Why Casting Matters
Stories in film are given gritty reboots, adaptations, shared universes, spinoff treatments and everything else in-between. By now we are used to seeing our favorite stories reinterpreted with all new actors stepping into the shoes of our favorite characters, we’ve had three different Peter Parkers in the last 15 years alone. One aspect of filmmaking that is beginning to get a lot of attention lately is casting, and for very good reasons, the stories we’re being sold don’t reflect America’s diversity.
Great casting choices, adds not only to the role but can add another layer to the story. This is especially true in Super Hero films, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man and Heath Ledger as the Joker are great examples, entire franchises and cult followings can be built around them. They are great examples of why casting matters. As stories begin to world build audience are becoming more and more aware of the effects of casting. Changing an ethnically diverse character to white and you are now essentially rewriting the characters backstory.
Recently there has been a lot of outcry online because the live action version of Ghost in the Shell has cast Scarlett Johansson as the Major. Are people being too sensitive or is there reason to be worried about the casting choice? It seems that people are responding to not only the “white washing” of beloved anime property but also of Hollywoods choice again to mishandle a well known story and thereby unintentionally sending an ugly message to its under represented audience.
Minorities make up nearly 40% of the population in the United States, as diversity continues to increase so does the preference for diverse Film and Television content.
Recently that not only have films with diverse casts been huge draws in the Domestic box office but also overseas, however this begs the question why did it take so long to see ourselves reflected on screen, did Hollywood think Americans weren’t ready to see a non-white face? One can only wonder what the gatekeepers think—actually they’ve sent us a clear message about what they think. However audience taste have grown more sophisticated and people are becoming more and more aware of the choices on the screen.
If the shoe fits
Money drives the decision making process behind the typical blockbuster, and in order to make a lot of money you need a bankable star, let’s say for the sake of demonstration, Matt Damon. Then there are factors like analytics which try to predict the success of the movie, usually before the film even gets made, ironically this data contributes to the creative choices being made—and to Hollywood groupthink. from the stand point of a studio exec or an Hollywood accountant, it makes a lot of sense, but if you base your data on past trends and patterns that have been around since the Hays code, then you can see where things get problematic. There’s a strong need for change in the Industry.
Recently we’ve witnessed films featuring diverse leads blow away expectations and make noise at the Oscars(finally) but the familiar blows are still arriving in form of confusing casting choices. Even Netflix is Receiving backlash for adapting the manga Death Note into a live action show with a predominately white cast.
Adaptations it seems are tricky territory as creators are beginning to learn and not all mistakes are the result of intentional racism, it’s just that something is beginning to reveal itself— and that is. . . that Hollywood has a huge diversity issue that can’t be ignored any longer. Success of a property will begin to depend more and more on these types choices.
Story is King
The stories we are telling are a reflection of our values, so when more than half the movie going population is buying the tickets but less 12.9% of the lead roles are people of color than what type of story are we telling?