For years I have been tackling the issue of “race” in casting. It plagues me, fascinates me, and at the same time, frustrates me to no end. Is there a solution to the “race problem” in Hollywood, and if so, what can we do about it?
The solution I have come to over 15+ years in the entertainment industry is to create your own work, take a strong stance and lead your team in the direction you would like to go. Write for yourself, because no one else will read your mind. However, when it comes to casting “breakdowns,” the term used for casting purposes when “breaking down a script” circling all characters and describing the roles actor’s would play based on the information from the script itself alone, the descriptions tend to be very limited in terms of race alone.
While they only have the text from the original script to go by, Breakdowns Services duty is to find this information and place it in a catalogue for talent agents to submit their clients for potential auditions. It looks something like this:
[ANNE (f, 20’s, Caucasian)] Lead. Blonde. All-American girl. Educated, sharp, and lively.
[JOE (m, 30s, Caucasian)] Lead. Rugged type. [JUAN (m, 45, Latino)] Supporting. Joe’s Mexican neighbor.
[MEG (f, 20s, Asian)] Supporting. Anne’s friend from college.
and if you are lucky:
[SARA (f, 20s, OPEN ETHNICITY)] Florist. One line. Supporting.
The problem being: Like any other “race,” there are several types of people that fall into the categories. “Asian” in Hollywood typically means Chinese, Japanese, or Korean descent. This excludes the several other types of Asians on the market, mainly Indians (which is a category I sometimes but barely fall into despite my genetics). Anyone who falls into the category of “ethnically ambiguous” or “mixed-race” (me) always gets shafted and never gets called in for the stereotypical role of TV casting, and thus never has a chance to “break in” with racial/culturally driven co-starring roles the traditional Hollywood way (Hollywood: honestly, you can keep them).
Breakdowns Services are almost at a disadvantage when it comes to equality in casting as they only have the screenwriter’s to pull from and can’t make any suggestions or changes from the scripts they are given. Thus, if “Judy, 23, Asian, Dog-walker” is all we see in the script, that’s all we will see in the breakdowns. Then, it’s up to casting directors to bring in a variety of Asian-Americans or flat out Asian people to appease the director, whom also may have a highly limited view of casting color-blind.
So who’s to blame? In the end, it’s the writers for their lack of imaginative description of minor to major characters, casting directors for not bringing in enough diverse options, and directors for choosing the same stereotype every time (mainly in television and commercials). And of course, anyone that suffers from this type of casting, as it is our responsibility to write new stories and bring in new faces with strong, descriptive, diverse, rich backgrounds not limited to the European colonial view of the world [White, Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, & Any Ethnicity].
While it makes me sad that I may never portray a Finnish person or any Scandinavian in live action media (which is a huge part of my heritage), I may just have to write that into my next script. The general public already has such a limited view of the world and I believe it is my responsibility to open their eyes to a unique story like mine.
People who are mixed-race fall behind the curtain all too often in Hollywood. Vin Diesel, who just earned his star on the Walk of Fame this August, had to fight his way to stardom by proving that a mixed person has a larger audience and relates to more people that someone who is one “race.” I couldn’t agree more, however, in the end: It is the human experience that we relate to, not the color of someone’s skin. I’ve always believed that the best person for the role is the best actor for the role, the one who can believably physically portray the character, and the one who has the most talent to portray it [case in point, Jenette Goldstein, who portrayed the Hispanic role “Vasquez” in James Cameron’s “Aliens” is American white/Jewish. And she killed it].
Bottom line: I’m not asking for racial accuracy as much as I’m asking for diversity. If the specific ethnic background doesn’t necessarily matter in the role, it would be great if writers could spell that out in the script, if Breakdowns could honor that, and casting directors call in a properly *diverse group of people, and if, in the end, the directors could select the best actor for the role regardless of race.
-Satu [the “multi-facial” actress]
*not limited to what only you think it is, but what the world does.