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For a country as vast as China, castings and auditions are incredibly competitive. The young and pretty from all over the country descend on these events like a hive of bees. Their dream – to star in TV programmes and
become household names.
Coulee Nazha (born 1992), an unknown Uighur woman from Urumqi, shot to fame after she appeared for an audition at Beijing Film Academy. Many young Chinese women harbour the same dream.
However, there is a dark side to every industry, the entertainment industry no less. Success stories like Coulee Nazha’s are extremely rare. To get selected, aspirants have been pressured to perform humiliating acts for the pleasure of gate keepers. Bound to secrecy, only rumours of female aspirants giving in to sexual advances have leaked out.
Chinese actor Yangzi once revealed a private message he received on Weibo:
The female aspirant said: “Brother Yang Zi, tell me frankly, if I sleep with you, can you spend some money and buy me a place in a TV station?
Yangzi’s sarcastic reply: “I’m so sorry, sister, your brother is “inconvenienced” these couple of days.”
Some recruiting agents have even blatantly informed all aspirants that those who didn’t come with 300,000 yuan will not be considered. At the end of the day, success or failure at these auditions may have more to do with the financial status of the applicants than their talent. What other dirty secrets lie behind these castings and auditions?
As the numbers of aspirants increased exponentially in recent years, the gate keepers are not only spoiled for choice, they have virtually turned into demigods who have to be pleased in any imaginable way before they would grant any wishes from the aspirants. Some observers liken it to a million people trying to cross a wooden bridge. To make matters worse, many of these aspirants are naive and gullible students.
In China, the silver screen used to be the underprivileged Chinese’s tortuous path to earn a decent living. Nowadays, the stakes are much higher. Even though the majority of the aspirants are still the underprivileged, the rich have gotten involved directly or indirectly.
Lisa (not her real name), is an aspirant from Xinjiang. She was studying Mass Communications at the Communication University of China. Acting is the only thing that Lisa wants to do. She would go without food to get through the auditions. In spite of her exotic looks, one of her obstacles, being a native of Xinjiang, was her accent which was not nasal enough for Beijing. She put in a lot of effort to correct her accent.
Living in Beijing also gave rise to problems with expenses. She had borrowed money and she had a great amount of moral support from friends and family. She would be devastated if she failed the auditions. The stress made her cry incessantly, but Lisa knew that she had to be strong to go through every single test.
The most challenging audition is that for dancers. A very high standard is set not only for flexibility and the ability to execute challenging dance movements but also the maintenance of ideal body weight and proportion. It’s common to cry while practising for the auditions. The aspirants live tough, spartan lives which would definitely sadden their parents if they knew about it. Many aspirants have persisted with the 5th or 6th attempt.
They readily accept the standards imposed on them by the sadistic examiners. Even after acceptance into industry, the aspirants have to go through more training and await opportunities to get into the limelight. The impatient resort to all means to get the coveted roles.
A random online survey of 100 female college students who had participated in TV and movie auditions revealed that more than 40% of the girls have encountered “hidden rules”.
Aspirants are known to go through auditions in various stages of undress. Some strip naked before the camera. One 70-year-old gate keeper revealed that he had obtained sexual favours from an aspirant in her 20s in exchange for a pass. The #metoo movement has probably not come to China yet. If and when it does, the people who fight it may not be the gate keepers but the aspirants.
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