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 background, click here for our last article, “Hollywood is Finally Addressing its Inclusivity Problem – But is it Missing the Point?
Hollywood has had a poorly-disguised inclusivity issue since its creation.
In very recent years, it has finally been pressured into addressing this inclusivity issue. This has been long overdue.
However, Hollywood has chosen a strategy that doesn’t seem to be working very well. Instead of focusing on casting talented actors, they are practicing a sort of reality TV casting. This is where they only cast actors who represent the characters in real life. Actors are being asked to disclose their sexuality, gender, disabilities, and more before being asked to audition for roles. Yes, Hollywood needed to fix the blatant inclusivity issue years ago. But they have chosen an incredibly odd and stereotype-perpetuating tactic.
So, this begs the question, how will the inclusivity movement change the craft of acting?
An actor’s job, in simplest terms, is to play somebody who is not them. Every character that an actor plays has had different life experiences than the actor portraying them. So, the actor has to do research to understand the emotional life, cultural existence, and background of the character. They must figure out a way to connect to the character’s emotions, desires, relationships; embody a totally different person. A character is called a character because it’s a different person.
If you are an actor, ask yourself this question:
Do I want to be seen as my sexuality? Gender? Body type? Disability? Or, do I want to be seen as an actor who can play many different characters? These things that are part of you are indeed very important. And it is imperative to have actors from all these groups in the public eye in order to represent everybody. It’s also important to let everyone tell the stories they want to tell; if there’s something in your heart, go and do it. But, in a general casting setting, do you want to get a role because you fit into one of those stereotypical boxes? Or, do you want to get a role because you earned it with talent and hard work?
Now, while inclusivity is a very important part of storytelling, especially in a melting pot country like the United States, actors are excluded more and more often from playing characters who do not represent their real-life experiences. Only being allowed to audition for roles that reflect who the actor is in reality takes away the craft of building a character. It limits jobs that actors can have, especially in an industry that is incredibly limiting to begin with.
Why are we in 2022 back to categorizing people by their races, sexualities, genders, etc.?
In this day and age, we should have progressed past this. Nobody’s race should be the thing that qualifies or disqualifies a person from an audition, unless it’s important to the story. A person’s sexuality is not anybody’s business but that person’s, so they should not have to disclose that information when submitting for a role. Full body slates are an outdated method that productions use to ensure that they are not hiring someone whose body they consider to be substandard. A great failing of humanity is seeing others as different, less-than, behind, to the left, right, above, or in front. Yes, we all have our individual differences. But we’re not really different at our core.
The rules are also very unclear.
If straight people aren’t being called in to audition for gay characters anymore, does that mean that gay people are limited to just gay roles? If an actor who is able to walk can’t play a character in a wheelchair, does that mean that actors in wheelchairs can only play characters whose defining trait is their disability? The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel received cries of antisemitism for casting Rachel Brosnahan, an actress who is not Jewish, as the lead. Does that mean that Natalie Portman, a Jewish actress, can’t play non-Jewish roles? How about a woman who has never been pregnant playing a pregnant character? Or a man who has never played football playing a football player?
Yes, there are complexities with each marginalized group.
And it might be easy for the average lay-person to say that anybody who has not lived in those specific cultures won’t be able to play them convincingly or respectfully. However, any actor will argue that if they are willing to put in the work, people from these groups can be played not as a caricature, but from a place of truth and understanding. Just because a person was not raised a certain way does not mean that they can’t do research and learn to get in the minds and hearts of the characters they play. It is possible for them to play a character in a non-stereotypical way. It’s up to casting to be able to weed out those who are putting on a mask instead of living the parts. People like Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, and Gary Oldman have all proven that it can be done.
What can and should be done is have people from those marginalized communities on sets as cultural consultants to ensure that everything is portrayed in an accurate, respectful way. If, for instance, a Jewish family is being portrayed on screen (since ‘Jewish’ is considered both a religion and an ethnicity) but the actors and director are not Jewish, have someone who is Jewish on set as a guide. That way, productions can ensure quality and dignity in their work. There are ways to do things right without taking away from the art.
All this considered, if roles are being limited in this way, does that mean that the quality of films will suffer? Because, if casting isn’t allowed to see, for instance, a straight person for a gay role, they might be missing out on the best actor for that role, and also importantly, vice versa. Why make your film suffer for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon of faux inclusivity?
Much of these decisions made by large studios and productions are, in actuality, insincere attempts to pretend to care about inclusivity.
What they really care about is collecting paychecks from marginalized groups, pretending to be on their side, once again taking advantage of people who have been abused for centuries. Making Superman gay, Snow White a woman of color, Mr. Potato Head gender neutral, and other pop culture changes are all superficial attempts at bandwagoning their way into not being ‘cancelled’. Instead of creating a great storyline, interesting characters, and casting diverse, talented actors, they’re unimaginatively trying to force change into existing stories. Maybe that would’ve been revolutionary ten years ago, but now it’s just trite.
This also deals with the struggle that marginalized groups have had to be accepted. Their cries for just a little bit of empathy from the rest of the world have gone largely ignored. What better way to show empathy than to allow people who have not lived those experiences to embody those characters? This is the reason why Hollywood is filled with some of the biggest humanitarian contributors. Actors are able to put themselves in others’ shoes in a way that the rest of society is not able. And they have the power to allow audiences to step into the lives of these characters as well.
If we are just casting actors in roles whose experiences they represent, we are missing out on a great opportunity to normalize these communities that are marginalized.
If we allow a trans woman to play the cis romantic lead, we are taking a step in the right direction. But, if we are only allowing trans women to play trans characters, and not allowing other genders to play trans characters, then we are still forcing groups even further into their own bubbles. Normalization starts with allowing everybody to live other peoples’ experiences.
The actor’s job is to give a performance.
This new inclusivity mentality suggests that only a serial killer can play a serial killer, or a patient dying of cancer can play a patient dying of cancer. If you are playing yourself, there is no character building, no work, and no performance. Actors have been around since 4 b.c. playing gods, characters who have gauged their eyes out, and people who fucked their mothers. Sorry for the profanity, but were they supposed to only cast actors who had experienced these things in real life?
Without having cast actors in these roles, we would be missing out on some truly wonderful, groundbreaking performances. It’s not really that inspiring or challenging for actors to play themselves. But, actors playing characters who are different is where the art lies. No, Daniel Day Lewis is not physically disabled, but his performance in My Left Foot is exceptional. Meryl Streep is not a holocaust survivor, but her performance in Sophie’s Choice is untouchable. Tom Hanks does not have a learning disability, but who doesn’t love Forrest Gump? Sean Penn was incredible as Harvey Milk even though he is not gay in real life, and Hilary Swank won a much-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of the transgender man in Boys Don’t Cry.
What we’re desperately missing is marginalized actors playing non-marginalized characters. We already have people from non-marginalized groups playing marginalized characters and marginalized actors playing marginalized characters. But, we need transgender actors playing cis-gender roles, gay actors playing straight characters, and disabled actors playing leads. That is how to break the stigmas and stereotypes. That is the best path towards normalization.
Instead, we are self-segregating, willingly and deliberately marching into an even worse position than how we started.
Nobody said it better than Shakespeare in the words of Shylock:
He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
-Shylock, The Merchant of Venice, Act 3 Scene 1
Jews are, of course, a marginalized group. But, you can also replace the word “Jew” with a descriptor of any marginalized group, and it can apply to any. We are not very different; we are all human, made of the same flesh and blood. Why do we need to create separation in a medium intended to bring us together?
We are all equals. Let us be equal.
Pandora’s Box is the anonymous account at Words Between Coasts.