Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Diversity Problem in Casting

 This is something I think about pretty much every day.  I think about it when I'm on set, which is most days, or watching something.  I notice if something is diverse or truthful to how the world really is, or not. It's important as all hell because how we see ourselves in art has a famously strong connection to how we see ourselves in life.

So when I made my first feature film, Inside You, I was especially concerned about diversity in casting, and at the end of the day, while we did alright and I have some fucking awesome actors of color in this movie, I feel my cast is absolutely not as diverse as I hoped.  Here's what I learned about this from the process of casting and making my feature:
- I tried to cast actors of color many times and sometimes DID and then had them drop out last minute (actors of all colors need to drop out sometimes, especially when you are paying them low rates) and I sometimes ended up replacing them with someone white
- I couldn't find enough actors of color that I thought were good enough and experienced enough to act in the movie

PLEASE DON'T STOP READING THERE!  Because here's why:
- I didn't know about them.  Of course they exist!  I just didn't FIND THEM.

WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THEM?
- Actors of color get less work, and therefore are less visible and discoverable.

Since there's less roles for people of color, they are seen less, there's less on their reels, there's less ways for me to know about them.  Casting also involves very specific needs - the actor must be right for that character so you need a wide talent pool to find the right fit.

And yes, I'm also a white person and by cultural circumstance I know more white people - but it's not that simple.

MONEY IS PART OF IT
I see this as a bigger problem for low budget productions. 
- I couldn't afford a casting director to find this talent - which takes a lot of work and time but is possible.
- Holding open auditions is a nightmare (at least in NYC and LA) - it's hard to pull in capable talent without a casting director or agent sourcing them for you, the time and cost are prohibitive and when you're making a film you have very limited time
- I also didn't want to take a risk on someone without enough experience
- For many of the actors of color out there who are known - they are in demand and getting all the work, and I can't afford them.

Big budget productions don't have this issue.  They have the means to discover new talent, and the budgets to afford known talent.  The talent pool even for big budget films is smaller because again there's less famous POC so there's less who can bring in the bank.  The studios would have to decide to take the risk on an actor who doesn't have a proven box office draw.

SOLUTION TIME
Up and coming performers need a chance to be seen by taking on roles in independent films.  These independent films need to be able to find and discover these actors.

If there was a resource to showcase performers of color that would be amazing.  It's not simple, that's why casting agencies and casting directors exist - it's a TON of work to discover people - there's thousands of hungry performers out there but it's very hard to sort through the ones who are actually good and know their craft and are good to work with and right for the roles you are casting.

If someone can figure out how to better showcase this talent - it would be great  - especially online (reels etc) - because low budget indie filmmakers don't have the time to be going out to live stage showcases and either way stage actor doesn't necessarily equal good film actor.


A curated online database, and agency initiatives for low budget films to have access to actors of color is what I think solves part of the problem. Also if more storytellers: writers, producers, and directors of color emerge and have their films financed- I believe just looking at the examples of Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler- you will also see more roles for people of color. And even those examples exclude Asian, Indian, and Latino success stories - so you know- there's a ton of room for growth!

Here's an example of a success story: The film "Attack the Block" was made for 8 million pounds and was an indie film (sounds like a lot but it's actually low budget for a sci fi feature!).  They wanted to discover local talent and held auditions.  John Boyega, a young actor from a local theatre, came to audition and landed the lead role.  Today he is featured as the first Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars.  He's one of my favorite young actors (though I felt his part was underwritten in that film).  I believe he's the second coming of Denzel! 

He would never be in Star Wars if it wasn't for the film "Attack the Block" discovering and taking a chance on him. 

There's a lot of things I feel great about with my upcoming feature film.  I love the cast, there's great performances.  I wish I lived in a world where more performers of color had more roles and exposure so I can find them next time. I'm sorry if that sounds shitty. I did try. I was trying a lot difficult things with hardly any money or support- this kind of change requires a concerted effort from the entertainment community as a whole.   Here's to that being the case for my next feature.  Here's to - quite simply - more roles for people of color.  And ya know, not just like, the maid, or crack addict number 2.

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