CASTING DIRECTOR BLOG

It’s not Black and White

15 Jun 2020, Posted by Nicci in Casting Tips

So as a black woman these recent times have been a rollercoaster ride for me; a ride that culminated in watching the very sad funeral of George Floyd. I feel so sorry for his beautiful family, such a sad waste of life.

I absolutely don’t want this post to be about me, but I’m sure that it won’t surprise anyone that I have been subject to racism both personally and in my career. Personally I have lost count of the amount of sneers and abuse, both overt and covert, I have received in the street and bars, but, more relevant to this post, I have also met with racism within the industry I love too.

After talking to producers on phone when I have subsequently met with them I have been greeted with comments like “Wow! I thought you would have been blonde,” or other observations about how I look. I have even had others who have told me that they have come to me because they HAD to cast black people on this project (more on this later) and so they came to me because I am black!

But my most painful instance happened about 5 years ago when my application to become a member of a well known industry body with very few black or working class members was turned down for no justifiable reason. Just no! You see I wasn’t like them – I wasn’t a double-barrelled, I didn’t live in London, I didn’t sound like them and I didn’t have their social connections – I just worked hard and got shit done all on my own merits, something I am proud of. But in truth I don’t need them, and I now know I never did, But others DO need such support, they might not be as fortunate as I have been.

So we need to have strong foundations to build an equitable and sustainable future for ALL people, especially those without a voice, and we need to see change. But it needs to be MEANINGFUL change. There is a worrying trend that I have seen growing over the past couple of years that I fear is only going to get worse; that of tokenism. I hear producers saying things like…

“Get me some more black people on this project will you… and maybe someone with a disability. We need to tick some boxes on this project or we won’t get funding.”

And now it could get worse. I was recently told that broadcasters and SVODs are focussing on commissioning projects addressing diversity – not comedy, not drama, not thrillers, not horror, but diversity. Is this more tokenism?

Audiences are NOT sat on a sofa saying… “Hey Susan, I tell you what I fancy watching a program about diversity on TV tonight.” They are saying, “make me laugh, make me think, excite me – and hey and whilst your at it make it look like the modern DIVERSE world that I live in.”

So any focus on change has to be real and delivered by people with integrity and I do worry that some of these power-brokers in our industry are only doing so to look after their own backs. They are addressing race because they HAVE to – just look at their boards and tell me that they care about minorities of any type.

And also whilst it is now great that a spotlight is being thrown on black filmmakers and creatives, with EVERYBODY focussed on delivering content in this space such blanket coverage risks audience burnout and a backlash.

This next step should not just be a knee-jerk reaction so we can all feel better about ourselves and be “seen to be doing the right thing” and then everybody moves on when the heat dies down. We need to build a SUSTAINABLE INTEGRATED industry where everybody is colourblind. It should be a meritocracy where black and minority creatives are not just handed roles or jobs because they are black but because they are the right person for the job and that this is the right way to tell the story.

The Gucci Northern Soul Campaign was a dream job for me. Not just working for such a creative brand, but they wanted to use black talent to tell a story from a specific all black viewpoint and they trusted me to find them that exceptional talent – no tick boxes, no stereotypes, just a piece of work of integrity that celebrated black culture and creativity. We need more of this please and not just quotas and knee-jerk reactions by panicking white middle aged men on boards!

I am committed to continue the work I have been doing over the past few years to ensure that actors with talent thrive – whoever or whatever their race, sexuality, gender or disability they have or who they identify with. And I will continue to cast these people at ALL levels in productions I cast.

But we need lasting change in the businesses who make the content we love and that shapes our wonderful culture. Please let’s not screw this up.

  • Bill Bkackwood

    Excellent piece. I do hope we can all work together to make the changes not just in the industry but around the World. I think your first example is a great one of the duality of discrimination so not only racism but sexism as well. I dont recall ever being greeted with I thought you would have been blond, I’m a man why would they?
    I hear what you say about knee jerk over reactions to try and address imbalance.
    Until we see true diversity on the boards of all companies, based on merit not box ticking, until we see it in all that happens in society we will continue to fail
    Thank you for sharing

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  • Emjay Rechsteiner

    Well put Nicci!

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  • Billie-may

    Heart breaking to hear this nicci, u are beautiful lady ,people need to open there eyes and minds blacklivesmatter my partner gets it every day it’s me that loses it he says had it everyday of my life his mum and dad most came from Jamaica in 50 work hard love them so much ,if I have problem with sum one cose of the person they are,all the hate and race thing need to stop human we all are xxxx

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  • Anonymous

    So true Nikki x

    james Simpson

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  • Sue

    Thank you Nicci.

    In my own early years I was met with similar prejudice, growing up in London with parents from two different cultures in the 70’s 80’s I didn’t notice ( they protected us) even though my parents had been subjected to horrific situations.

    Late 80’s going into my first grown up job in the big world stepping out thats when it happened and then kept happening.

    Getting involved in the industry over 7 years ago I thought times had changed however I was met with many a closed doors because of my name.
    To make sure clients had opportunities buried my name and took on my Grandmother’s maiden name.
    I was advised that my Agency name was not great and it should be changed the name comes from “late Middle English opake, from Latin opacus ‘darkened’.” I changed it to a very basic name and found it didn’t feel right having to change a name I had built up on my own so I changed it back again.

    Bottom line is I have had to work harder, I keep my head down and do what I do.
    I will continue to take on clients I connect with that have worked hard on craft.

    Let no one be judged or met with prejudice by the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or their name.

    Let’s just keep creating with positivity, along with the love and magic of the silver screen.

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  • Oliver Devoti

    Really well said Nicci.

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  • Philip Jackson

    👏👏👏👏 well put 🖤🤍💛🤎=❤ 😉

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    I agree with every single word. Continue to stay strong. 💝

    Reply
  • Theresa Cole

    Love your intelligent and thought provoking blog here.

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    Respect well said

    Reply

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