Colour Blind Casting

07 Nov 2017, Posted by Nicci in Casting Tips

On the face of it things are changing in our industry, people of colour are being cast in more projects, we are seeing more families with same sex parents on our screens, there’s a more accepting view on sexuality and we even have a transgender character in a soap played by a transgender actress. Wow!

But scratch the surface and you’ll sadly find that the pace of change is glacially slow. If there is one glimmer of hope from this appalling Weinstein scandal it is that we can convert this hand-wringing introspection and self-flagellation into some actual catalyst for change. And change things must. And quicker too!

Yes, actors of colour are being cast, but often they are to meet the requirements of quotas, rather than being a first choice. The end result is that they end up playing small roles just to tick a box. It is no surprise therefore that there is such a brain-drain of our many British black actors to the USA. It seems that there they are given the chance on those interim roles that help build careers and ultimately land lead roles. But what about asian or South East asian actors? Sadly there are few opportunities for them to grow their careers that will help them in the UK.

By and large I don’t think that people are inherently racist, biased against disabilities or homophobic, but the whole process seems geared to exclude people who just don’t fit the mould for whatever the reason.

And we are all to blame for this and it starts from day one.

Scripts are often overly prescriptive about people’s looks and racial descriptions surely somebody can be 6ft 2″ tall and handsome without being 6ft 2″ tall, handsome and blonde for example. And if a writer selects the race of a character it is often very stereotypical: a security guard doesn’t have to be black for example, but they often are. We need to develop projects with a more sympathetic and aspirational view of race and with non-stereotypical characters that are memorable and resonant irrespective of the colour of their skin, their disability or their sexuality.

I do get the fact that Producers and Directors are battered by sales agents telling them that they have to get bankable names for sales, and that there are only a limited number of such actors of colour, but they could proactively cast some of these amazing actors we have in the UK in other non-trivial roles. Then in a few years time we will have more choices.

Casting directors are not blameless and surprisingly neither are some artistes agents themselves some of whom need to think laterally when roles come up. But ultimately however much we champion certain talent we don’t have the final say. That rests with the Producers and Money Men (and yes sadly they are most often men)!

Ironically my view is that we don’t need to be focussed on race at all. We just need to use the best talent irrespective of preconceptions about race, disablity, gender, the characters off the page and quotas.

Because it’s not as if it’s like this across the whole media industry – the world of commercials productions is now much more indicative of society. We now have positive black families, gay and lesbian couple and we even have a deaf actor selling Maltesers. Genius!

So I ask all my colleagues across fictional content production that when you write a character or approach casting for non-trivial roles or submit talent for jobs that you become colour blind and take off your blinkers. The talent is out there just waiting.

  • Ebony

    Hi Nicci ,

    This is such an honest great post! As a young black actress I have personally found it exceptionally hard to get jobs in the UK. I always get the move to America advice like other fellow black actors who have found huge success over there. Moving forward what kind of advice would you give me on this ?

  • Bill Blackwood


    As always great article. Part of my life outside acting is this sort of thing. What we are looking at sadly is often unconcious bias, something the learned people at Harvard were talking about in 1998 through the Implicit project. A lot of people have never heard of unconcious bias but unfirtunately we all have it.
    This article explains more https://www.fastcompany.com/40404485/these-millennials-took-harvards-bias-test-heres-what-they-learned
    I encourage everyone to take the free annonymous test on the Harvard site
    Keep up the good work ‘The way to change things isn’t through silence’

  • Veronica

    Hi Nicci,
    this is the most positive, logical perspective I have read about the industry to date. In agreement with Ebony, as a black talented female it has been so difficult to get work in Media/ TV/ Film let a lone get my ‘toe’ into the paid work doorway! Regardless of your potential and your talent the first thing the powers that be see… is my colour. I am definitely in support of your #ColourBlind campaign and would love to get involved with any future Colour Blind awareness projects you have in mind. I also, have some powerful ideas of my own.
    #EnoughIsEnough be #ColourBlind

  • alan hamilton

    I fully agree Nicci, It’s about the right casting for the right role, and if that person shines and oozes screen presence and owns the part, They surely should get the thumbs up. It doesnt matter what their ethnicity is or star status etc. At the end of the day yep the producers and so called money men and money women have stiff competitors too and so they need bankable names mostly. But some great tv people I have worked with have given a young Liverpool talent a break as I pitched them with an open mind regardless of their experience to date, they owned the part, the casting director and the producer could see that and that actress got the break they deserved and did a great job. As a casting agent its about not being blinkered with the same old faces and as an agent I think the same and will always try to pitch good ideas and read the casting notes. If I think a new talent curve ball idea is relevant – they will be pitched. Best regards from Liverpool, Alan Hamilton, Hamilton Management.

  • Michael Lynch

    Hi, Nicci,
    I am a freelance agent for Semper Fidelis Model and Talent Agency. Our agency is also a COLOUR BLIND AGENCY. However, as we’re not well known we find it very difficult to get Casting Directors to send us their casting briefs. There are lots of information for actors but there is no information for an agency like ours. Nevertheless, this is a great article.
    Our agency receives more briefs from Casting Directors from the United States than from Casting Directors in the UK, which is very sad. We were told we would have better success over in the USA, but we have to trust our UK Casting Directors.
    Best regards from Sheffield, Michael Lynch, Semper Fidelis Model and Talent Agency.


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