Casting & Race, Part 2.5: A Representative Interlude

by Guest Contributor J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures

While it’s still relatively new news, I thought I’d tackle this brief article from Variety republishing the Screen Actor’s Guild annual diversity research. While the headline of the article reads “SAG stats: Diversity lags” and the byline mentions that minorities, seniors and women are underrepresented, the racial breakdown in the article shows the following:

  • 72.5% Caucasian
  • 13.3% African American
  • 6.4% Latino-Hispanic (?)
  • 3.8% Asian-Pacific Islander
  • 0.3% Native American
  • 3.8% Other-Unknown

The article then goes on and adds data from the 2000 US Census, probably as a point of comparison:

  • 73.4% Caucasian
  • 11.5% African American
  • 10.6% Latino-Hispanic
  • 3.7% Asian-Pacific Islander
  • 0.8% Native American

Now, if you simply compare those numbers, it only really seems like Latino/as are considerably underrepresented, if you’re broadly looking at the numbers (and assuming the US population breakdown hasn’t changed much in the last decade). Of course, the overall numbers actually fail to tell the whole picture, because there is no breakdown between the types of roles filled. As background comprises of a large number of actors, does this breakdown include background? How does the breakdown look when you examine supporting actors and leading actors? Recurring actors on television?TheTVAddict.com, upon discovering NBC’s new slogan of “More Colorful” was compelled to create this poster:

Now, to be fair, most NBC shows actually do feature one actor of color somewhere in the regular cast, but how many actors in mainstream film and television actually get top billing? How many actors of color are A-listers? Try counting the number of actors of color in The Hollywood Reporter’s list of bankable stars or James Ulmer’s A-list.

Of the actors in the breakdown, how many, by race, can earn a living from their actor’s wages? How many get steady work?

I have the strong suspicion that we’re going to find that the numbers align less with the census the higher we climb the casting tower.

While I appreciate the attempts from the industry to include more characters and actors of color in mainstream film and television, overall, the industry still a participant in systemic racism. There is still a strong and notable imbalance in representation in the top tiers of casting.

In my next segment I’ll be looking into how mainstream film and television deal with the problem of diversity (alluded to in this segment) as well as how mainstream film can maintain cinematic verisimilitude, cast white actors for character of color and not resort to colorface at all.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

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