The case for colour conscious casting

Productions should be aware of the social implications of their cast

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Colour-blind casting describes the practice of holding auditions while avoiding consideration of the race or skin colour of the actors, instead focusing on their talent and experience. This method sounds like a way to establish a more even playing ground, but it presents a few problems. 

Firstly, actors of colour are so often disregarded for roles that despite being equally as talented as their white counterparts, they don’t receive the same access to casting opportunities and must do more reach the same level of experience. 

While colour-blind casting aims to work around that, the concept suggests that everyone is coming into the casting room having previously benefitted from the same advantages. 

However, this isn’t always the case. Actors of colour face barriers that white actors haven’t experienced, simply by virtue of their skin colour. And even in a colour-blind casting room, implicit bias  will always have some influence on who gets cast.

Colour-blind casting suggests that skin colour doesn’t matter. The problem with this is it implies white skin is default, and therefore, every actor of colour might as well be white. By lumping actors of all skin colours into the same category, the racial and cultural experiences of each person is cheapened and ignored.

Personally, I never want to be considered white. I’m proud to be of colour, and my heritage and ethnicity being intrinsic parts of who I am. My skin isn’t like a light switch. I don’t ever get to pretend that I’m not a person of colour. Skin colour affects my life, my story and the narrative of every character of colour. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, colour-blind casting implies that in a narrative, it doesn’t matter who plays who. But it should matter that a Black man plays Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop. It matters that stories about people of colour are told by people of colour.

So what’s the solution? 

Colour-conscious, as opposed to colour-blind, casting is a way to provide opportunities to people of colour while still acknowledging they are of colour. If you’re conscious of how you’re casting, you can avoid whitewashing, racially homogeneous casts and the general assumption that actors of colour can only play one role. You can avoid casting Black actors solely as slaves, or brown people as terrorists. 

Ask yourself if you have the right bodies to tell this story: is your cast representative of the narrative? Are you changing the narrative by casting a specific actor in a specific role? Keep in mind that characters of colour are never afforded the privilege of being considered a person outside of their skin colour. Are you able to show this with your cast? 

These are the questions that colour-conscious casting forces you to ask. In comparison, colour-blind casting wrongly assumes the world has never had a race problem. 

If art is political — and it often is — then artists need to be aware of what narrative they’re spinning and whether or not it’s racially sensitive. Characters of colour need to have appropriately complex stories. At the very least, it must be considered whether the production even includes actors of colour. 

With colour-conscious casting, it’s a lot easier to make sure that you’re creating art that’s representative of the 21st century.

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