Tag Archives: casting

State of Georgia, Race, and Weight

Gaps between white experiences and non-white experiences pop up in the strangest places.

Raven-Symoné has a new comedy on ABC Family called State of Georgia. This is her first comedy series where she will be playing an adult role and it’s been interesting watching that transition. I had planned to tune into the premiere, but it moved up in priority when I read the producer, Jennifer Weiner, talking about Raven’s weight loss in USA Today:

Q: Tell us about the show’s star, Raven-Symoné, who plays Georgia.

A: What we were looking for was a larger-than-life, bubbly, exuberant, confident young woman who was convinced of her own worth even when the world couldn’t see it. I really think that’s what we have with Raven. She’s this incredibly natural comedienne.

Q: Is Georgia a classic Jennifer Weiner character?

A: The original intention was for Georgia to be a big, curvy girl, and that would be one of the obstacles she dealt with while pursuing her acting career. She wanted to play the ingénue and the bombshell, and people would want to cast her as the funny best friend. Raven has lost a lot of weight, and that’s been a challenge we’ve been dealing with. But in terms of her sense of humor and outlook on life, Georgia’s going to feel familiar to anyone who loved Canny in Good in Bed or Becky in Little Earthquakes and Addy in Best Friends Forever.

Okay. I’m very familiar with Weiner’s work, having read most of it, and I get it – Weiner writes curvy heroines. She is most comfortable writing about larger women trying to make their way in the world. And there have been a great many discussions (like this one from Women and Hollywood) on the debates around Raven-Symoné’s weight loss and how it impacted what they were doing for the show.

But I’m puzzled. Did no one ever point out that black, thin and thick actresses face that same problem in terms of always being cast as the funny best friend? Come on, now, it’s even got a TV Tropes entry. The same jokes wouldn’t fly, but I am sure there are plenty of women who could help the writing team come up with amazing bits about how screwed up the acting world is to women of color. They could call Angela Nissel and Aisha Tyler in for writing assistance, and ask for people like Gabrielle Union and all of the women on this list to provide real life anecdotes for the show.

Or is that just too scary of a topic?

Where Is The Black Julia Roberts? Part 2

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

Note: To see Part 1, which featured a breakdown of several of the box-office performances of several leading black actresses, go here.

III. The State Of The Black Leading Lady

It’s hard to be a woman in Hollywood. It’s hard to be black in Hollywood. So, obviously, it stands to reason it’s hard to be a black woman. It can be boring to hear — “black women have it tough, huh, what else is new?” — but it’s true!

One good place to start is New York‘s new “Star Market,” which is a great resource for people wanting to know more about how stars are made and unmade by the throngs of publicists, casting directors, producers and studio execs in Hollywood. One theme from the feature rings clear: it’s much tougher for women. The 2000s haven’t been bad to black actors and actresses: stars like Will Smith and Queen Latifah rose in power; 22 actors and actresses were nominated for and 7 won Academy Awards — in the previous 70 years, only 36 had been nominated and 6 had won. But the overall picture for black women is less rosy than for their male counterparts: most black-led independent and mainstream films are centered on men.

It’s hard to assign blame. Surely, the industry’s partially at fault: too few black/women directors, screenwriters, people above/below the line. But the industry also responds to what America wants, and year after year, movies led by white/men top the box office. Every once in awhile, something shakes the conventional wisdom — Sex and the City, or films by Sandra Bullock , Tyler Perry and Will Smith — but the conventional wisdom more or less remains because Hollywood is congenitally cautious. Once again, who’s to blame? Most films fail, and job security is hard to come by, so how much can we blame industry workers for not taking risks? I don’t know. Let’s talk about it.

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Casting Call for White Samurai Guys

by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

This casting call just dropped into my mailbox. It’s for an untitled music video and appears to be looking for white guys to play “Samurai Guys,” an Asian man to model for the makeup test, and females of all ethnicities to play sexy dancer types. Check it out:

Untitled Music video – samurai guys

Samurai guys
Male / 22 to 30 / Caucasian, Mixed
Anyone who has ever played a samurai, longish hair, fit, they are looking for caucasian or maybe a mix, think Tom Cruise in “Last Samurai”. Pays $350 a day, for 2 days. PLEASE indicate fencing or sword ability, not necessary but it would be a plus.

