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Caucasian Preferred: Institutional Racism in Casting Notices
By: Mickael
You’ve been scheduled for your first job interview in months. You iron your best shirt and show up 30 minutes early to show that you’re a “go-getter”. As you wait in the reception area, your hands sweaty from nerves, you mentally recite HR manager buzz phrases in an effort to convince yourself that you are indeed a “self-motivated self-starter” and a “team player”. You try to recollect all “17 Tips for a GREAT Interview” written by so-called experts on About.com and Yahoo Answers: make eye contact, be direct, smile. What were the rest? Oh shit, he’s ready for you. The interviewer introduces himself and prepares to ask his first question. You know you have to give a thorough, detailed response just like BonerPwner69 said on Yahoo Answers, and if anybody knows anything about BonerPwner69, it’s that she has her shit together. You aren’t merely awaiting your opportunity to speak; no, that’s what impatient children do. You actively listen to every syllable of the question as the interviewer is asking it. “You have two ears, but just one mouth,” according to BonerPwner69, “so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” You feel totally prepared to answer the first question:
That was a scene from Deep Cover, a 1992 action thriller directed by Bill Duke and written by Michael Tolkin. It’s abrupt. It’s disruptive. It’s... actually closer to reality than it is to fiction, as far as Hollywood hiring practices go. Actors don’t just submit an electronic application or join Monster.com to land a job. Their resume is a demo reel. Their interview is an audition. The job listings they scour for months to land a paying gig are called casting notices, and today I’ve looked at every casting call that’s currently open for feature films. I’m looking only at the top 2 lead actor / lead actress positions in each film; not bit parts, day players, or supporting cast. We’re looking at the acting equivalent to the full-time job with benefits to determine how many of these premium positions are available to ALL applicants, compared to how many are limited to people of specific ethnic backgrounds. For the rest of us, that isn’t even a consideration: every job offer applies indiscriminately to people of all races. The only differentiation made between applicants is related to each individual’s level of education, their skill set, and previous employment experience. For actors, unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the case.

I have a record of each film, their shooting locations, and the individual that posted the casting notices. However, I will not be revealing this information at any point in the article, because the purpose of this piece is not to cry “gotcha!” at specific individuals or to target production companies that are racially biased in their casting. In a creative environment, we must understand that there are many variables which can determine the physical appearance of a character, and since I do not possess all of the information about the characters and script that the producers have, I will not pass judgment. My intention, instead, is to shine a light on the overall process of casting in Hollywood. To show the reality that is faced by minority actors, and to reveal that there is an institutional inequality at play. One which overrides all talent, experience, common sense, and indeed even human dignity itself. There is a powerful bias virus that has infected the film industry.
One such example of racial bias in movie casting has played out quite publicly over the last several years. In 2014, E-mails between studio executives were released in the “Sony hack” which revealed that actor Idris Elba was being considered to take up the mantle of James Bond. This revelation exposed a generation gap, with aged and staunch protectors of “the old ways” touting that such a re-cast would be akin to “casting a white guy as Shaft”. The ever-reliable young people, who so rarely have their heads up their asses about this sort of thing, took the entirely reasonable position that it doesn’t fucking matter what race James Bond is, considering he’s entirely fictional and has already been white 26 times, so maybe the world wouldn’t end if somebody else got a chance to portray him. But then they said something about riding fixed-gear smartcars, eating free-range kale, and Instagramming from a vegan crossfit class or some such nonsense and we remembered why we don’t listen to young people. They’re just the worst, aren’t they?
Minority Actors are More Likely to be Cast as the Bad Guy...
Oh, yeah! That’s right, we were talking about the unique difficulty of being a minority actor looking for a part. Not all thespians are afforded the same opportunities. It’s not just that minorities get fewer opportunities (although that’s true as well), it’s that the few roles they are considered for are different. For one thing, minorities are more likely to be cast as the bad guy. Of the lead roles currently being cast, 15.2% are designated specifically for actors of certain ethnicities. Of those roles, around 35% are described in the casting notice as being for a villain. Compare that with the roles that are designated specifically for caucasian actors, of which only 4% were labelled as antagonists. Apparently, when tasked with imagining anything in the whole wide world to be intimidated or threatened by, most people in Hollywood can’t think of anything scarier than brown people.
