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Diversity in Film Casting 


August marks 18 years since I left England behind and made the Bay Area my home. 18 years since my carefully-crafted English vowels started blending into the North American ones; 18 years since I started no longer sounding like the Queen of England; 18 years since no bus driver has said “what?!” to my “Sutter/Stockton” or a flight attendant “say that again?!” to my pronunciation of “water”.

18 years since those days, but more like over 20 years since I am a woman in the arts trying to “fit in” linguistically or physically. In the XXI century, we talk about diversity, we want to acknowledge it, but can’t seem to find a way to genuinely understand it beyond the concept of a box of colored crayons or ticking some boxes to satisfy some quota. Surely there must be a lot more to diversity than drawing some superficial conclusions.

Even though I knew it wouldn’t be a small feat, when I arrived to San Francisco with a VHL demo tape under my arm, a black and white theatrical headshot and a decent CV for an actress who started in her teens, I had every hope to find an agent. But the first comment when I was finally in front of an agent after an on-camera audition of what seemed to be a tongue twister of the /θ/ sound in a “Thrift” drugstore, I was told I was “too ethnic” and hard to put in a category. This is exactly what I didn’t want because, to me, being an actor’s actor means the ability to be whomever needed. Why pigeon-whole ourselves? I understand that in casting there is a need to create “categories”. However, if we don’t allow actors to show range, to play characters, to become unrecognizable from one part to the next, what has been the meaning of years of training, human study and the ability to be a chameleon both physically and vocally?  

I look back at the journey left behind and wonder about the one ahead as I transition from yet another category and navigate the uncertain waters of casting in film and theatre hoping for a day when actors will be allowed to be exactly what they are. And while sometimes it will be ‘handy’ to have an actor play ‘themselves’ (be of the same origin as the role) it will ultimately be a joy for them to be considered actors with the freedom and ability to create personas without being solely restricted to the narrow pool of what their looks and nationality seems to those in charge of casting. After all, if we don’t break free from this small pool directly into the ocean, how could we successfully shift perceptions and increase awareness of the multicultural world we live in today?

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