Diversity is the buzzword when it comes to casting right now. Thanks to the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, the days of whitewashing, sexism, and tokenism in casting are over. However, it can feel like a minefield for those not experienced with how to cast diverse talent in a respectful way.
The casting process can seem overwhelming causing some clients to avoid casting talent representing a certain group for fear of making mistakes and being called out. However, there are definite ways to navigate diversity casting responsibly.
We have put together these guidelines to help you through.
Understanding diverse casting
The first step is knowing what exactly diversity in casting means. The word is becoming problematic in itself due to it often contextually referring to being outside the dominant culture. We are now moving towards inclusion, where white cisgender is no longer the dominant representation in the media.
Inclusion refers to the goal of everyone in society being represented in mainstream media, including women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ and people with disability. Those previously left out of the picture, literally.
It is about creating an environment where everyone is welcome and can feel comfortable being themselves. It's about making an effort to include people from all walks of life in every aspect of life in the arts and entertainment.
"If you can see it you can be it." - Elizabeth Marvel, Actor
Clients must strive for authenticity over tokenism. Tokenism is when the brief calls for one casting talent to tick a diversity box. Ticking boxes is not inclusive or authentic. Casting briefs need to come from a place of authenticity. It's all about casting people in roles that take into consideration their identities and experiences.
As society evolves to become more inclusive, so does the language. Not too long ago, there was a trend towards colourblind casting. This is no longer a popular term as it erases the lived experiences of the talent or actor. Do your research before putting out the brief as language around casting often changes with societal change.
Avoid using physical characteristics in a casting brief such as fat, ugly, big-breasted, attractive, or a specific skin colour. This is limiting to representation and inclusivity. It is usually not necessary to include physical characteristics in the brief at all.
Below is a guide to the current terms being used in the industry and how to use them in your casting briefs:
When casting models who do not fit within the usual sample size for fashion brands, we recommend the term body positive. Previously described as plus size and curvy, these terms are being phased out. Replace with the clothing size required instead, for example – size 16 clothing or 34DD bust.
Be specific in your brief. Avoid words like "older" or "mature" and use an age bracket instead such as "60-65 years of age." One person’s idea of being old is another person’s young. Plus, age is not always visible, so it's best to avoid potentially limiting terms.
People of colour
If you're a client or a casting director, try to be as specific as possible taking into account the country or geographical place of origin in your casting breakdown. Sometimes, a character's ethnicity is also central to the process, and can potentially lead you to the right actors or talent.
Below are some examples of terminology often used to request a diverse array of ethnicities in many a casting room:
- BIPOC: Originated in America. Stands for "Black, Indigenous, People of Colour."
- First Nations Australians: First Nations Australians are often called Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But there are significant distinctions between these two groups. There is a wide range of nations, cultures and languages across mainland Australia and throughout the Torres Strait. Given this diversity, respectful language use depends on what different communities find appropriate. Do some research on the geographical nation where the job is set, for instance, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Consultation with elders is required for all briefs involving First Nations Australian communities and stories.
- Asian: Be aware of the specificity and distinctions within the Asian demographic. For instance, casting actors of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, or Malaysian descent.
- Pacific Islander: Once again specificity is key as there is diversity within the Pacific Islander communities including Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Rarotongan, and Maori.
Focus on the person rather than the disability. Only mention the disability if it is relevant to the brief. In this instance use people-first language. For example, "people with disabilities", or a person with autism as opposed to an autistic person.
Avoid using the term "disabled" as it is a stigmatising word. Remember that people with disabilities are often ignored in the media, so do your part in helping capture a more accurate representation of these underrepresented communities in your brief.
Gender and sexual diversity terms
This style manual put together by the Australian Government has a comprehensive list to help with the language of gender and sexual diversity.
It helps know the meanings of words people use about gender and sexual diversity. This includes sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.
- ‘LGBTQIA+’ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual + other sexual identities.
- ‘Gender’ is about social and cultural differences and identity. ‘Gender’ and ‘sex’ both mean ‘the state of being male or female’ but are often used in different ways.
- ‘Gender expression’ is the way someone expresses their gender.
- ‘Gender identity’ is about who a person feels themself to be. It refers to the way a person identifies or expresses their masculine or feminine traits.
- ‘Gender-queer’ and ‘non-binary’ refer to people who don’t identify as either male or female. They may identify as both or neither.
- ‘Gender-fluid’ refers to people who do not identify with a fixed gender.
- ‘Intersex’ refers to people with innate genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that do not conform to medical norms for female or male bodies.
- ‘Sex’ refers to the legal status that was initially determined by sex characteristics observed at birth.
- ‘Sex characteristics’ are a person’s physical sex features, such as their chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.
- ‘Sexual orientation’ is a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to another person, such as heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
- ‘Sexuality’ includes biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy and reproduction.
- ‘Transgender’ means people whose gender identification is different from that given to them at birth.
Avoid using words like "man" or "woman" in the brief. Avoid gender-specific job titles such as "policeman" and use "police officer" instead or "flight attendant" instead of "stewardess".
Be aware of using the correct pronouns or use the gender-neutral pronoun "they".
During the casting process
Allow time and money for your research and to interview prospective talent to ensure they are comfortable with the collaboration between them and your brand. Empower them by asking for feedback or starting inclusive conversations about what they can contribute to the role. Ask for their input if they have any concerns.
It is also important to understand cultural or religious sensitivity in certain roles. Do your research to make sure you are being culturally sensitive and not asking talent to perform something that will make them uncomfortable or that may be forbidden in their culture or religion.
For example, when casting a female Muslim model for your production or project, find out if she wears a headscarf and what type she will wear for your shoot. Be aware that there are different types of headscarves.
When hiring trans actors, make sure to refer to them by the correct pronouns. If unsure, ask!
Ensure your casting directors and crew are aware of the sensitivities or requirements of the talent. You don't want them to feel uncomfortable or unable to fulfil their role.
Before confirming the talent, share the brief with them so they are aware of how they will be represented.
Keep them informed of any changes to the brief prior to the shoot so there are no surprises on the day.
Ensure all talent are offered equal fees for equal work. Doing otherwise can lead to a bad reputation for the client and result in talent and customers boycotting their brands. Fairness in fees can help level the playing field for talent from all backgrounds and walks of life.
The benefits of inclusion
Inclusion means advertisers will reach a wider market. Be strategic and brave in your thinking. By reflecting the range of people living in our communities’ both clients and customers will feel the benefits.
Keep it simple
We recommend keeping it simple to achieve inclusiveness across casting. The Casting Guild of Australia has developed this simple casting brief for their members:
“As a member of the CGA, I am committed to diverse, inclusive casting. For every role, please submit qualified performers, without regard to disability, race, age, colour, national origin, ethnic origin or any other basis otherwise specifically indicated.”
Be part of the change toward inclusive representation in the media to reflect the diverse population in our society and find the right fit for your brand.
If you are still unsure, reach out to the appropriate organisations for advice.
We have included some resources in the links below.