Who Can Play What Roles Now? 10 Top Decision-Makers On the Politics of Casting in Hollywood by R. Ford
Amid a push for better representation of diverse actors, top talents from Ryan Murphy to Daniel Dae Kim delve into the industry’s complex new creative landscape.
Over the past couple of years, casting in films and TV has been scrutinized with an intensity never seen before. When a role is whitewashed (such as in Ghost in the Shell orAloha), audiences are quick to take to social media to express their disappointment.
And as the awareness and demand for more representation in stories has grown, so has the demand for casting to reflect those stories. But with this new creative landscape comes plenty of questions about who can play what.
Can a straight actor play a gay character? Can a Korean actor play Bruce Lee? THR spoke to 11 top industry creators, producers, actors and execs about the way the industry has changed, and how they’re approaching these discussions.
The industry as a whole has become more and more aware of the need to tell inclusive and diverse stories. Diversity in front of and behind the camera has been an ongoing commitment at Universal, but I do believe that the industry at large is starting to catch up.
The Fast & Furious franchise is a shining example of the ways in which diverse and authentic casting can pay off at the global box office. But the studio is just one part of the casting process: We’ve had diverse directors direct the vast majority of the Fast & Furious movies.
We want to give our filmmaking partners freedom to make decisions that support their vision and support the story.
Look, there’s always room for continued growth in this space. The conversation surrounding diversity comes up on virtually all of the films that we work on now, in a really positive and constructive way. It’s this dialogue that helps us make decisions that impact change.
Casting director and producer, Donald Glover’s ‘Guava Island’
The process of casting has not yet changed, but the attention to it has become publicly heightened and that’s at least a good start. Discussions around decisions that are made regarding onscreen representation are happening more openly than they did in the past. Language is starting to become more specific and expansive, which means that this can be reflected in how we describe characters we’re seeking, which begins the journey to correcting exclusion.
But casting directors don’t have the power to choose which stories are made and what elements they must serve in order for that story to be told.
It is a truth that casting “controversies” never address. (When things are going along without controversy, casting directors are mostly unsung — we don’t have an Oscar category for casting yet, and when movies are reviewed in major publications they often do not include the casting director in its credits).
Content getting greenlighted and then made by people outside of what is considered the dominant culture affords casting directors actual power to help move things forward.
If we are tasked more specifically with developing and casting actors who represent these perspectives, eventually those actors can attain enough “marketplace value” to join the very small group of actors who can get bigger projects made.
Because Vida is a series that is written by and about the Latinx community, an actress like Melissa Barrera gets to begin the process of becoming someone with enough “mainstream” recognition and attention to hopefully one day put her in a position to greenlight projects.
She has since been cast in the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights (another project specific to the writer’s personal cultural story), which will in turn amplify her presence yet one more step.
If I’m considered someone at the forefront of this topic it really is only because my work reflects my own actual cultural and human experience, and I actively seek to be able to reflect it and expand on it.
But even this speaks to a privilege of being able to be selective in a particular kind of way and of understanding the power of my particular voice. Ultimately, culture really is representative of those who make it and the next step for me includes being a bigger player in that world beyond casting.
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