Race and the Realities of Showbiz

“Oh. She’s Hispanic.” A client of mine looked down at her phone, her face tinged with no slight amount of bitterness. My client had been on hold for a supporting role in a Brie Larsen film. She had been in frequent contact with her reps, who at that point didn’t know any more than she did about where casting was going with the role. She had been constantly checking the film’s IMDbPro page, watching as production attached more actors to various roles. The character she was on hold for had been blank for days—until now. My client is a pretty sassy Caucasian actor. The woman who ultimately booked the role was a pretty, sassy Hispanic actress.

Another client, who is half Japanese and half German, is regularly called into auditions seeking “mixed ethnicity” actors, only to discover—at the casting office—they’re really looking for half black and half white. When she’s called in for white roles, she’s often labeled as “too exotic.” And, when called in for Asian roles, she gets the note that she’s “not Asian enough.”

As an acting coach, I hear all of it. Caucasian actors complaining about how ethnic or mixed ethnicity actors are so highly desired that they can often leap frog to the front of the line, securing better agents and managers, cool network diversity showcases etc. The ethnic actors that I coach complain that there are fewer series regular roles available to them, and how they tire of going out for stock characters. Hispanic actresses are tired of going out for nannies and cleaning ladies. Hispanic actors are tired of going out for gang members. Asian actors are tired of reading for math geniuses, doctors, computer whizzes, and fresh off the boat non-English-speaking un-couth strangers. Will Smith remains the only black actor to save the world.

Do ethnic actors have an advantage over white actors? Yes and no.

Do white actors have an advantage over ethnic actors? Yes and no.

As recent events have shown, race is a highly charged subject in America. Period. It’s equally as charged in show business. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t discuss it. 

Let’s speak frankly. This business isn’t fair. Anyone who contests that needs to wake up, pack up and move to Vermont and open a candy shop. Sometimes the part goes to the actor banging one of the producers. Sometimes the part goes to the girl whose mom went to summer camp with the writer’s sister. Sometimes the part goes to the actor whose agent plays golf with the director. Sometimes the part goes to the actor with the most Twitter followers. And sometimes, the part goes to the most talented actor. The point is that depending on one’s perspective, the playing field can look skewed for some and not for others.

It’s the same with race. Does the part sometimes go to the actor who’s ethnic simply because the producers think the cast looks too damn white, and they need to add a token Asian or black guy? Yes. Sometimes that happens. Are other ethnicities—not just African Americans under represented in film? Absolutely.

What’s truly disturbing is the fact that we keep reaching the point where we’re making these last minute afterthought casting decisions. Why weren’t all ethnicities considered and treated equally from the very beginning? Why racism is alive and well and at a boiling point, is because we keep treating the symptoms of it, rather than the root cause—ignorance.

The reality is, it’s hard to pinpoint who has the advantage in the business; it's so goddamn hard. When you point at an ethnicity that is not your own and you say, “they have an easier time than me” really you’re just absolving yourself from a certain amount of responsibility for your own destiny.

Race relations in America are worse than ever, despite slavery having existed for over 200 years. Segregation in the south was a real thing just 50 years ago or so. How far have we moved forward or backwards? Seems like it should be a lot further. The skewed playing field of ethnicity in show business is a reflection of our damaged race relations in America and our attempts to fix them.

Take it upon yourself to make it in part your mission to be among the generation of conscious and compassionate artists that help to abandon stereotypes and to expand the current limitations put upon all ethnic groups. As always, you’re accountable and responsible for creating your own success. It’s never enough to only be a great actor without also being a decent human being. At our studio, we believe in helping the actor to discover their best self, while simultaneously helping them to reach Oscar potential.