It’s been a long journey for Shakira Clanton who was raised in Perth by her Wongi, Yamatji, Nyoonga, Gitja mother and father, who is from Mobile, Alabama of African American and Native American Indian.
Initially pursuing a career as a songstress, she studied music at Greenwood Senior High, but one day, decided to give drama class a go in order to help boost confidence levels on stage whilst performing, and from that day, she hasn’t stopped.
“I went to Aboriginal Theatre at WAAPA my first year out of High school. I Auditioned for NIDA and didn't get in my first time, so I went to Aboriginal Centre of Performing arts in Brisbane for a year, never gave up on going to NIDA and auditioned again… I ended up graduating NIDA in 2015.”
Shakira was recently part of major project called The Truth About Racism, whereby it used science to challenge the way people think about racism in an attempt to understand the neuroscience behind racism, and unconscious racial bias in the brain.
Her role was vital as the word racism isn’t unfamiliar with the Indigenous actress. In fact not only has she heard of it happening several times, she has also had to endure it too.
“I was in primary school and one of the girls asked why my skin was different, because my palms were white and that something was wrong with me. My sisters and I were the only little blackfella kids at that school and I cried when I told my mum who had to sit me down and explain that I should never think something was wrong with me, and always be proud of who you are and where you come from. I have a very strong mother who always stood up for herself and that allowed my sisters and I to do the same,” she said.
Thinking about her ancestors, Shakira says although Australia’s moving forward, her experiences of racism are different to what her ancestors went through, different to what her Nanna had to face while growing up as well as her own mother’s life experiences.
"These are the woman for whom I thank and look up to when you talk about breaking into the industry as an Indigenous woman. These women have created stepping-stones for other Indigenous actors like myself to follow."
“For me, it’s those moments where a friend of a friend makes a racist joke about Aboriginal people… you stand your ground and speak up and then they reply with ‘I'm only joking I’m not racist because I'm friends with you’, or even when they say ‘well you don't look or act Indigenous’.
Shakira says educating someone when they make an offensive remark to her identity and culture and not being afraid to say ‘that's not ok’ and ‘here is the reason why’ is what makes a difference.
“To be able to show and see that people do stand up for others regardless of race or religion and your thoughts and views can change when you really get to know someone. It’s the true saying of never judge a book by its cover.”
Recent research found that Indigenous Australians were much more likely to experience everyday racism be it at work, on public transport or in the shopping centre. Shakira says it’s not about name calling and constantly being picked on but instead the ‘not so subtle judgement glances and sideway stares.
“Every day racism for me is when you're in a rather expensive store or out shopping and some, not all but some start looking at stock near you and then you find yourself unconsciously pulling out your purse to show that you have money and you kick yourself mentally because why should you have to prove that. Of course, but I choose to rise above It and not let it bring me down.
Alas, the Hyde and Seek TV star says that in life there are ups and downs and it’s thanks to all the inspiring indigenous mentors who have helped make dreams become a reality.
“Deborah Mailman, Ningali Lawford, Leah Purcell, Ursula Yovich, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens, Shareena Clanton, Rarriwuy Hick, Jessica Mauboy…
These are the woman for whom I thank and look up to when you talk about breaking into the industry as an Indigenous woman. These women have created stepping-stones for other Indigenous actors like myself to follow,” she said.
The rising star was lucky enough to score Deborah Mailman as her personal mentor during her time at NIDA and she says it’s about celebrating Indigenous talent.
“I'm very blessed to watch them work, to have had the opportunity to speak to them and receive words of wisdom and encouragement from them in regards to the Industry. Times are changing and I'm lucky enough to be part of it, but the woman before have allowed me to follow my dreams and make my own path and one day create a stepping stone for that next step that allows others to do so.”
And it looks like talent runs in the Clanton family as Australian film, television and theatre actress Shareena Clanton, an actress in HBO hit drama series Wentworth is her stunning and successful Djook (sister) - twin sister to be exact.
Recently Australia saw the 2017 Logie nominations unleashed and this year round has more numbers of Indigenous nominees than ever before. But Shakira says we still need to see more black faces in the industry and in Australia’s lounge rooms - on our television screens.
“We have amazing, beautiful, iconic Indigenous female voices now but of course, yes for more Indigenous female voices in the industry. You can never have enough because each voice is different, each one has a different story to tell and who doesn't want to see more stories in the industry that we love, whether it be in acting, directing, writing or producing. Behind the scenes working the camera or making the stage come alive with their own design and also encouraging one another.”
Shakira recently took part in part of the 2017 Sydney Festival, one of Australia's biggest art celebrations that runs for three weeks and showcases new and renowned talent.
Home Country is the latest in a series of large-scale, site-specific works of theatre presented by Urban Theatre Projects that was set entirely in a multi-level car park in Sydney's western suburb Blacktown. The three narratives are inspired by the idea of home. Shakira is featured as a girl known as the Blacktown Angel, who sits dangling her legs over the edge, singing a song in Darug, the language of the first people of western Sydney.