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Bad hair days in Hollywood
Passing Through

At 48, Victoria Rowell is neither young nor restless. But the show in which she played a stellar role as Drucilla Winters for 13 years is still full of pizzazz. It has just completed 2007 as the top-rated daytime drama on US television for the 919th week running.

And even as The Young and The Restless prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary in March (it will soon complete a year in India on Zee Cafe), Rowell, who single-handedly pulled the show up when she joined it in 1990 drawing Afro-Asian viewership, is far away — in India, doing book readings and visiting underprivileged children.

“I have just been to Mother Teresa’s home,” says the nine-time NAACP Image Awards recipient as Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series.

Earlier, in Delhi, she visited an orphanage and a leprosy colony. Why this affinity for the downtrodden? “I grew up in an orphanage,” she replies. Rowell had a schizophrenic mother and as a 16-day-old, she had to be surrendered to child services. Even less is known of the father. “Orphan is what you call children without parents, whether dead, or alive but you don’t know them.”

Rowell still found a silver lining. “It made me extremely focused on being successful and finding security.” Success she has found in plenty — performance with top ballet companies, three Emmy nominations, roles in films like The Distinguished Gentleman with Eddie Murphy, Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey and most recently, Eve’s Bayou opposite Samuel L. Jackson …. “But every day when I go to the sets, I am aware that I am a person of colour.”

Racial discrimination is a big issue still in Hollywood. “There are no ethnic writers or producers even today,” she states. That is why she feels she has to work for an infrastructure for fairness. The Californian recalls how she had to “fight producers”. “At one time, there were eight actors of colour in Y&R but all the hairstylists were European. We have different textures of hair and make-up which require a different expertise. So all a European actor needed to do was tell the stylist ‘I want such a coif’ and sit back, but we had to learn our lines, do our hair and make-up at the same time.”

Rowell spoke up and faced resistance. “It’s the same everywhere. But whether we are East Indians, Hispanics or African-Americans, we should not be invisible. The predominant race today is brown.”

Rowell did succeed in bringing in an Afro-Asian hairstylist. Yet a decade down the line, she feels, not much has changed in Hollywood. “They are still more comfortable with fair-skinned women. Neither would you see shows that portray the rainbow of colour. They are just not interested in interracial stories.”

Rowell is now busy telling her story through her book The Women Who Raised Me. “It is a memoir of growing up without parents.”

Having spent 18 years in foster care, Rowell has become a passionate voice for children like herself. In 1990, she founded the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, especially for those who want to pursue the arts. Her documentary film The Mentor is touring the festival circuit. She has another reason for touring India. “I am working on a novel in which an actress will have a personal interest in India.”

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