A Lack Of Diversity In Casting

“Plenty Of Blame To Go Around- A Lack Of Diversity In Casting”

Etta Devine A lack of diversity in casting is a problem. Stories with women, different types of women, people of color and people with disabilities are totally underrepresented in media. There are many reasons for this.

You can look to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to see how some of these ratios of women to men play out. You can blame writers and producers for consistently misrepresenting the ratios of women to men in the world. There was a great article in Salon about how casting notices contribute to sexism by asking for very different character qualities in men and women. As someone who regularly reads casting notices I can say they’re totally right. It’s a phenomena that results in what I call “Fat Guy and Skinny Wife” shows. Casting notices for men often read “funny” or “does this job” while for women it’s often “hot” or “ beautiful but not gorgeous”.  Men are described by what they do and women by what they look like but hotter. You can see this in shows like “What About Jim” (which is what I thought “According to Jim” was called but Google seemed to know what I was talking about), “Modern Family,” “The Simpsons” and pretty much every other TV or film relationship any of us have ever seen. It’s a great article, read it.

In addition to these two factors (and many more) there is one that I discovered while making movies. Agents and managers and who they choose to submit and not submit for breakdowns. When a breakdown goes out without race or age or disability specified, a breakdown where a black little person grandmother could book the role as easily as the 20 something blonde in general it’s mostly the blonde that gets submitted. This means that when casting is calling people in there is simply a generally un-diverse pool of submissions for them to choose from.

Even when production does specify something “quirky” or “any ethnicity” or “disabled actors welcome” the submissions are still largely young and beautiful headshots. Is this because agents have learned after years and years of experience that the young hot girl gets cast regardless of what casting has asked for? That they know what they really want? Is it because they don’t have diversity in their rooster to submit? I’d love to know.

Here is an example. When I was working on my first feature The Selling we put out a breakdown to agents and managers for my character to see if we could attract a name who would be worth kicking me out of the movie. We described me basically. Words like “quirky” and “strange” were used.

Examples like “young Toni Collette, think Muriel’s Wedding,” “Rachel Dratch,” and the third example was an African American actress who was on a sitcom at the time. As usual when a breakdown goes out there were tons of submissions. Check this number breakdown from Bonnie Gillespie for an example of the kind of numbers I’m talking about. Basically tons and tons. There were maybe three people submitted who actually fit the breakdown. There were hardly any actresses who weren’t white. This is surprising since one of the three examples was an African American.

There was no one in a wheel chair, no eye patches, no amputees or little people. From a casting point of view we would have been open to all of this but agents and managers only gave us modelie gorgeous girls. Upon further investigation some of those modelie girls did have “quirky” headshots that would have gotten them called in (if they were names, but that’s another kettle of fish). The agents and managers chose not to submit those photos.
Etta Devine on the set of The Selling
Etta Devine on the set of The Selling
This was a specific project with limited financial appeal so it’s not a universal example, but it was pretty shocking. There were of course some agencies that didn’t submit at all who may very well be doing great at this. We didn’t see them. Is that a good enough caveat that leaves room for people who are doing a good job? I think so.

So, how do we fight this?

Obviously content creators need to put different types of people in their stuff. But additionally when you put out a breakdown make a point to put who is welcome in a part that could go to anyone. And if you’re an agent or manager push that extra button and submit diversely in addition to your young beautiful white girls. Your clients will stand out and that may very well get them called in and change the face of media to one that more accurately reflects the world.

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