You can’t go on Twitter or Facebook without at least 50 articles outlining the issue of “diversity in Hollywood.” If we are focusing purely on casting, what is it that we really want to see on the big screen?
When it comes to diversity, television has film beat. The only issue is that while TV casts boast highly diverse leads and guest-stars, they almost always fit in the stereotype box of race. Not necessarily the portrayal/performance of the race in question, but moreso the visual representation of the race in question. When I am called in to audition for any role, I briefly scan the competition in the waiting room and decide if I have a shot or not or if I was called in because of my skin and hair color, or the box that was checked under “ethnicity.” Sometimes I’ll be surrounded by beautiful brown-skinned Indian women with long braided dark hair wearing saris, other times I’ll be in the company of sleek, sophisticated ethnically ambiguous Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean types. Occasionally, for a drama series, I’ll be competing with different ethnicities in order to fill the “this role is ethnic and it doesn’t matter which kind” box. In the end I must wonder if the companies who make the final decisions utter the words “well last week we had an Asian so this week we probably should have a Latina instead.” More often than not, the smaller parts are on a roulette wheel of chance in terms of who gets the part after callbacks. With good reason. But for this reason, I think that diversity initiatives actually hold specifically mixed-race and non-stereotypical actors back.
I continue to write and produce content that I may act in to showcase my skill, but in the interim I keep auditioning for everything I am eligible for in order to get my foot in the door. I am grateful for every solid audition that comes my way. But I am constantly analyzing and wondering if there is a way to improve the diversity initiatives in casting to broaden the spectrum. While casting breakdowns continue to only have the five top ethnic choices, so long as they feature someone black, Asian, or hispanic- they pass the test. Meanwhile, a whole lot of “others” get shafted and will never get booked unless by pure luck or a specific vision by the writer. I was lucky enough to book a co-starring role on a prominent TNT procedural which was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had on set. I applaud the casting directors and producers for having an inclusive show featuring all types of people in their cast on a weekly basis. I only wish all shows would reflect America this way, perhaps they may be more successful in the end for doing so. But it’s rare that I get called in for this sort of thing because my type is rarely called in at all, since we fall outside the usual race-box.
Actresses like Eva Longoria and Priyanka Chopra face a similar wall in the beginning of their career because they were considered “not ethnic enough” to give studios a pass for diversity. This includes all mixed-race actors. Yes, there is a box for that too, but it’s a miniscule category with fewer roles than Asians (who have the smallest number of representation across the board for media).
So what do we really want to see up there, in the lights? With the controversy of such films like Prince of Persia and Gods of Egypt where the predominantly white cast is playing parts that are not of their race, this is a hot topic among Hollywood players and audience members alike. My firm belief is that, within the realm of TV and film, an actor should be allowed to portray whatever role they are able to portray. This, to me, means two things:
1) They must have the talent to play the role well, and
2) They should have the look to believably portray the part.
I am not in the camp that believes one must actually be what the character is in order to play the part, but I absolutely believe there should be more roles reflecting all parts of humanity and society. I never want to limit actors to the point that they are only allowed to play roles that are exactly what they are. NOTE: I’m bias, because, should that be the case, actors like me would never work. As far as white-washing is concerned, I believe Gerard Butler as a Greek, but not as an Egyptian. As for Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, I think she looks like the character and has performed similar roles and is more than capable of playing the part- the part that is not necessarily Japanese, as it is indeed an android- however, if the entire cast is white-washed, then we have a problem. As with every film, it is a case by case basis and every individual will have their own opinion about it, and most certainly there will be outrage just as much as there will be excitement.
What we should demand is more inclusion. Keep writing the parts as unique and different as you can. The actors vying for the parts will prove themselves worthy, and the studios, (who will hopefully work on being more in touch with society and not so close-minded when it comes to race in casting) will cast accurately and efficiently.
I live for a day when the outrage subsides because the studios listened (to some of it), but also made qualified and careful casting decisions that A) Reflect society’s POV today and B) At least make an effort to cast somewhat appropriately when it comes to race. All we need to be as actors is look the part and play the part. We don’t necessarily have to be the part in all cases.
When I see a woman on screen kicking ass, I feel good. When I see a woman of color kicking ass on screen, I feel better. I dare the studios to connect with me, because I represent a pretty large piece of the pie.