Rebecca Ablack: The Guyanese Actress Talks Netflix’s “Ginny and Georgia” and Indo Caribbean Representation

I am a woman of color living in a world that is built for whiteness.” — Rebecca Ablack 

I sat across from my laptop, listening intently as Rebbeca Ablack, who plays Padma on Netflix’s series, “Ginny and Georgia,” described her experience in the entertainment industry. She also shares the screen with her brother, Raymond Ablack, who plays Joe. Hailing from Scarborough, Ontario, they serve as a representation of a group often forgotten in mainstream media: Indo Caribbeans.

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Growing up, many Indo-Caribbean girls searched for representation in media. From Bollywood portraying light-skinned actresses to Hollywood misrepresenting South Asians, the Indo-Caribbean identity was nonexistent. 

[Read Related: Nadia Jagessar Talks Finding Love, Not Settling and Shines Light on her Indo Caribbean Roots]

Indo Caribbeans are a minority group within larger demographics such as the South Asian and West Indian communities. Underrepresentation has always been a topic of concern in minority communities. While watching the first moments of Padma’s introduction in “Ginny and Georgia,” I was surprised to see an Indo Caribbean actress on a Netflix show. Ablack is Indo Guyanese, and I immediately resonated with her character’s experiences. 

Sitting down with Ablack, Brown Girl Magazine explores her journey in mainstream media.

Many Indo-Caribbean girls watching may see themselves as Padma. Why is representation important?

“Growing up, it felt like Indo Caribbean people were just not on television. The closest I came was watching Bollywood movies at my grandparents house. Brown people are not on television. But hopefully this is a step forward, and I can actually show little girls that we’re actually on TV. If we can do this, you can do this too. We can use our imagination, but it makes it a lot easier to see a face like yours on TV and know that it’s a possibility; I don’t even have to imagine it. It’s important to see ourselves represented in cultural roles too, but it’s also important to see ourselves represented in roles that aren’t race specific. We’re not just here for when they need an Indian person. You’d never see a casting call for an Indo Caribbean person, we are very rarely represented in the media and in the cultures of the world. We remain in this grey zone of Caribbean and Indian.” 


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What is it like being one of the first Indo-Caribbean women on Netflix?

“It feels surreal. A few of my favorite Indo Caribbean pages posted pictures of my brother and I. It’s one thing to have people reach out to you, but it’s another to be recognized by my own community. It’s also a little disappointing because there are so many Indo Caribbean creators that don’t get the hype that they deserve. Art, performance and music are a big part of Caribbean culture, so it doesn’t make sense. Indo Caribbean entertainers are out there, but the scripts that are written just don’t call for us. On the upside, we do have the power to create the content we want to see ourselves in.” 

What was your experience auditioning for “Ginny & Georgia”?

“The character Padma, is very lightly based on one of Deborah Fisher’s best friends. The casting called for a South Asian actress, which was really exciting. The audition room was a group of women where it felt like, if I don’t get this one of these women will, so we win either way. I would be happy seeing them on television either way.”  

The show touches on multiple forms of discrimination characters have faced. Do you resonate with any of these feelings or situations?

“The show does a really great job at writing these young characters that are trying to figure out race and sexuality. I resonated with the discussions between these characters that I had at that age. Being a woman of color with friends from different backgrounds, it’s important to learn from one another and our experiences. It’s impossible not to resonate with these characters because I am a woman of color living in a world that is built for whiteness.” 

What was it like growing up in a Guyanese household and pursuing a career in acting?

“My parents are really supportive of any of me and my siblings’ pursuits. I’m sure in the back of their heads there was this worry of: how will this be possible since we don’t see ourselves in the media? But my parents watch and share everything that me and my siblings do, they actually really enjoyed the show.” 

Have you experienced any cultural shock or differences in the industry?

“People don’t think we are fully Caribbean or South Asian, so it sometimes feels like we don’t fit in. Honestly, this industry is made for whiteness. Very early on in my career, there were instances where my friends and I were surrounded by people that did not know how to do our hair or makeup. That became one of my first indicators that I had to be more careful and more aware. People do not know how to work with us because they were not trained. As more people of color enter the industry, it forces them to learn. I do think people are becoming more educated and aware.” 


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What is some advice you would give to Indo Caribbeans looking to pursue a career in acting?

“I don’t think I have to tell Indo Caribbeans to work hard or any immigrants—it’s embedded in our culture. My biggest advice would be just do it and do not apologize for it. If you love to perform, act or sing, go for it and do not apologize. In Guyanese households, being a singer or actor may be looked at with skepticism. But don’t allow people, who may be coming from a place of love to scare you into thinking it’s impossible.” 

As I listened to Ablack’s experiences in the entertainment industry, the actress meets a need for representation of Indo Caribbean women. One could argue that as a population who experienced multiple migrations from their homes, it becomes important to be rooted in a collective identity. Ablack serves as an important figure for this representation and identity for little girls. From Caribana in Canada to listening to Sundar popo with her parents, Ablack is opening doors for Indo Caribbean women in a non-traditional and predominantly white industry. 

Head on over to Netflix to catch episodes of Ginny & Georgia.

