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"Diversity" is a buzzword on everyone's lips, but what does it *really* mean?
More importantly, why is diversity on TV and the small screen important?
Up until recently, mass media has suffered from a lack of representation from diverse talent and cultures. Diversity casting didn't use to be part of conversations in writers' rooms or photo shoot planning. The story is slowly changing, however, as more producers and casting directors continue to design roles that encourage a focus on different cultures and narratives from around the world.
Non-traditional casting in entertainment can help us see the world through different sets of eyes, through narratives that are inclusive and representative. It helps businesses and brands deliver products to wider audiences, which in turn drives commercial success.
Why is diverse casting important?
Diversity casting in the entertainment and related industries such as fashion or performing arts is a big deal. It's important to help people realise that they are represented and also to show how beautiful it is when people of all races, sizes, and ages get together to create something.
Hollywood has repeatedly come under fire for its lack of diversity and inclusion for decades. This is because minorities are not equally represented in film and TV as they should be. With diverse casting, decision-makers in the industry can finally provide truly authentic narratives that connect people from different backgrounds to one another.
The need for diverse actors and multicultural voices cannot be stressed enough. On a grander scale, stories that genuinely reflect these various cultures and backgrounds have the capability to push forward social progress and combat stigmas.
What is inclusive casting?
Inclusive casting is the practice of providing fair and equal access to people from different genders, races, ethnicities, ages, abilities, and sexual orientations in order to strengthen diversity within acting roles. Instead of hiring an actor who's only "fit for the role," inclusive casting encourages executives everywhere to create a process wherein actors from all backgrounds are given an equal chance at securing roles.
Colourblind casting is when producers or directors creatively look for actors that best suit the character they are trying to cast, disregarding race, ethnicity, culture, or gender. The goal of colourblind casting is to find the best individual without any regard for superficial characteristics. While there are great benefits to this approach in finding talent, there are cases where it has become problematic and has resulted in whitewashing for certain roles that should have gone to a member of a minority group.
Colour-conscious casting is where a producer or a casting director look at actors who are able to accurately deliver a character's ethnicity or culture. It's particularly useful in situations where there are gaps in representation that need to be filled. For example, in TV shows targeted towards a younger audience, there's always a character who's just exploring his or her sexuality or someone who has a physical disability. Some showrunners purposely seek out actors who fit the bill for these roles so that they can truly depict the characteristics and struggles of the young people they represent.
What are the benefits of non-traditional casting?
Diverse casting in movies and TV shows is slowly becoming the new normal since there are demands from audiences to see realistic characters on screen. These roles can sometimes even go beyond cultural boundaries by portraying various life experiences of people, no matter who they are or where they come from.
It only makes sense for productions to boast a cast that is reflective of today's society -- not just featuring one subset of an entire nation's national identity. Not doing so would be a disservice to viewers, and it would perpetuate the continued existence of shows that are "too white", implying that people of colour are not equally capable of leading dramatic, cultural storytelling.
Benefits of non-traditional casting for brands
Relevancy is key when it comes to marketing in today's business landscape. The world has become smaller because of the internet and social media, making it easier for people to connect with one another. Businesses that are able to stay on top of their game are the ones that provide products and services catering to all kinds of customers.
Broadcasters and content creators have started to realign their business practices through innovative ways that simultaneously address the call for inclusion and commercial appeal. Inclusive casting has been used by brands to elevate their business image towards customers who are part of this broader market.
This has now become a common practice in the media landscape. Audiences expect narrative diversity when they watch, say Korean movies or even Australian television shows. The stories being told across screens bridge gaps within communities and cultures by highlighting the commonalities shared among people from these different backgrounds.
Benefits of diverse casting for individuals
When TV shows and films have a cast of actors from different backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, it helps create different points of view in a way that these people's stories are being told in a richer fashion. It is particularly relevant for marginalised groups like persons with disabilities, people of colour (non-white actors), and members of the LGBTQ+ (among others).
