Media, Woe

Over on RaceWire, Jonathan Adams posted the casting call for Beyonce’s new AMEX commercial. It’s worth reproducing here in full:

Seeking, Principles:

[BEYONCE'S ASSISTANT ]
Female / Caucasian / 30-34
Real people types. Non commercial. She is smart, sharp
and efficient. Rate: Sag Scale

[ HAIR STYLIST ]
Male / Caucasian / 28-33 Stylish. Real people types. Rate: Sag Scale

[ MAKE-UP ARTIST ]
Female / Asian / 25-33 Hip. Real people types. Artsy. Rate: Sag Scale

[ MUSIC ENGINEER ]
Male / African Am, Caucasian / 30-33 Real people types. Non commercial types. Rate: Sag Scale

[ MUSIC PRODUCER #2 ]
Male / African Am / 35-38 /A little bit older than Producer #1. Real people types. Should look natural working on a track board. Rate: Sag Scale

[ MUSIC PRODUCER #1 ]
Male / African Am / 27-33 /Real people types. Believable. Should look natural working on a track board. Rate: Sag Scale

[ PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSISTANT #2 ]
Female / Caucasian / 20-25 /SHE is an Italian hip and stylish Rate: Sag Scale

[ PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSISTANT #1 ]
Male / Caucasian / 30-33 /HE is an Italian hip and stylish. Note: Photographer #1 a bit older. Rate: Sag Scale

[ ITALIAN PHOTOGRAPHER ]
Male / Caucasian / 40-45 /HE is Hip and edgy. MUST know how to handle a camera. 40-45. Rate: Sag Scale

[ JAPANESE PARENTS ]
Male or Female / Asian / 35-40 /Real Japanese type parents for record store scene. Rate: Sag Scale

[ JAPANESE FANS ]
Male or Female / Asian / 15-22 /Real Japanese kids. Cool looking. Record store scene. Rate: Sag Scale

[ (6) AUSTRIAN REPORTERS ]
Male or Female / Caucasian / 25-45 /Interesting faces. Real people not commercial. No models. AUSTRALIAN TYPES. Rate: Sag Scale

[ (6) GERMAN REPORTERS ]
Male or Female / Caucasian / 25-45 /Interesting faces. Real people not commercial looking. No Models. GERMAN TYPES. Rate: Sag Scale

Several people have noted that the only black folks allowed in are music producers. Adams comments: “I never really thought of photographers or reporters or music lovers as specific races or ethnicities but this commercial seemingly attempts to define these for me.”

Yes, yes it kinda does.

When attempting to discuss the ways in which television and/or advertising decision makers either keep people of color out of view or assign them to stereotypical roles, many try to argue that it’s not the show/commercial’s fault, maybe there just aren’t enough actors of color around! A cattle call is just that–anyone can show up. While that seems like it should be how things are, Should and Is do not always match up.

If we consumers had never seen this casting call and just watched the commercial, how would we have assumed each of the roles were chosen? Would we think that they just chose the best person who gave an audition for hair stylist or a makeup artist, regardless of race or gender? Possibly. It’s not always apparent that casting directors are often given such specific mandates. Those mandates go out to agents or casting papers or wherever as we see them here. If a black man wanted to audition for hair stylist he, well, couldn’t.

It’s nice to see that they are looking for a lot of different ethnicities for this commercial(s). It probably has to do with Beyonce’s crossover appeal (words that translate into ‘She’s a safe black/beige person’). But Adams asks the million dollar question: “There has to be room for race in Hollywood casting, but how should it be executed? This casting call limits people of color to stereotypical roles, but there are many more casting calls that do not even call for people of color.”

Yeah.

Stuff like this shows, yet again, that the problem is a top-down one. It’s not that there aren’t enough actors of color around and it’s not that they can’t be bothered to show up for casting calls. It’s that they aren’t being asked to show up. They aren’t being asked to show up because parts that aren’t written for a specific race often default to white. Non-specific parts default to white because the director and producers and executives aren’t actively involved in making sure that attitude isn’t prevalent. Which executives/producers/directors are involved in such attitude-changing practices? I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

18 Responses

  1. Wow.

    Also, some of the other people get personality trait descriptions like “artsy”, “efficient”, “hip and stylish”. The music producer characters just need to “look natural working a track board”.

  2. Also, all of the tech work goes to men, while women “get” to be ASSISTANTS.

  3. Whoa. This casting call really hits home about the problem. I wonder whether Beyonce has any say in stuff like this, or whether it’s driven by the AMEX people (who also want to use Beyonce’s “crossover appeal”)?

  4. This sort of thing pisses me off in the extreme. I don’t know if it’s similarly scripted out, but the same thing bothers me about CSI, actually… How all three shows (Vegas, NYC, Miami) adhere rigidly to a formula:

    Lead: white male
    2nd in charge: white female
    the rest: a scattering of minorities and white people.

    There’s a distinct order to the roles I mean, I’m glad CSI has minorities, but I get the feeling that they’re only there because it fits a certain quota calculated to maximize audience (which is why the commercial made me think of it). Unless a character’s race is actually a vital part of their personality (which is more true to real life, I think, than to entertainment), all casting sessions should be colorblind.

  5. Where are the African-American females in this commercial?

  6. It’s madness. “GERMAN TYPES”? Why specify gender, race, ethnicity, or age when you’re trying to cast “real people types”? It’s present in the writing of scripts, where everything is spelled out in the first place, for no good reason except to reinforce stereotypes. If the script doesn’t include a part for an African Am women, then the casting director won’t consider one, and the agencies won’t send any to auditions.

  7. What are “real people types” supposed to be, one wonders?

  8. I’m assuming ti means people who don’t look like actors or models. you know, NORMAL people.

    I’m sure that there are many commercial actors and actresses whose specialty is being the “normal” person in commercials that call for such.

  9. Man there is a lot of fodder in that casting call. ‘Real people types’? ‘Non-commercial types’? ‘Interesting faces’?

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that this sort of thing goes on, although I assumed it’s something that they did in their heads. I’m surprised when a commercial goes against the grain of stereotypes, which is pretty rare.

  10. Notice how they specify Austrian first and then switch to Australian.

    What is a real “Austrian” type? What is a real Japanese type? I suspect they’re looking for stereotypes, even as they specify that they want non-actor looking people.

  11. They can’t tell Austria from Australia?
    They also use “Caucasian” as a code-word for “White”. I used to think that was what it meant – when I was at school, *cough*ty*cough* years ago …
    (puts pedant hat on)
    The people who wrote that casting call should google “Caucasus”, “Grozny”, “Baku”, “Moscow Theatre Siege”.
    I think they’d be surprised if actual Caucasians turned up …
    (/pedant)

  12. Anybody who’s involved in film or theater sees these all the time. I hope nobody thinks this is specific to this one commercial; race is specified OFTEN in casting calls, and rarely in situations where it actually matters.

  13. This is shocking. But not in the least surprising.

  14. Oh my goodness this is very surprising. This is a real eye opener because sometimes even I must admit I don’t pay attention to commericals and what the real messages these commercials are sending to the viewer.

  15. Do you think they know there are actual black Germans/Austrians – not to mention all those Turkish/Indonesian/Jewish/Bulgarian/Greek/Italian and etc. etc. Germans. What do they think is a German type, I wonder?

  16. If black people don’t want to start their own production companies or movie studios or opportunites then we need to stop bitching.

  17. Lmary: Black people do have their own production companies and movie studios.

    And even if they didn’t, everyone has the right to bitch. ;-)

  18. I don’t think the commercial itself is trying to send the message. That’s looking at it backwards. You can bet some intensive demographic research went into dictating the race and gender of each person. As a rule, the simpler an advert is, the better it is, and stereotypes are so simple, aren’t they?

    This is more a mirror than anything.

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