Casting Call: Seeking Race Over Talent

If television is supposed to reflect real life, it only seems right that shows should reflect the real people living in this country.

When does race conquer talent? The question is posed, whether or not it is justified, for television shows to cast an actor specifically based on his or her race rather than his or her ability to act and perform. Throughout the casting industry, “race casting” is becoming a widespread phenomenon. It is meant to work towards diversifying American television, by streamlining the casting pool to be in favor of the ethnic actor. This would prohibit an open playing field for all actors to compete. Creating race-specific roles seemingly defeats the purpose of creating equality in media. Despite the fact that steps are being taken to diversify the television word, there is still an overwhelming lack of diversity in the business. Even the show-runners behind the scenes are predominantly white males. If television is supposed to reflect real life, it only seems right that shows should reflect the real people living in this country.

In order to adhere to a certain demographic in casting, casting directors are often instructing actors to “be” more or less of their own ethnicity. As comedian Nicole Byer recalled to the Daily Beast, she “had one casting director who was literally like, ‘I need you to be as black as possible’...and then she was like, ‘if you go too black, I’ll bring you back.’” There is not a dial on which one can turn up or turn down his or her race. However, in the television industry, this dial seemingly exists in the minds of casting directors. Nicole Byer is not the only one who has experienced this type of objectification as race casting is a growing sensation across the industry. It is a common occurrence for actors to be placed in a position in which they are not competing for roles on a level playing field. Opportunities for deserving, talented actors are growing more and more limited day by day. Roles are designed for a certain look or a certain ethnicity or certain stereotype to display to the millions of viewers across America. This practice promotes the dated stereotypes often seen on television, as well as the segregation of minorities. What does it mean to be “too black” or “too white” or “too hispanic” or “too asian”? Who makes this ludicrous judgement?

“I had one casting director who was literally like, ‘I need you to be as black as possible’...and then she was like, ‘if you go too black, I’ll bring you back.’”-Nicole Byer
Nicole Byer- http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3355329/
Minorities Actually Contribute more to the Success of tOday's shows through their ratings.

Utilizing a more diverse cast simply makes more business sense. Minorities make up 40% of the population in the United States., which equates to over 130 million people. Out of those 130 million people, a huge number of them are active television viewers. It turns out that a greater percentage of black people especially watch and engage with television than white audiences. Thus, minorities actually contribute more to the success of today’s shows through their ratings. It has also been discovered that the ratings of shows with diverse casts are much higher than shows without diverse casts. “During the 2011-12 season median household ratings were highest among cable television shows with casts that were 31% to 40% minority (0.88 ratings points).” So, why aren’t more shows diversifying their casts if the ratings have been proven to be higher?

It should not be the color of an actor’s skin that strikes a chord in viewers, it should be the actor’s emotion and ability to portray a story.

There is one thing that all people across America have in common, regardless of their ethnicity: they are all human. Ethnic characters can be just as relatable as white characters. It should not be the color of an actor’s skin that strikes a chord in viewers, it should be the actor’s emotion and ability to portray a story. Black-ish is a highly popular sitcom on ABC that has resonated well with viewers. The episodes provide a dose of comedy as well as insight on serious issues such as racism and police brutality. After being renewed for a third season and receiving recognition such as multiple Emmy nominations, it is clear that Black-ish is quite successful. The sitcom launched with the hopes that the resonance of the family portrayed would transcend color. It turns out that the laughs and heartfelt messages from the show have indeed surpassed the color of the actors’ skin. It has become a “show that carries a banner for representation in mainstream television.” So, why aren’t there more shows like Black-ish?

Black-ish: an American sitcom that leads the way in representation in media.

http://qa.abcallaccess.com/show/blackish/

Each episode provides a dose of comedy as well as insight on serious issues such as racism and police brutality.

http://www.todaytvseries.com/tv-series/344-black-ish-tv

The endless laughs produced by each episode makes the show a Wednesday night staple for many viewers.

http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/black-ish-andre-marseille-215449

The family values and heartfelt messages portrayed on the show have transcended color.

http://abc.go.com/shows/blackish/episode-guide/season-2/04-daddys-day

The scenes portrayed in each episode of Black-ish are human stories, not “black” stories.

The creator of Black-ish, Shonda Rhimes, is actually quite opposed to the term “diversity”. As the Daily Beast states, “her crusade is for “normalization””. Varying ethnicities are normal, as it would be unusual to live in an environment inhabited completely by members of the same race. Thus, Rhimes aims to mirror the real demography of America and to reflect real life. The scenes portrayed in each episode are human stories, not “black” stories. They are not meant to be considered as segregated or exclusive. By creating ethnically diverse casts, television is able to become normalized.

Shonda Rhimes
“Of the 50 showrunners for the new season, two are women of color, and three are men of color.”

Not only the casts of America’s sitcoms and shows are lacking representation of all races. The showrunners and directors behind the scenes are not very ethnically diverse, either. Victoria Mahoney, the director of Survivor’s Remorse on STARZ expresses to the Daily Beast how “so often today- not 30 years ago, not 100 years ago, right now- when people decide to hire a person of color, they usually hire male. When they decide to hire women, they hire white.”3 Variety conducted a study in which they examined the diversity amongst showrunners of the new shows by each network for the 2016 to 2017 season. “Of the 50 showrunners for the new season, two are women of color, and three are men of color.” Studies conducted by the Writers Guild of America have discovered that non-white writers have made up no more than 13% of writers-room employment for a handful of years. In some years, this percentage has been even lower. The inadequacy of representation behind the scenes actually has an effect on the creative direction of the shows as well as the storytelling. White showrunners are more likely to hire white directors and white casts and so on. Ethnic showrunners and other people behind the scenes are just as dedicated and capable as those of a white race, so it only makes sense that a change should be made for the sake of the programs.

variety.com/2016/tv/news/diversity-television-white-male-showrunners-stats-fox-nbc-abc-cbs-cw-study-1201789639
variety.com/2016/tv/news/diversity-television-white-male-showrunners-stats-fox-nbc-abc-cbs-cw-study-1201789639
http://www.dga.org/News/PressReleases/2016/160912-Episodic-Television-Director-Diversity-Report.aspx
While watching television, viewers are meant to see a reflection of real life in America, in one way or another.

So, is it justifiable to disregard talent and to let ethnicity transcend? If the ability to act or run a show is not dependent on skin color, is it worth limiting the hiring and casting pool? While watching television, viewers are meant to see a reflection of real life in America, in one way or another. The population of America is not color in real life, it is more akin to a watercolor where differences are celebrated as they mix together to create something wholly more appealing. Is it too much to ask the same of television?

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Created with images by Unsplash - "movie television production" • Peabody Awards - "Shonda Rhimes"

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