Asian man for make up test
Male / 22 to 32 / Asian
Should be no more than a couple of hours on Monday, pays $150, submit if you want to be a make up model for a couple of hours!

Dancers types
Female / 18 to 28 / All Ethnicities, AfricanAm, Am-Indian, Asian, Caucasian, East-Ind, Hispanic, MidEastern, Mixed, PacificIsland
Works either Tues or Wed, pays $350, dancer types, sexy, to audition today in Hollywood. PLS submit if you can make it!

Hot Model types
Female / 18 to 26 / Caucasian
Beautiful model types, must be available to audition today in Hollywood, pays $1000 per day, word Tues and Wed next week.

heavy samurais
Male / 30 to 50 / Caucasian, Mixed
heavy set guys, more like sumo wrestler types, works Tues and Wed, pays $350 a day, must be avail to audition today. Thx!

Let me get this straight. They’re looking for a bunch of white guys to play fake Asian samurai guys, but when it comes to actual Asian men, they just want an Asian face for a few hours to test the makeup — presumably, the yellowface makeup they’re going to use for the white samurai.

Meanwhile, they need a bunch of hot, multiethnic ladies to dance around and adorn the video with some color. Ridiculous. (Thanks, Douglas.)

Casting & Race, Part 3: The Race Lift

by Guest Contributor J Chang, originally published in Init_MovingPictures

While there is a tension between the actor’s craft and the necessity for verisimilitude in mainstream entertainment film and television, we’ve noted that cinematic verisimilitude is critical for enjoyment of a film. In the case of race, that means casting actors who would believably appear the race of the character.

Of course, I then devoted an entire entry this this series to analyze the fact that producers, filmmakers and actors ignored this requirement for cinematic verisimilitude by donning prosthetics and face paint to play characters not of their own race. I also noted how this practice, dubbed “colorface”, was steeped in a history of racist practices, both in its historical origin in minstrel shows and in its denial of casting of actors of color.

But, the racism present that resulted in white actors playing characters of color was not only a product of individual attitudes towards race in the industry, but a result of systemic racism. The kind of racism that suggests to producers, investors, directors and casting directors that people of color can’t lead a film, which leads them to cast a white actor, not because they necessarily because of a lack of talent, but because they were afraid for their bottom line. The kind of racism that results in less actors of color joining the A-list. The kind of racism that causes audiences to ignore films not featuring A-list actors of color at the box office, further causing actors of color not to get cast. This is not the fault of any individual or cabal, but rather reflective of the racism present in society as a whole.

But, of course, we’ve still made some progress. While colorface still does occur (its modern incarnation often uses much less face paint), it is more commonly and widely deemed unacceptable and we are even less likely to see horrifically stereotyped caricatures in mainstream film and television. Continue reading

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.

Casting & Race Part 1: The Tension [Essay]

by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures

Ever since news of The Last Airbender’s casting broke, there’s been a lot of commotion in the Asian American community about casting and how it seems that Asians are losing to white people in playing Asian characters. Now, there are issues present in the overall casting scene that people are picking up on here, but before I go further in depth on how race fits into casting, I want to lay down some groundwork for the discussion so that we know how to properly frame the arguments.

The Actor’s Craft

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what the actor’s job is. As an actor, I’m aware of the theoretical paradox that we are placed in when playing a role. An actor is essentially taking on the role of someone that they are not. This artifice even extends to the rare case when an actor is playing themselves, as they are still “playing” a character on a stage or in front of a screen, rather than being themselves in real life.

In acting, even core identity matters such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, of the actor, shouldn’t matter. Only that of the character. The actor’s job, their craft, is to play a character that is certainly not themselves. I’m not saying that an actor’s actual identity won’t influence the way they play their character, but that ideally, a talented actor will overcome their own identity to play the character believably.

But this is speaking only of the actual job of acting and not the negotiating between the actor, the audience and the medium.

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