After her daughter began questioning her own identity at the age of three, Selma Nicholls launched an agency promoting diverse talent in ads and on-screen
Now more than ever, creatives are steering conversations in their chosen direction and publishing content that represents their own experiences – both independent and collective. Between the rise of social media and zine culture, and the shrinking financial barriers in film and TV production, people are finding ways to fill in the gaps where mainstream media and culture have failed them.
This nascent independent publishing scene has no doubt come about because, when it comes to big brand ads or representation on (and off) screen, they’re rarely indicative of real people and real life. It’s something Selma Nicholls came up against when her daughter started questioning her own identity at the mere age of three, having not seen lead characters or kids in ads that resembled her. At the time, she had first started asking for straight hair. “One day, her request changed: she didn’t ask for straight hair, but for white skin. She said she didn’t want to be brown any more,”
While Nicholls’s daughter was brought up with diversity and inclusivity around her, from the books she read to the toys she played with (“plus size dolls, black dolls, white dolls…”), something was missing. The realisation came when the pair was watching a re-make of Annie together, starring a young black actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, in the place of the red-haired, white Annie from the 1982 original.
“We’re watching this film, and she says, ‘Mummy, Mummy, look at Annie – she’s so beautiful, and she looks like me,’” Nicholls remembers. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s it. She needs to see images of herself outside of the home, on stage or on screen.’”
And so Looks Like Me was born. Founded by Nicholls, the casting and talent agency mainly works with children and families (for now), its clients including Nickelodeon, Amazon and Warner Music Group. Nicholls had previously worked in theatre production at London International Festival of Theatre, where she helped to bring diverse artists and lesser known stories to wider audiences.