May 25, 2018 1 Comment mwmispeaks

Six Facts about Color Blind Casting

 

“Color Blind Casting seems to be the biggest hot button topic in theatre today.”

From Condola Rashad in Saint Joan to Joshua Henry in Carousel, it’s all everyone has been talking about since ‘Hamilton’ arrived. Just like any topic that blows up everyone has an opinion on it or will try to manipulate it. These six facts are for anyone on a creative team that might have the wrong idea about color blind casting and actors of color who are tired of having this conversation with people outside of its scope.

Color blind casting is not a fad or trend

Because of its recent popularity we tend to stick color blind casting to the wall as a separate entity from “normal” casting. Think about that, what we consider to be “normal” casting. At its core, when we think of traditional casting, without fail it’s an all-white cast that comes to mind. These things simply stem from what we’ve been told was “normal” and what isn’t or should be separate.

In 2018, we’re deep in the middle of so many revolutions that are pushing towards the simplest thing, equality. On every front and every industry, it’s happening. Which mean soon enough, color blind casting will just be casting. There’s nothing traditional about one color or group of people anywhere. Even if you’re all the same color, there are different principles that arrive with you as an individual. This entire discussion will eventually be irrelevant because it’ll be the “new normal”

Color blind casting is a movement of integration

The idea of “traditional” casting is enabled by the entertainment industry’s history, which reflected the world around it, until it didn’t. When the integration of people of color into the “traditional” world happened, the entertainment industry didn’t keep up and some would say it still hasn’t caught up. Color blind casting is a movement of integration within pop culture and media and the integration of people of ALL colors still hasn’t happened in mainstream media.

But when some groups were integrated into the media, their stories weren’t. When POC (people of color) were suppressed by “traditional” standards so were there untraditional stories. Today, it seems like there’s this explosion of art from artists of color but it’s something that has been suppressed. While our focus is the casting of POC, your casting means nothing if you suppress artists by holding them to traditional standards. Deeper than that, your color-blind casting is meaningless if the only integrated groups are onstage/onscreen. Integration isn’t area specific, it’s not just in front of the table but behind it.

Color blind casting doesn’t work the other way around

Again, Color blind casting is a movement in which two worlds are desegregating and becoming one. Finding a place where August Wilson is as known as Eugene O’Neil, combining ideas to create a space where every story is told. That does not mean we will see Sierra Boggess as Celie…ever. You can’t integrate a group that was already represented to begin with. A general key to color blind casting for any directors out there is to ask yourself if it’s color conscious.

Color Conscious Casting-  Casting actors of color but being conscious of the effect their skin has on an audience’s perception.

Would people be offended seeing a white woman speaking about the injustices of black people at the turn of the century? Then don’t cast a white Sarah in Ragtime. You have to be very aware of the stories you’re telling. And who’s better to help tell those stories than a person of color that can not only frame it but to be intentional and explicit in its messaging.

Color blind casting isn’t a marketing tool

My skin is not a way for you to make money. If your theatre boasts about its strives in diversity and inclusivity simply to bring in white audiences that would say they saw a very “woke” production of ‘Oklahoma’, you’re not supporting, you’re manipulating. You’ve reverted into a minstrel show mentality, in which you take advantage of my skin to make money.

Are you casting people of color to layer a show’s meaning? Are you producing works by POC?  Or are you doing it because people want to see an east Asian J. Pierrepont Finch and feel like they’ve done something for the “culture”.

Color blind casting doesn’t mean to play outside of my race

This is the most impactful part of casting that no one talks about. Don’t cast me and expect me to play my character like a white person who happens to be brown. The way story telling works is that your preconceived notions inform how you feel about a show. In an interview with Broadway.com, Joshua Henry talks about how he had to find his way into the world of Carousel. He had to find his way as a black man into this world in which he wouldn’t have been accepted, how does he go about justifying his acceptance into this time.

That’s one of the most important conversations to have as an actor. How does your skin effect your character and your surrounding show? Everything effects everything. It all plays into how you’re perceived within this world by an audience. Keep in mind, just because your casting is color blind, that doesn’t mean your audience is. You can’t force them into a “progressive” way of thinking.

 When you include us, you include our history. 

Color blind casting doesn’t excuse you from being problematic. If every time you cast a female of color in a lead role she’s Asian or light skinned, and her jealous friend is a dark-skinned woman, it’s problematic. Because you are perpetuating the stereotype that black women are bitter or can’t find love, which isn’t true. Even in shows known for their inclusivity, this happens. The main love interest will usually fall Asian, latinx, or ethnically ambiguous and the mistress will be of a darker skin. Part of color blind casting is being color conscious and knowing what messages you’re sending and those you want to refrain from.

For more you can find me at @mwmivspeaks and let’s talk about it!