The Come Up: Portia Bartley – Writer, Actress, Model, Extraordinaire

The Come Up: Portia Bartley – Writer, Actress, Model, Extraordinaire

By Jasmine Lowe

portia bartley identity and representation

Actress, poet, writer, and model—Portia Bartley uses her talents and artistic outlets to not only tell her own story but to add to the conversation that intersects the topics of social injustice, immigration, race and queer identity.

Her goal is to use the voice that grows from her poetry and writing to shine a light on stories of the various individuals who, have always been there but do not always have a chance to be heard. She pushes to expand the lens most commonly used to portray life in the media to include other points of view from around the world. She strives to not only highlight that they exist but to create a platform in her projects for these individuals to tell their own history.

Her work empowers the people whose gender, nationality, sexuality, and race don’t fit the default demographic groups, and she plans on continuing to do so in her popular docu-series. As a Black, queer, woman who was born and raised in London, England and who currently resides in Los Angeles, California, her life experience often conflicts with the stereotypical norm of what it means to be Black in America.

“I moved to Los Angeles to get my performing arts degree, which I got in both LA and New York,” said Bartley. “Teachers always encouraged us to make our own work. How we needed to create the opportunities that we essentially wanted to do more often. I’ve done that in multiple ways and that’s through poetry, writing scripts, and most recently my docuseries, Black Beyond America.”

She took it upon herself to create a project that would facilitate space for a conversation about diversity and how individuals don’t always fall into specific boxes.

“I created this series because despite where I’ve lived, people were always very surprised to meet me. They didn’t understand that it was possible to be both Black and English.

On top of that, I wasn’t a stereotype in many ways. I liked certain food and music that I supposedly shouldn’t because I’m black. It really threw my classmates off.  Instead of using that as an opportunity to understand we are multi-faceted beings, they instead claimed I was whitewashed. So many comments were made about how I spoke too properly and that my English was “too good”. As frustrating as that was, I also had to understand that this was coming from a place of ignorance.”

Portia explained that these individuals she encountered had never seen someone like her because there was a lack of diverse representation in the media. “Black women onscreen are often African American. Even when they’re not, they’re often depicted as a caricature. This is detrimental. If you only see this particular type of black person on screen, it’s easy to believe that we’re a monolith.”

The American Musical and Dramatic Academy alum mentioned that she had noticed some progress in the amount of diversity that is represented in the mainstream media, although she also notes that there is still a long way to go on the journey to equality.

“I got significantly more roles after I cut my hair and I got more piercings,” Bartley said when speaking about the growing trends we’re seeing in media content among younger generations. “I started being less worried about negative responses to how I look, and that’s always what gets me in the door. Now I’m considered edgy, a tomboy, the cool best friend, and people love that. They really just want to see you be yourself.” 

She also noted that there are still areas both within and outside of the media where discrimination persists and these multi-faceted individuals are not heard.

“There are women losing jobs and young girls getting kicked out of school because they wear their hair in particular styles. When it comes to Black women, we often get demonized for wearing styles we’ve been doing our whole lives, yet they’re celebrated when one of the Kardashians do it. Yes, these mindsets are often universal, but a lot of it comes from a very media-driven Los Angles,” she explains. “There’s still work to do.”

When she’s not on set or working on her poetry, Bartley hopes to take Black Beyond America to as many countries as possible. She’s actively working to create more opportunities for people to become aware of the multiplicity that exists within society. In essence, she’s shattering stereotypes and connecting people through her passion for writing and telling stories.

Bartley recently completed her Land of The Free tour where she was promoting her book of the same name. You can catch her in the latest commercial for NYLON magazine. For more information about Portia Bartley and her projects, visit her website at portiabartley.com.

 

Check out our video series for The Come Up here.

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