Art is a reflection of humanity— its faults, its merits, its impacts. So, when mainstream art does not reflect truth in humanity or when it does not holistically represent humanity, individuals may feel left out or question artistic integrity. One widely relevant case of questionable artistic integrity involves race casting. Whether casting a film or theatrical production, directors take varied approaches to considering both race’s relevance to the overall production and its sociopolitical implications. Of course, which approaches further marginalize minorities and which contribute towards inclusion and equity are still in question.
Pennsylvania State’s Cleo House Jr., Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Theatre lists four main categories of racial casting:
The nontraditional approach to casting entails minimal concentration on an actor’s race. For example, “Annie” (2014) casted an African-American girl Quvenzhane Wallis as little orphan Annie, traditionally a pale, freckled redhead.
Cross-cultural casting aims to cast actors in roles they would not typically be cast in based on their race. One instance of this kind of casting is the Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (2008) by Tennessee Williams which involved an all-black cast.
The color-blind method does not remotely consider actors’ race in casting a role. This might mean casting a white person over an Asian person when the character in question was written as Asian or vice versa.
In this case, directors must follow specifications on casting given by a playwright which might require casting a person of specific race for a role or restrict race in casting for one or more characters.
All of these approaches play a hand in ensuring racial representation as well as equal opportunity for advancement in the entertainment industry. Many activists criticize color-blind casting, firstly asserting that it is intrinsically impossible. Further, they claim it erases the need for accomodating cultural differences and for actively working against historic discrimination in the industry.
Author Jenny Han, who wrote “To All the Boys I Loved Before” faced this issue when approaching production companies for a movie adaptation of her book. She has stated companies’ interest dropped once she expressed that she wanted her main character, Lara Jean, to remain Asian-American on-screen. Clearly, the companies she originally approached did not wish to consider race in their casting method, instead preferring to subscribe to a color-blind focused angle. Still, in a interview with The New York Times, Han expressed the importance of representation in casting, saying, “there is power in seeing a face that looks like yours do something, be someone. There is power in moving from the sidelines to the center.” Given this, one can discern a growing belief that acknowledging race in casting is of utmost importance: it is a means of redistributing power in an environment where power has been skewed in such a way to overarchingly benefit white actors.