...If They're Even Cast at All
Just over 58% of the current open casting notices are specifically soliciting caucasians for their leads. This is not to say that 58% of lead roles will actually GO to caucasians. No, no, no, don’t be so silly! Actually, 73.1% of all characters in the top 100 films of 2014 were caucasian. So, my finding of 58% caucasian-only recruitment is a tad low. Represented in my findings are merely the casting agents that are bold enough to be overtly discriminatory in their hiring postings. There are also postings for producers, investors, and other financial support. Interestingly, 100% of these do not discriminate by ethnic background. There is not a single post for “need money- caucasian preferred”, just like there isn’t a single film trailer that says, “come watch this movie: WHITES ONLY”. When it comes time to get paid, green is the only color Hollywood sees.
It's Time for Us to Burn Our Idols.
Why must so many characters be whites of European descent? If you’ve built the entire production around a specific star, let’s stay Robert Downey Jr, and you need to cast his biological parent or child, then yes; I see the need for maintaining some resemblence between the characters. With a character like Indiana Jones, for example, there’s no need to maintain racial guidelines. He’s a professor who goes on adventures, is charming and charismatic, always as quick with a quip as he is with his whip. His family wasn’t even revealed until the 3rd film. This particular character was inspired by the swashbuckling adventure film serials of the 30s, and his look is based more specifically on Charlton Heston’s character in 1954’s Secret Of The Incas. So, the reason Indiana Jones turned out to be white is because that’s the way heroes were represented in a time before the Civil Rights movement. However, why does Superman have to be white these days? He’s an alien. His home planet has been destroyed. He has no relatives. Couldn’t there be a Puerto Rican Superman? Or a black Superman?
Not all of These Decisions are Malicious...
Not all biases are steeped in hatred. If a white producer is teamed up with a white director, and they hire a white casting agent to assist with filling the roles; each of these 3 professionals read the script through the lense of their personal experience. Any character whose race is not explicitly stated in the script is pictured as caucasian because it’s the “default” setting in their brains. If each of those professionals were living in London, then they would imagine the characters speaking with a British accent, as long as the writer didn’t dictate otherwise. If the director was Japanese, he would likely picture the protagonist with an Asian appearance. It’s a form of attributional bias called “projection bias”, where one think that others have similar attributes to themselves, even if that is unlikely. That part is completely natural and absolutely not indicative of a racial prejudice. The thing that is unnerving to me, though, is how a bunch of creative and imaginative people can come together to build their masterpiece while being so callously exclusive in their hiring practices.
...But, It's Still Discrimination
I am not a reporter. I am a writer. The difference is that reporters are obligated to strive for objectivity, while writers are allowed to bitch and moan. Because of that, I’m allowed to say this: the casting process is discriminatory, racist, and it demeans the existence of people from minority ethnic backgrounds. According to the current open casting calls, 58.2% of all lead roles are available to caucasians only. This is in contrast to the 23.8% of lead roles that are technically open to any ethnicity, although we’ve seen that the lion’s share of these will also go to white actors. 5.9% of roles are for Latinos only, while Indian & African-Americans are each needed for 4.7% of roles. 2.3% of roles are specifically for Arabs, and I’m not joking when I say that all of these were labelled as “Arab terrorist”. For any of you that have been thinking that it’s acceptable to hire predominantly white actors, because they’re considered the “majority”, you should know one thing: caucasians are actually severely over-represented in film, when you consider that this is the demographic breakdown of our world:
It is a testament to the fallacy of the human condition that we can not override our programming long enough to find ourselves capable of sympathizing with, instead of marginalizing, people of different ethnic backgrounds. All of us, regardless of the color of our skin; have similar wants, desires, loves, insecurities, and experiences. Another thing we have in common is that every one of us has an obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect.
Are you fixing to pitch a bitch fit over what I had to say? Please let us know at: cinemaniac@cinemania.co
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