Ethnicity & Casting Calls

Unlike other jobs, casting calls are allowed to specify the ethnicity of the character they are casting for (along with age & gender, etc).

There is a lot of discussion on this topic online and whether it is fair or not, or whether non-traditional (or colour-blind) casting is the way to go (for an introduction to this, see this Wikipedia article).

Submitting to casting calls which specify ethnicity

When a casting call does not mention the ethnicity of the character this means that actors of any ethnicity can apply and we encourage all actors to do so.

However, when casting calls mention a particular ethnicity, then only actors who have selected that ethnicity as part of their profile can apply.

Reasons for certain ethnicities in casting notices

Sometimes there are very legitimate and valid reasons a production will ask for a specific ethnicity. For example:

  • Historical accuracy (e.g. real-life characters, or characters from a certain time/place in history)
  • Family relations (e.g. casting a sibling or child in which case the ethnicity of the character’s family needs to be taken into account)
  • To make a point (e.g. the character is the victim of racism, or part of a particular social group where race or ethnicity is relevant, or the character needs to be a particular ethnicity to emphasise an issue)

Other reasons can be less obvious, for example when a production chooses a particular ethnicity in order to appeal to a particular audience. This last reason can be contentious. For example some adverts know their target group are predominantly from one ethnicity and so they ask for actors from the same group (and this is not always accepted as a legitimate reason by some people):

  • An advert being broadcast in China asks only for Asian actors
  • An advert for a beauty products produced for women of colour asks for Black and Mixed Race actors only

Less obvious is when a brand knows their typical customer is a single ethnicity so they ask for actors only from that ethnicity to advertise it.

Ethical issues

At enCAST we believe that characters should ideally be open to any ethnicity and for this reason we do not specify the ethnicity of a role unless there are compelling reasons why this should be the case.

Ideally, perhaps, any actor should be able to apply for any role and this might encourage productions to make less obvious (and some might say, lazy) choices.

But, we also realise that ethnicity in casting is not clear cut and views change over time so we welcome your comments and suggestions. Finally, if you are interested, please feel free to take this short survey on the matter.

Leave a Reply