By Arturo R. García
Good news from Racebending yesterday: Marvel Studios responded to questions over the casting of Nico Minoru in the best possible way.
As you’ll recall, the character is one of the core characters of Marvel’s Runaways comic-book series. But the original open call, while specifically asking for African-American actors to audition for Alex Wilder, left Nico’s description open, aside from the problematic description of “uniquely beautiful.”
But as posted on Racebending Thursday, the company sent them this statement:
Thank you for reaching out regarding your concerns over Marvel’s recent casting notice for THE RUNAWAYS. We appreciate your interest in our production and with Marvel Entertainment.
To address your concern over casting for the role of Nico, as we do with all of our films, we intend to stay true to the legacy and story of the comic when casting these parts. Thus, our goal is to cast an Asian American actress as depicted in the comic series and the casting notice will be adjusted accordingly.
We thank you again for your correspondence and the opportunity to clarify our process.
And it’s true: the film’s casting call website now specifies that the “Girl 1” character is not only “uniquely beautiful” (whatever that means), but Asian-American. Also, the audition deadline has been pushed back to Sept. 15 to give applicants more prep time. So why does this matter? As we did in the case of The Last Airbender, we’ll let Racebending break it down:
In Hollywood parlance, when ethnicity is not clearly stated in a breakdown, the default assumption that the character is intended to be white. Because nondescript listings are frequently used to cast white characters, a nondescript listing does not guarantee actors of color a fair chance. Casting calls interested in seeing actors of all ethnicities are usually more emphatic (i.e: “submit any ethnicity,” “submit all ethnicities,” “all ethnicities welcome.”) [source]
The Hollywood view that a nondescript breakdown defaults to a white character is so entrenched that casting director/producer Rueben Cannon estimated in an interview that 85-95% of agents would not think to submit a black client for a role that does not explicitly say “black” or “African American” in the breakdown. [source]. When Racebending.com spoke with people working in the entertainment industry about the breakdown, they also confirmed that without the keywords “Asian” or “Asian American,” actors of Asian descent would face barriers in accessing the role. Including the keywords would mitigate systemic discriminatory factors prevalent in Hollywood.
“While this is a comic book character, the public has always seen this heroine as an Asian American,” Floyd Mori, National Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said. “Staying true to the story as it is known is critical in helping the American public to understand that heroines are not always white, but that all ethnicities can and do play that role in real life. This is a giant step in the right direction.”