Representation Matters - Casting Inclusively

Millicent Simmonds

Millicent Simmonds

Inclusion in media has been a bit of a hot topic recently and there’s been a lot of talk surrounding diversity and representation in casting in particular. While times are a-changing and things are getting better - there still seems to be a bunch of people not getting on board with inclusive casting and people are moving at a glacial pace to keep up with the times. Not even shitting you, there are still people that exist who argue with having diversity in their productions. It’s not common, but it exists.

So, what is diverse casting? Well, The Equity Diversity Committee considers diverse casting to include “the casting of ethnic minority performers, women performers and performers with disability in roles where race, ethnicity, gender or the presence or absence of a disability is not germane.”

Inclusive casting is extremely important. Why? It’s representative of society! It’s important for people from minority groups to see themselves represented on screen. It’s important for people from minority groups to have their stories told. As casting directors, we have an extremely political job on our hands. We are in charge of mirroring social representation. It’s a huge responsibility and opportunity for us to showcase talent from all backgrounds regardless of race, sexuality, gender or ability.

RJ Mitte

RJ Mitte

You might be wondering why we are banging on about this - believe me, so are we! We can’t wait for there to become a time where it is not necessary to educate our clients on the basics of inclusion and why it’s important.

Until then, we keep banging on.

Inclusive casting is multi-faceted and don’t get us wrong, a hugely complicated topic but we think it’s important we make it known where we stand and what we try to do in our day to day operations to contribute to this landscape.

As a general rule of thumb, we operate and encourage our clients to operate from a place of open-mindedness. Outside of authentically casting for the purposes of a story or character, we keep ourselves and studio completely open to people of all backgrounds, ability and gender. We believe strongly in creating opportunities for everyone and allowing everyone to tell their story or tell a story that’s important to them. We have always believed we don’t know what we don’t know, and we may miss the perfect candidate by simply being close minded.

Lynn Marie Rosenberg, Cast and Loose curator, aptly suggests in her article “How not to write a casting breakdown”, “Writers and directors, allow the casting process to inform your work. Let actors surprise you in the room. A person who looks nothing like the character you envisioned may walk in and perfectly capture their essence, but if you limit your breakdown to Caucasian Only (a phrase I see far too often) you are cutting yourself off from a lot of incredible talent.”

This sums up exactly our position on our casting process, and ultimately it infiltrates and impacts our position on inclusive casting specifically.

Sandra Oh

Sandra Oh

While being open-minded in a general sense is probably a little light-footed and not exactly creating waves of change, on a more political note, we strongly disagree with anyone who wishes to remove or deny people of certain backgrounds, genders or abilities the opportunity to tell stories or be represented on screen. Unless, of course, it is critical to the story or character, we will forever stand up against negativity and refusal to consider anyone outside of an initial brief.

We aren’t dicks about it, don’t get us wrong, directors and story-tellers have the right to tell the stories they want to tell and have equal right to tell it the way they want, but we will do our best to look, think and work outside the box and quite possibly bend some of those beloved roles. It’s part of our job to present options that the writer or director hadn’t explored.

We’ve recently undertaken casting a Feature Film in which we challenged an originally male dominated script and opened out the casting to seeing some women for one of the roles in particular because we believed the role could be told by a female. We did this of our own accord, at our own cost and didn’t push anything upon the writer and director, other than to merely review the auditions and see how it sat with them and their story.

We are always looking at the gender balance of a film, to broaden the opportunity to tell the story, for the character to provide a more unique perspective and different point of view on the world. It’s important to consider who is having the opportunity to tell this story? To ask the question “Are we portraying different points of view? Does this character have a unique perspective?”

Casting people with living with disabilities has also been an important part of our business growth and an area of improvement which we are continuing to work on. It has been another hot topic among all other inclusive casting conversations and we are definitely feeling the struggle to help improve the current situation and create opportunities for people living with disability.

Jamie Brewer

Jamie Brewer

Liz Raferty (How People with Disabilities are Challenging the Hollywood Pipeline) reminds us that “When it comes to pursuing careers in media, the obstacles faced by people with disabilities are numerous, from needing to obtain physical access to television and film sets or access to sign language interpreters, to having smaller social networks through which to hear about employment opportunities via word of mouth…”

But ultimately it’s what she said next that resonated with us SO heavily and girl, we can relate...

“...But probably the biggest barrier is convincing potential employers that people with disabilities can perform at a level equal to those without disabilities.”

This couldn’t possibly ring true enough to us and as Casting Directors, we will continue to educate and push for change by working with leaders and other advocates in the space. We are already in an industry burdened by superficial and unrealistic expectations and constraints, so although this is a challenge for us, it is not impossible to move past the old ways of insensitivity and start understanding that representation matters.

We believe that nothing can be lost but everything can be gained by inclusion.