By Anjali Seegobin

Anjali Seegobin is an undergraduate student at the City College of New York, majoring in political science and anthropology. She … Read more ›

In Conversation With ‘Life of Pi’ Actress Salma Qarnain

Salma Qarnain

Few people can call themselves rocket scientists. Even fewer can say they are a rocket scientist-turned-actress, producer and Broadway star. Salma Qarnain is a Pakistani Muslim woman who can claim the title. 

Salma Qarnain
Salma Qarnain at the “Life of Pi” Broadway Debut | Photo Credit: Rebecca J Michelson

Artistry runs through Qarnain’s veins. Her grandfather was a filmmaker in Bombay and Karachi, before passing away at a young age. Her mother performed in plays throughout college. Now Qarnain is using artistry to build empathy, playing characters that represent her family’s story and promoting Black and Brown allyship through Black Man Filmsthe production company she co-founded with Roderick Lawrence.

Qarnain grew up in the Midwest but traveled back to Karachi often. Some of her earliest memories were in Karachi singing along to the Beatles and pretending to be Ringo Starr. When her family moved to the United States, typical of South Asian immigrant parental influence, her interest in math and science and immense love for Star Wars led her to pursue aerospace engineering, hence rocket science. Her mother’s passing forced her to rethink her goals and when she wanted to achieve them.

[Read Related: Anya Banerjee: The New Face of NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’]

Today, she describes her purpose for creating art in profound terms.

I want people to be equal. I want people to understand we’re very much all together a speck of dust in the entire universe, and that there are so many more things we share than we don’t.

Starting entertainment work in the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear how she, a Pakistani Muslim woman, would be seen.

I remember [at] that time… Friends of mine told me, ‘Don’t let anybody know x, y, z about you, because they may have a bias against you. Something might happen.’

The beginning of her career was defined by how Western culture perceived Muslims and South Asians. Her first entertainment gig was as a casting assistant in Washington D.C. She noticed if South Asians were cast,

They were going to be playing something stereotypical to what a South Asian person is thought of… that could be the geeky, mainly male, math nerd, or a terrorist.

While the position provided an opportunity to learn about what it took to become an actress, Qarnain also leveraged her responsibilities to make a change —  if a role didn’t absolutely require a white actress, she would gather diverse resumes for the casting director, slowly trying to shift the idea of what a person of color on television had to be. 

With people of diverse experiences joining writer’s rooms and a “pipeline of young South Asian actors,” the industry has improved but isn’t close to equitable. She sees “Life of Pi” on Broadway and Black Man Films as ways to combat that.

Broadway’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel brings a multigenerational South Asian cast to the stage and has Qarnain playing two roles — Pi’s (gender-swapped) biology teacher, an analytical, guiding mentor, and the Muslim cleric Pi studies under. “Life of Pi” is one of Qarnain’s favorite novels for being a story about faith, storytelling and the power of both to provide hope. She took a callback for the role via Zoom in an Applebee’s parking lot. 

I feel very invested in both of these characters. Just because they are absolute extensions of who I am as a person, and to have this be my Broadway debut — I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

She got to play a Pakistani Muslim character once before in the off-Broadway play “Acquittal.” It was the first time she could represent an authentic story. In “Life of Pi,” Qarnain helped workshop the scenes with the cast and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti to make them more authentic. 

She absolutely took our suggestions and comments and reactions, for myself, from another person in our cast – who’s also a Muslim – and then from castmates, [who are] Catholic and Hindu, to understand what would work and what would people respond to. That’s where the gift was, that [Chakrabarti] was very receptive to what we had to say.

Salma Qarnain
Salma Qarnain at the “Life of Pi” Premiere | Photo Credit: Rebecca J Michelson

Black Man Films and her partnership with Roderick Lawrence run parallel to her theatrical journey. The pair formed the production company during the pandemic through a short film that Lawrence created to explore Black men’s mental health. As an enthusiastic fan of Lawrence’s work and having wanted to begin producing for film and television, Qarnain joined the project immediately. The short film, “Silent Partner,” went to 21 film festivals and won Best Short at several. 

It was never done for accolades. It was done because there was a purpose and message to the story around Black men’s mental health told through the lens of micro-aggressions in the workplace.


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The second short film, “Speak Up, Brotha!” was released in late March and will be played at Oscar-qualifying film festivals, this summer. 

For Qarnain, Black Man Films is a platform for change and Black and Brown allyship. 

I want people to look at our films and understand where they are, who they are in this film; in “Silent Partner.” If they’re complicit in propagating systemic racism, and, if so, what are they gonna do about it? How can they start? How can they talk to their parents? How can they, you know, engage with other South Asians and put a stop to colorism and any racism that exists against the black community?

Telling stories that reflect the experiences of people of color gives creatives the power to build systems that can improve people’s lives.

There is a racial hierarchy that exists and if we want to break that, we have to be a part of building everything, not just for us, but for everybody who isn’t white.

She is confident that the stories she’s helping bring to life will do just that and change the world in the process. From “Life of Pi” to “Speak Up, Brotha!” the possibilities for encouraging justice and empathy are endless.

Featured Image Courtesy of Bjoern Kommerell

By Usha Sookai

Usha Sookai is an undergraduate student at New York University, studying Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis. With a passion … Read more ›