Tokenism?

The backlash against Girls definitely made me look at my writing for racial diversity. And, yup, most of my characters are white. Nothing plot-wise makes them white, but looking at characters through the lense of a theoretical Hollywood casting session, they would all end up white. Now, of course, that speaks a lot to the fucked-up nature of Hollywood casting. It says something that people of color (or fat people, trans people, people with disabilities, etc.) are only cast when the plot specifically calls for them. White = default. Boo.

It also speaks to my life. Like Lena Dunham, my imaginary life is pretty racially homogenous because my social life is pretty racially homogenous. That is a fact of my life that I don’t like, but I don’t particularly know how to fix.

I started diddling around with the idea of a new play recently (which, in all liklihood, I will never finish anyway because I am bad at long writing projects, so this may all be moot, but let’s pretend I have an attention span longer than a gnat.) It will focus on a nuclear family and a few of their significant others. And, as I started to play out scenes in my head, I realized that all of my imaginary actors were white. Whoops. There is absolutely no reason they need to be.

How do I fix it? Do I specify that a particular character is black? That’s easy enough. But by doing that, now the rest of the cast is, by extension definitely not black. Leave it up to the casting director? Like, in theory, in my perfect world (where this play is being produced repeatedly! lolz) the racial make up of this cast would change with every show. But that feels lazy, too. Not my problem! I didn’t say they had to be white! The casting director did it! I’m the writer. I am aware that diversity is an issue. It is my problem.

It feels awkward, to insist on a physical trait for a character that has no bearing on the plot. But I guess that is the only way to make diversity happen. Major social change probably doesn’t happen by trying to avoid ever feeling awkward. This character is black. That one is fat. Because life has diversity, and we are failing to document the world artistically if our palette is so bland.

Rather than specify the physical characteristics of any particular character, I’m considering adding this note to the stage directions:

Author’s Note: When casting this show, please take diversity into consideration. Physical attributes are mostly irrelevant to this story, but what is relevant is reflecting a somewhat accurate portrayal of a “modern” social group. Assembling an entire cast of thin, conventionally attractive white people is not the correct tableau.

Thoughts? Do any of my director friends feel like this would impinge on their artistic freedom? It’s certainly bordering a little closer to Beckett-esque direction than I’m usually comfortable with, but I think it’s ok for a good cause. Is it even enough? Is the only way to ensure diversity at this juncture to specify?

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