Hollywood casting in black and white

March 11, 2011

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(Flickr/r9M)
Are characters like True Blood’s Tara stereotypes or strong portrayals?

Hollywood is often accused of whitewashing when it comes to its casting choices. Offenses range from the mundane - sitcoms with all white casts and the token “best-friend–character-of-color” - to the brazen. Take for example the movie 21. The film was based on the mostly true story of a group of M.I.T. students who pulled a massive card counting scheme in a Vegas casino and walked away with millions. In real life the majority of students were Asian American. But the film was cast with nearly all white actors.

Of course, just casting actors of color doesn’t fully solve the issue of minority media representation. Even when characters of color do appear onscreen they can spawn a love-hate relationship with audiences from their own demographic. For example, is Tara from HBO's True Blood just another offensive example of the sassy black friend?  Or is she a strong character in her own right? On one hand, viewers are excited to see representations of themselves onscreen; on the other hand, they often cringe at what they see.

This was one observation made by a panel of media makers convened by Chicago’s Goodman Theater to dish on representations of people of color in the media. In the mix were some local creative heavy-weights: writer/director Coya Paz, singer and producer Shilpa Bavikatte, and filmmaker Vaun Monroe. As artists and media makers they are especially attuned to the way people of color are portrayed on stage and screen. And in the audio excerpt above they talk about the kinds of portrayals that stir up their profound irritation and ambivalence.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Coya Paz, Shilpa Bavikatte and Vaun Monroe spoke to an audience at the Goodman Theater in February. Click here to hear the event in its entirety, and click here to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast.