THE ERROR BEHIND QUID PRO QUO CASTING

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in the film industry this week, percentages, quotas and inclusion in the arts.

One very disturbing philosophy I’ve heard discussed is attaching statistics of who exists in America with how many jobs we deserve to have.

This quid pro quo sentiment in casting does not make any sense to me. Yes, our fight for inclusion is about Equal Employment Opportunity and Universal Access to be considered for said opportunities. But it’s also about a moral imperative to collectively make theatre, film and television more accurately reflect the world we live in. Inclusion. It’s a good thing for all of us. Not because it’s “politically correct” (a term that I despise, as I think it has become a derogatory label for something that a person is aware is offensive but wants to say anyway) — but because inclusion can lead to understanding each other’s differences and similarities while helping to build our collectively peaceful co-existence. That’s my dream, anyway.

Just looking at Asian Americans for now, according to the 2010 census, we make up 5.6% of the population (though according to the Pew Research Center, we are the fastest rising racial group in the US, so there’s bound to be more of us in 2016 and beyond). If you reason that Asian Americans therefore only deserve to get 5.6% of all roles in theatre, film and television — it does not take into account that this number is massively diluted by the huge amount of content in the hundreds and hundreds of plays and movies and television shows that are produced. So the plays and movies and television shows we watch that take place in major cities in the U.S., and in the present day, actually look nothing like they do in real life. From my point of observation, hospitals, law offices, police forces, universities, diners and coffee shops in cities like NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Honolulu and San Francisco (to name just a few of the popular locations portrayed in the media) are populated with people of all races, cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, abilities and disabilities — even the people who are leading players at these hospitals, law offices, police forces, universities, diners and coffee shops! In many cases, these real places full of real people don’t resemble their TV and film and theatre counterparts even 5.6% of the time.

The wonderful news for those of us in the business of making theatre, film and television is that all of these mediums have an astounding opportunity to influence how we perceive ourselves, and each other. Why not use that power to promote inclusion in the world by holding a true mirror up to it and expanding the boundaries of the American landscape of storytelling — so that we can all share in its triumphs and tribulations, the way we actually do? I don’t know about you, but these are the kinds of authentic stories I’m most interested in seeing. And make no mistake: the content exists and the artists exist. We simply (though it’s clearly not so simple) all need to be open to the idea of letting each other breathe and tell our stories. Together.

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