you can come up with, and I mean I don’t know what we’re going to do if they ask is she’s really Latin. I don’t know how we’re going to handle that. Maybe no one will ask. … Aren’t we allowed to change our names to whatever we want to change our names to? And she already looks it. So stop admitting to being a huge Jew. OK? That’s not going to help you. Speaking as one, it’s not going to help. As a Jew, it doesn’t help. … So just try it … and keep us posted, like the saga of Rosa Ramirez.”
She continued: “Make sure before you change it to Rosa Ramirez that there isn’t already a Rosa Ramirez in SAG, and if there is, we try a slightly different name.”
The student who recorded the discussion, a woman of African descent who spoke to the Daily Beast anonymously, said the conversation was disturbing.
“Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege. At the end of the day, that’s what it is, and that’s why so many people are crying right now, because it’s like ‘oh my goodness, there are other people getting things,’ but that doesn’t mean there’s any less for you,” she told the publication.
But the woman said Kahn’s advice wasn’t just racist but also dangerous for any white aspiring actor who heeds it.
“It’s not OK for her to be out there preaching this to fresh-faced people who may be new to this city and know that she has a reputation, and take everything she says to be gospel truth. Let’s say this girl goes out there like, ‘My name’s Rosa Ramirez,’ and then everybody finds out that she’s of Jewish descent. She’s going to look really stupid, and there goes her career,” she said.
Following the class, the woman filed a complaint and stated that she wouldn’t be returning. She then shared the recording with some of her Latinx friends to see if they were as appalled as she was. They were, and took their anger to Fernandez, who shared the audiotape publically.
On Sunday, Kahn tweeted an apology, saying, “As a Jewish woman, I understand the pain that can come from being discriminated against. On behalf of myself and my company, the most sincere apology is extended to my students, current and former, and all others affected. I deeply regret the offended my words have caused.”
— Lesly Kahn (@leslykahn) February 26, 2018