Although the author wishes to remain anonymous, they want readers to know that they are from a marginalized community and are speaking from personal experience.
For further reading, check out “How is Hollywood’s Insincere Inclusivity Movement is Impacting the Craft of Acting?”
In recent years, Hollywood collectively has received much backlash regarding inclusivity.
This is in response to the history of white, straight, cis, and skinny that Hollywood has carefully fostered. But, people are making their voices heard that they are not willing to put up with it anymore. Everyone wants to be seen and represented. And, for good reason; there are many different colors, shapes, sizes, sexualities, genders, and more that have gone under-represented for far too long. So, an inclusivity revolution is charging ahead. Within the past few months, the proverbial pendulum has taken a mighty swing. Hollywood has finally gotten on the inclusivity train.
However, it seems like Hollywood may be taking things in an unexpected direction.
Suddenly, productions are demanding that every role be played only by people who represent the roles in real life. Character breakdowns on casting sites are very clear about only submitting actors who, in real life, ARE the characters that they will be auditioning for, even though most of the requirements are actable. They are wanting only gay people to play gay characters, only Jewish actors to play Jewish characters. Trans actors are the only ones being considered for trans roles and real-life Muslims are required to play Muslim characters.
Yes, there are of course certain traits that are not actable. For instance, you can’t act a specific race; a black character should not be played by somebody who is white or Korean, for example, and the same principle goes for any other race. But sexualities, genders, religions, ethnicities (to an extent – I’ll get to that in a minute), and other traits are all able to be researched and acted. And, it can be done without stereotyping.
This is transpiring in an age in which actors are begging to not be judged based on outer appearances and instead be hired for roles based on their talent and merit.
They want to be cast in roles because they worked hard and deserve the job, not because of the color of their skin, or the fact that they’re neurodiverse or use a hearing aid. Those who have suffered from discrimination want to be seen as more than that. They want a safe space in which to display their mastery of their craft. They want to be treated like people, not like mascots or oddities.
It gets even stickier when people who are actually in those marginalized groups are still being turned away because they’re not enough. Stories are popping up everywhere of people who weren’t hired because, even though they are brown, they’re not brown enough. Now, even people in those marginalized groups are starting to jump on that train, as well. They claim that light-skinned black and brown people are ‘whitewashing’ inclusivity, as if people with those skin tones don’t exist within those groups. In reality, most people in this country are ‘mutts’. Their skin colors range from very light to very dark. All deserve to be able to point to someone on a screen and say, “Hey! That person looks like me!”
Those who don’t fit completely into whatever stereotype is being called for are turned away.
Crazy Rich Asians is an example of a movie that received much backlash for not being “Asian enough”. Some of the actors were bi-racial, which created controversy. This leaves many actors who are bi-racial in a very tricky situation of not being enough of one thing or another. People who are multi-ethnic and don’t fit into one clear category are being disqualified. Those who don’t fit completely into whatever stereotype is being called for are turned away.
This is where the question of ethnicity comes into play.
Ethnicity is different from race. Having said this, should people of the same race not be allowed to play characters of different ethnicities? For instance, should a black person from Nigeria be turned away from playing a black character from Zimbabwe? Or a Cuban actor not called in for a character from Argentina? Considering that being Jewish is considered an ethnicity, should a white Christian be turned away from playing a white Jewish character? Or, a Middle Eastern actor be turned away from playing an Israeli Jew? Since cultural factors can be researched and performed in a respectful, dignified way, those restrictions might be asking too much. This is especially in an age where refusing to hire people due to their ethnicity is illegal – and, for good reason.
This is unfortunately skewing what should be a good change in an unsavory direction.
Instead of better integrating people in marginalized groups into films, they are being shoved even farther into stereotypes. Many Hollywood productions and audience members associate these races, neurodiversities, body types, sexualities, genders, etc. with specific demeaning, old fashioned ideas. Is this perpetuating bigotry towards people from these groups?
Actors all over are showing their frustrations with many kinds of discrimination. They are expressing their anger about self-tapes that require full body shots because that is a form of body discrimination Hollywood, to this day, insists on perpetuating. Fouls are being called on casting offices who are asked to find out actors’ ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations, which is illegal in a hiring setting. If an actor doesn’t fit perfectly into very specific boxes, they are automatically disqualified. Is this any better than how things used to be?
The solution seems simple enough.
It’s one that actors of all walks of life have been asking for from the start: stop judging actors based on their outer appearances and just cast the people who deserve the role. In another extreme, casting offices are being accused of ‘colorblind casting’ when they don’t call people in for roles based on appearances or stereotypes. But, this is different from what people have previously defined as ‘colorblind’; of course there are specific roles that demand a specific appearance, and that’s fine. That’s something that indeed should be mentioned.
But, for other roles where those appearances aren’t specified or don’t necessarily matter to the storyline, what’s the problem with looking at a wide range of actors? Why is it always assumed that characters of unspecified race are white? Why can’t a black person play a character in a story where race doesn’t matter? Or a deaf person play a character that is assumed to be hearing? Or an overweight actor play the romantic lead? If a character is written as Asian but it does not specify where in Asia, why can’t an Indian or Pakistani or Israeli actor be called in? What’s wrong with multi-ethnic families or reinterpretations of old stories? These labels encompass so much more than what people think they know.
Everyone needs to be seen and heard.
Oftentimes, when casting directors bring someone unexpected into the audition room, it allows the filmmakers to see the character in a different way. Those are the actors that usually end up getting called back and often book the role. Casting in this way also brings the audience into a different experience. What better way to expose audiences to different possibilities than to bring all different actors into movies that would have been completely white, straight, cis, and skinny ten years ago? How better than to show everybody, no matter how they look or how their brain functions, that they can be the romantic lead? The best friend? The victim? The bully?
How about, instead of trying to draw attention to how inclusive we all are, we allow people of all walks of life to represent what our country is really like? Isn’t that the natural thing, anyway? We have people of all colors, shapes, sizes, sexualities, ethnicities, and genders. Why does Hollywood have to force insincere reparations instead of just casting the right people for the roles? There is so much more that goes into telling stories than outer appearance. Let’s represent the real America; the America that proudly showcases so many different people. Perhaps the pendulum will even out soon.
Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
Pandora’s Box is the anonymous account at Words Between Coasts.