A Young Actress Makes the Case: Time to Move Beyond Boy-Crazy Roles

Thirteen-year-old Nassira Nicola knows indignities when she sees them.

When she was seven, Nassira began acting professionally. For the first five years of her career, she regularly played parts showing girls as strong, intelligent individuals. Most recently, she has been starring as Sheila the Great in the ABC television series "Fudge."

But last year, when she turned 12, everything changed. She suddenly noticed a disturbing difference in the number and type of roles for girls.

"Parts written for girls 12 to 15 are nearly nonexistent," says Nassira, of Woodland Hills, Calif. "We are not cute little girls anymore, but neither can we be considered sex objects."

Even when a program does include a girl in her age group, she finds that romance and submissiveness dominate.

"All the scripts for girls seem to center on 'How can I get a guy?' and 'How can I keep a guy?' and 'How can I get a better guy?' " says Nassira.

Again and again, she has also read girls' parts that contain the phrase, "Oh, you've rescued me!" On other occasions she has been coached to read a part "dumber."

But even those experiences didn't prepare her for a greater indignity. During auditions, casting directors would regularly ask the young adolescent about her bra size.

"They wanted to know if I was 'developing' enough to be cast in dating relationships," she explains.

Nassira has also been asked to lose what her mother, Linda Nicola, describes as "dangerous amounts of weight."

To appear in one production, Mrs. Nicola recalls, the casting director told Nassira she must lose 20 pounds in two weeks. The family turned down the project.

Mrs. Nicola sums up the problem. "The Barbies are exactly what the industry wants adolescent girls to look like," she says. "They don't show girls developing on TV. Real girls gain weight, have zits, braces, and glasses. Producers don't show those." Instead, she adds, "They hire 22-year-olds to play teenagers."

Carol Birch, whose daughter, Thora, is a 15-year-old actress, finds similar practices prevailing in movies. Between the ages of nine and 13, she says, Thora was involved in eight major motion pictures. But as of two years ago, opportunities for the slender blond teenager have taken what her mother calls "a dramatic, negative shift." Like Nassira, Thora has won awards for her acting.

Thora, who appeared in the film "Alaska," refers to a positive role for one youthful character in that movie by saying, "She didn't stay home and read magazines and look in the mirror and fuss with her hair. " She adds, "It's very important to see females who are active."

Nassira, an eighth-grader who plays the harp, also takes extra classes at nearby Pierce College. With ambitions of somebody being a Supreme Court justice, she refuses to accept these limited, stereotypical roles for girls quietly.

As one way of advocating change, she now serves on the advisory council of Girls Re-Cast TV, a national campaign sponsored by Girls Inc., aimed at improving TV portrayals of girls.

She is also becoming an outspoken critic of the treatment of teenage actresses and of roles that cast girls as victims or sex objects. Although she knows she may be risking career opportunities by speaking up, she is willing to take that chance.

"There is nothing I'd rather do than perform," Nassira says. "But I will not risk my health to get a part. I will not demean myself."

Above all, she says, "I will not keep quiet about Hollywood's abuse of actresses and the resultant harm to young girls."

Making a case for TV and film roles for real girls and teenagers who have real aspirations, Nassira says,"We can have exciting adventures too. We can be rescuers too. We are more than just our biology. "

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