The Playgoer: Casting Calls & Civil Rights

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Casting Calls & Civil Rights

Uh, I don't know if I want to touch this one...

A new report from UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center suggests struggling women and minority actors might want to bring something extra to their next audition besides a head shot: a civil rights lawyer.

Some casting calls that specify gender and ethnicity could violate federal anti-discrimination laws, according to the report by Russell Robinson of the UCLA School of Law, who examined Breakdown Services' listings of national movie casting calls from June 1 to Aug. 31 and analyzed roles compiled by online movie sites.

Robinson's report concludes that 69% of available acting roles are designed for white males, either explicitly or by unspoken consensus, and that minority actors were limited to no more than 8.1% of jobs, depending on the ethnic group....

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars excluding contenders for a job based on race, ethnicity or gender, though Robinson said leeway is given for creative works in which the narrative would be compromised. Imagine, for example, Billy Bob Thornton cast as slave rebel Nat Turner.

But Robinson argues that many casting calls limit potential hires when it is not crucial to the narrative, and that could violate federal laws. He recommends that Hollywood film producers ban race or gender designations in the casting call "breakdowns" except where defensible for narrative....

Courtesy of Scott Martelle, LA Times.

Now this is about film & tv auditions. But clearly it's an issue theatre directors, producers, casting agents, and, of course, playwrights, will probably have to address very soon as well.

This understanding of a "narrative" exception does seem sensible and helpful. But I can also imagine a playwright being brought into court to defend why he/she insists a white actor be cast just because "I'm writing about white people" when the script's "narrative" is not explicitly centered around race.


Aaron Riccio said...

Stories like this always piss me off. Granted, I'm a white male, but that's beside the point. Should we go into museums and put blackface on peripheral characters who aren't part of the main narrative, or should we accept that an artist has the right to create whatever sort of ambience he or she wants? I mean, if you don't like it, don't go to see the show.

Now, I've seen "South Pacific" and "West Side Story" performed with all sorts of ethnicities, and it doesn't really affect the story, so there is an argument against profiling for a certain type of character to fit the stage directions, but both shows made efforts to hide (either through stereotypes) or makeup the distinguishing features, and is that any better than what Spike Lee was talking about in "Bamboozled"?

Anonymous said...

At the limp "debate" between Robert Brustein and August Wilson at Town Hall some years back on related issues, a person in the audience shouted out, "Why don't we just go back to the origins of western theaer and use masks?"

Anonymous said...

There hasn't been so much obsession with race in casting since the days of the Third Reich. In a free society theatre and film artists must have COMPLETE FREEDOM to cast as they see fit. If they want an all-black, all-Asian, all-white, or a mixed cast for a particular production it's an artistic choice, not a political one. Bitter busybodies, mind your own business.

You wouldn't let the Ku Klux Klan tell you who to cast in your show. Nor should you let the "multi-cultural" bullies tell you. Would you take orders from President Bush when it comes to casting? No more should you take orders from every self-appointed "activist".

No one has a right to play a part just because of their racial bloodlines. Artists must stand strong against hacks who cry "racism" any time they don't get a part they want.