Moreover, the more opportunities available to these minorities, the better it is for their professional careers. It opens up the possibility of earning more money and helps broaden their fanbase or reach.
Non-traditional casting also makes room for advancement by enabling people with different abilities to excel in areas they are passionate about, encouraging others from the same group to do the same. In the long run, this can contribute to a thriving entertainment industry where all forms of creativity and talent are encouraged.
It's a win-win situation for everybody. Diversity can drive a film or TV show's commercial success. Brands that do not alienate any target market are able to increase their profitability. Minority actors flourish as a result of access to a broad range of opportunities.
Colourblind casting case study: Bridgerton
An example of this approach is the Netflix flagship series Bridgerton, which follows an aristocratic family's sexy, colourful, and competitive lives during London's Regency era. Instead of sticking to the stereotypes of the genre, the show interestingly chooses to portray a racially integrated London where people of colour are part of the elite.
The cast features an incredibly inclusive mix of actors in prominent roles. Ghanaian-British actress Adjoa Andoh plays the lead role as a high society doyenne. Rege-Jean Page, a black actor, and Phoebe Dynevor, a white actress, portray the gorgeous main couple Simon and Daphne on the show. The cast also includes Asians as supporting actors or extras in social settings. It's not every day that you see these on-screen, so it's undeniably refreshing.
Bridgerton demonstrates that there are many different kinds of stories that can be told without having to rely on the same old tropes seen in period dramas, with the same advantages extending to Australian shoots and campaigns.
Casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry breaks down the important of casting diversity
Bridgerton's casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry says she wouldn't exactly call her casting decisions colourblind per se because when her team went out to seek talent, there was a conscious effort to build an inclusive cast. She says the chemistry between the cast members were "discovered in the process" and that resulted in a capable ensemble whose ethnicities do not define them.
For decades, viewers and consumers have seen media mainly portray a homogenous type of person. Hollywood has been creating stars for years that everyone loves but doesn't necessarily relate to. This is why it's such a big deal when someone like Sandra Oh or Gina Rodriguez breaks through.
Aussie actors like Chris Pang from Crazy Rich Asians and Nathalie Kelley from The Vampire Diaries and Dynasty are notably making baby steps towards the revolution, although Australian film and television still have a long way to go.
Having a casting director who recognises and nurtures diversity within an industry creates a higher probability of seeing fleshed-out characters – complete with complex motivations and goals – across all forms of media.
Diverse actors as a part of the casting process
Most actors appreciate the opportunity of working with people from diverse backgrounds as they feel they can learn from other people. In making a film or TV series, there is a fringe benefit to confidence in a person who has never felt that he or she has been truly represented in the industry.
Furthermore, diversity in talent casting has been shown to increase the monetary rewards within a screen production. According to a study by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) mentioned in the LA Times, movies with a diverse array of characters and stories outperform those that aren't. This is not surprising because when a viewing audience can see themselves in the movie, they are able to reinforce their identity.
How do you incorporate diverse talent in your casting process?
Many people are concerned about how to incorporate diverse talent in a casting room. So, how do you do it? Well, start by making sure that information regarding your project is precise, up-to-date, and accessible to everyone interested in auditioning. Here are some tips to help you with inclusive casting:
- Do your research: If you are looking to cast an underrepresented identity in mind for your production, do your research. You should know what the difference is between being trans and being gay, how many genderqueer people are sensitive to certain types of pronouns, what it means to be a person of colour versus a "passing" actor.
- Communication is key: Be familiar with the talent(s) in front of you during the audition. Try to instil trust and create rapport so that you can strengthen your creative vision. Great talent and great clients can make great things together.
- Embrace a diverse production staff: The essence of inclusion doesn't only lie in the hands of your on-cam talents but also in the other moving parts behind the camera.
- Give yourself time: Allot extra time and resources for finding the right actors or models. Reach out to ethnic communities or networks when casting for culturally specific roles. If you need to hire a consultant for support, do so.
- Finally, acknowledge your own lack of diversity: Beware of unconscious biases and start inclusive conversations right before production begins.
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