Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Questions About Hollywood Casting

What is Colorism?
We reference the term “colorism” frequently on the website. Colorism is a form of discrimination in which people are accorded differing social and economic treatment based on skin color. Colorism occurs across the world and can occur within an ethnic group or between different ethnic groups. In most entertainment industries–including Hollywood–lighter skin tone is given preferential treatment and darker skin tone is considered less desirable. Oftentimes, heroes are cast with lighter skin and villains are cast with darker skin.

Does Racebending.com support quotas or colorblind casting?
We feel that Hollywood should give more representation to groups that are currently underrepresented–which is not the same as either of those policies. Quotas and colorblind casting do not directly address historic and current systemic inequalities.

Would Racebending.com rather have movie studios cast the best actor for the role or the actor who looks like or has the same ethnicity as the character?
Acting talent and ethnicity are not mutually exclusive–nor is acting ability some sort of innate racial trait. Any cultural or ethnic community in the United States will contain talented actors, so a movie studio should never argue that they had to choose between casting a talented white actor to play a character of color or an actor of color with terrible skills. There are equally talented actors of color, and they deserve the chance to represent their communities.

How does Racebending.com feel about ‘colorblind casting’?
Racebending.com absolutely supports casting a role without considering an actor’s ethnicity, with a few caveats.

One is that ‘colorblindness’ should not be a free pass to ignore race, ethnicity, or culture altogether. A system that does not recognize race will also become unable to recognize when race-based discrimination does occur. And, given that in American society–and particularly in Hollywood–the default color is white, organizations like the Media Action Network for Asian Americans have found that when the ethnicity of a character is not listed in a casting call, old habits die hard and actors who are white may be preferenced anyway. Colorblindness should not be used as an excuse to ignore disparities or discrimination in Hollywood.

Another caveat is the double standard. This occurs when studios cast characters of color in a “colorblind” manner, but do not cast characters who are white in a “colorblind” manner. In this situation, studios select actors who are white to play characters of color (usually the lead) but actors of color are rarely selected to play characters who are white.

Lastly, it is important for studios to recognize that actors of color and actors from other underrepresented groups represent their communities. Nothing is stopping Hollywood from casting an abled-bodied actor to portray a person in a wheelchair, a male actor to portray a female character, and a white actor to portray a person of color–but there is a great distinction between an actor portraying a character, and an actor representing for an already underrepresented community. It would certainly behoove movie studios to take representation into consideration when casting for roles where the character’s identity as a member of an underrepresented group factors into the portrayal.

Is Racebending.com saying that white people can’t play Asians? Isn’t that reverse racism? Shouldn’t actors be able to play any role?
Casting characters of color with white actors sends the message that white people are more qualified to represent people of color than people of color themselves.

“Reverse racism” isn’t endemic in Hollywood right now; quite the opposite. There are actors of color actors equally as talented as the white actors selected to play the roles in The Last Airbender–except Ringer, Peltz, and Rathbone have other lead roles (white leading characters) open to them and actors of color do not. 82% of lead roles in Hollywood go to white actors. Less than 2% of lead roles go to Asian actors and less than 1% go to Native American actors.

Asian American actors should have the same opportunities to play Asian characters as white actors have to play white characters.

Does Racebending.com believe that only people from a certain group should be able to play characters from that group? For example, what does Racebending.com feel about British actors playing Italian characters?
Again, we’re examining double standards applied to actors of color in Hollywood.

Helen Zia quoted Actor’s Equity in her book, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People : “To further suggest that Equity advocates the narrow-minded view that Jews can only play Jews, or Italians can only play Italians, or any similar casting that is drawn strictly along racial or ethnic lines, totally distorts the issue. Jews have always been able to play Italians, Italians have always been able to play Jews, and both have always been able to play Asian. Asian actors, however, almost never have the opportunity to play either Jews or Italians and continue to struggle even to play themselves.”

In addition to not seeing these movies, why launch letter writing movements, protests, and the website?
Racebending.com believes that it is important for media consumers to put studios that discriminate on notice. We are vocally protesting and pointing out that the kinds of casting practices used by The Last Airbender and other films are embarrassing, discriminative, and inappropriate. We hope to show the film industry that consumers will no longer stand for discriminative casting and that these practices are no longer financially viable.

What if casting decisions are driven not by racial discrimination but by financial motivations? Perhaps moviegoers would not see a movie without white actors?
It is certainly patronizing if Hollywood believes that most viewers are so intolerant and narrow-minded that they must need a white viewpoint in the story in order to ‘get it’.  White American audiences have happily embraced films like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Slumdog Millionaire, and they also fell in love with Avatar: The Last Airbender even though all of the characters were people of color.

By casting The Last Airbender and other films the way they have, Hollywood has lost revenue from minority families excited by the prospect of a kids movie where their ethnicity is represented, people pleased that casting was done in a culturally competent manner, and all the fans who are boycotting the film now. Financially-driven discrimination is still discrimination, and would be unacceptable in any other industry.

Index of Frequently Asked Questions